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US man ‘preyed’ on SA kids

SHAIN GERMANER and peter Fabricius

An alleged child molester who worked for the Peace Corps, accused of sexually abusing five young girls while working in South Africa, has been arrested at his home in the US.

Arrested: Jesse Osmun

Jesse Osmun, who worked in Greytown, outside Pietermaritzburg for a year before returning to America just over two months ago, was arrested yesterday.

Osmun worked at the Umvoti Aids Centre between May 2010 and May 2011 as a volunteer Aids worker, was apprehended at his home in Connecticut and charged with travelling outside of the US to engage in sexual conduct with a minor.

According to its director, Joan Dutton, it was the centre workers themselves who reported Osmun, 31, after the alleged incidents.

“We handed it over to the Peace Corps,” Dutton said this morning, adding that the case was formally reported by them only once he had returned to America.

She said that the past two months have been tumultuous at the centre, and that the situation had come as “a blow and complete shock”.

While unwilling to comment on the incidents, Dutton did confirm that the young girls involved, ages currently unknown, were being treated.

The Umvoti Aids Centre’s mission statement declares the centre as a haven for those suffering from the disease, with the centre treating more than 20 000 patients a year.

Since their inception, the centre has received help from the Peace Corps, with volunteers arriving each year to help in various facilities throughout the complex.

In his blog, he describes himself as a “former Peace Corps volunteer, blogger, non-profit worker, grant writer and self-professed Africa Lover”.

“I’m extremely passionate about helping non-profits and new NGOs connect with African communities and organisations in a way that is mutually beneficial,” he wrote.

According to the blog, Osmun had worked with young children, orphans and school children in Kenya as well as South Africa.

His blog states that he is currently looking for his “next adventure in the world of development”.

In a blog dated August 4, Osmun sent out a self-described inspirational message after working with youth in both South Africa and Kenya. “Sometimes you will have tensions and frictions before an idea ‘catches fire’. Do not be afraid of friction! Embrace, use it, and learn to be friends with it. The road is long and hard, but it is ultimately rewarding,” he wrote to aspiring African activists.

As recently as yesterday, Osmun was still encouraging “young African activists” on his Twitter account, with a link to his blog.

Greytown police were unable to comment on the arrest as of the time of publication, and unable to say if the case against Osmun had been opened in South Africa.

The Peace Corps is a volunteer organisation that specialises in helping developing countries through charity and community development.

Elizabeth Trudeau, spokeswoman of the US embassy in Pretoria said the embassy was aware of the case and confirmed that the Peace Corps had been informed of the allegations only after Osmun resigned from the organisation and had departed from South Africa.

“We take these allegations with the utmost seriousness. We are committed to working with South African and American authorities to investigate, and if these allegations are true, to hold the individual accountable,” she said.

“This is a terrible case but it shows that the co-operation between the US and South African law enforcement authorities works.

“As this is an ongoing criminal matter, we cannot comment on the specifics of this case. However, we are engaging with both the US and South African authorities to determine the next steps.”

Trudeau added that Peace Corps volunteers were thoroughly screened before being taken on.

According to Sapa-AFP, Osmun faces a sentence of at least 30 years and a $250 000 (R1.7m) fine if convicted. “Mr Osmun is charged with a shocking breach of the power entrusted to him as a Peace Corps volunteer,” said US Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer, as reported by the news wire.

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