According to Arlington County Police spokesman Dustin Sternbeck, the girl was simply focused on getting back to her home in Germany, and has not wanted police involvement thus far. However, the possibility of her pressing charges remains, we’re told, and police continue to be in contact with her.
Police say the girl had been staying with a family in the Donaldson Run neighborhood before discovering nude photos of herself on her host father’s USB drive last month. ACPD declined to release extensive details about the case due to the girl being a juvenile and the police investigation continuing.
ARLnow.com has learned that the girl came to Arlington through the Program of Academic Exchange (PAX), which is a State Department-designated agency. PAX did not return our calls, but State Department Director of Media Relations Susan Pittman confirmed the agency’s involvement. She declined to provide any more information due to the ongoing investigation.
The State Department oversees the issuing of J-1 visas, which cover exchange students and workers. It vets certain organizations and designates them as sponsors for exchange programs. Participants in exchange programs must be sponsored in order to enter the country.
Should an exchange program participant come forward with something “untoward” happening during their stay in the U.S., the sponsor agency is required to immediately report the incident to the State Department. Because the State Department itself is not an enforcement agency, cases are often turned over to the Department of Homeland Security for investigation.
“We look over to make sure these people are actually enforcing the regulations that are there. If they’re not, it will be sent to the proper law enforcement authorities,” Pittman said. “We then make sure the participant is put into a safer environment. Safety is our overriding concern in all of this.”
While the State Department does not rate sponsors, designation indicates that the agency is compliant with all regulations and is in good standing. Pittman said should action need to be taken against offending organizations, there are different levels of sanctioning. However, investigations often indicate unfortunate situations can occur even when an agency closely follows all regulations and properly screens host families.
“While certainly there are some reports of some acts that may impinge upon the safety of the participant, it may not be the fault of anybody at the agency, it may have just happened,” Pittman said. “The number of incidents is really low compared to the number of people who come through.”
Last year, there were two State Department-designated agencies that brought 541 secondary school exchange students to Virginia. Pittman did not have information on how many incidents occurred last year, if any, requiring an investigation. She did say the number is consistently low and the State Department works to prevent and eradicate threats to safety.
“We are committed to identifying and eliminating potential threats and dangerous situations for students, and any participants, visiting the United States,” said Pittman. “Although the vast majority of the participants have positive experiences, even one negative experience is one too many. We work diligently and continuously to address all concerns and to ensure every participant in our exchange program has a safe and positive experience.”