Following an investigation by the Mississippi attorney general’s public integrity division, a man accused of molesting students at St. Francis School in Greenwood has made a court appearance.
During his arraignment, Paul West, former teacher and principal, plead not guilty to charges of sexual battery.
West allegedly committed sexual abuse against two African American male cousins in the 1990’s when they were elementary students. He was living in Wisconsin prior to being extradited to Leflore county.
Mark Belenchia is the Mississippi coordinator of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, and he says this moment may encourage others to speak out.
"But having this guy held accountable criminally is a big deal," Belenchia says.
"Now why they let him go in 1998, and why they let him go back and teach in another school in Wisconsin is beyond me.”
Belenchia grew up in Shelby, Mississippi which is a small town in the Mississippi Delta. He says he's a rape survivor and he knows plenty of other survivors who are keeping quiet.
"There are survivors all over the delta that I know of personally,” he says.
Some victims in the past have been paid off to keep their silence but Belenchia says it is time for those in charge to take accountability for their actions.
“The church needs to be aware that advocates, survivors, and the civil authorities are not going to put up with this.”
According to the district attorney there is no bond at this point.