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Little Boy Lust

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She recalls representing a group of boys who were hassled by police in front of a Vietnamese grocery store. They were there because they were all driving their mothers to the market, and rather than go inside and shop, they remained outside and talked with one another. One officer came up and made them stand spread-eagled against a wall while several others conducted what was probably an illegal search.

"They told me they weren't worried about the illegal search or anything," says Miller. "They just didn't want their mothers to see because they would get in so much trouble with their mothers for bringing shame to the family."

In Dinh Tran's case, he may have just been reluctant to say anything because he thought he had been arrested. He never did make it home that night. The police took him to the Family Crisis Center, a 22-bed intake center operated by Denver Social Services in cooperation with the police, Denver Health and DPS. Most of the children taken to the center are victims of abuse at the hands of a parent or guardian, making it unsafe for them to go home. They may stay at the center for up to thirty days while social workers figure out if they can go home or if they need to go to permanent foster care.

Dinh Tran had not been abused by a parent, and his home was perfectly safe, but police couldn't figure out any other place to take him, so they took him there.

Once at the Family Crisis Center, he was likely treated the same as all other new arrivals, who are given a medical exam, some pajamas and a place to sleep.

By early Sunday morning, his parents were frantic. The Trans tried to call police, but because of language problems, they say, they couldn't find anything out. The tried to call Ava Owens but got no answer.

Nobody working at the Family Crisis Center was able to figure out how to get the boy home, either, so he ended up spending Sunday night in this place that he was convinced was prison.

On Monday a detective came by, accompanied by a translator, to interview the boy. Dinh confirmed what Owens had related concerning the time they had spent together. He added a few details, such as the time at the Cinderella Drive-In when he "fell asleep on [her] tummy." He also said that he had his eyes closed during most of the incidents.

The boy then told the detective that everything that happened was his fault. When he was told that it was Owens who was in trouble and could go to jail, the boy replied, according to police, that "he wants to take the suspect's place in jail because he loves her." He also told a detective that Owens had told him that what they did was bad but that she didn't stop. He then said that he "continued to do these things to make her happy so that she would love him."

The Trans, after talking to police through a translator, finally discovered where Dinh was. When Mai arrived at the Family Crisis Center, however, Dinh couldn't face her. "He told me he didn't want to see me because he did something wrong and now he was in prison," Mai Tran recalls. She still didn't know what had happened, and she thought her son may have been in trouble.

For reasons that are not at all clear, the Family Crisis Center would release the boy only to both parents. A spokeswoman for Denver Social Services and the director of the center both refuse to comment about the case, citing confidentiality rules. It wasn't until Tuesday afternoon before the parents were allowed to take their son home.

The Trans say it was only then that they received from a translator a brief account of what had happened to their boy. Duc says it was only then that they were able to tell their son that he was not in trouble. "You could see in his face the relief," Duc says.

Dinh spent the next month in his room, refusing to come out for meals or to play with friends. That fall he went back to school, but his work slid from the top of his class to the bottom.

Once friendly and unflappable, Dinh started throwing tantrums. He began to yell at his parents, something they say he never did before and would never have done in Vietnam. Miller says she is convinced that he has never really discussed with his parents what happened between him and Ava Owens because of a general taboo in Vietnamese families on talking about sex.

Now the family says they are just interested in doing whatever it takes to help their son regain whatever it was he lost in the clutches of Owens and during what Dinh thought of as his "detention."

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Scott C. Yates

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