An Arkansas state lawmaker sent two of his adopted children to live with a man who subsequently raped one of them, according to a new report that has put the local politician on the defensive.
State Rep. Justin Harris and his wife adopted the two sisters, ages 3 and 6, in early 2013, the Arkansas Times reports. They had previously been removed from an abusive family situation. That October, Harris reportedly sent the girls to live with Eric Cameron Francis, a man he later hired to work as a teacher at a preschool he runs. Police say Francis raped the 6-year-old while she was in his care, and he and his wife eventually sent the sisters to a third household, where they remain. Francis is serving 40 years in prison under a plea bargain, the Times reports.
But the newly-disclosed fact that Harris sent the girls away has opened him to criticism in the wake of the Times report.
“Rep. and Mrs. Harris have suffered a severe injustice,” his lawyer said in a statment defending him, KATV reports. “Due to threats of possible abandonment charges, they were unable to reach out to [authorities] for help with children who presented a serious risk of harm to other children in their home. Upon the advice of both a psychiatrist and a pediatrician, they were forced to move the children to the home of trusted friends, who had a lot of experience with children with reactive attachment disorder. Rep. and Mrs. Harris are devastated about the outcome of that decision, but faced with no good option, they did the best that they knew how.”