An Annapolis-based support group for adult survivors of incest has been shaken by charges that a co-founder fondled three women, including a 19-year-old member of the organization.
David B. Fulghum, 42, is also charged with attempting to fondle a 15-year-old girl, according to records in Anne Arundel County District Court. Mr. Fulghum is the boyfriend of Gloria E. Arnold, co-founder and executive director of the Onionskin Collective, a private, non-profit support group operated by the couple from their Annapolis home. He refused to comment yesterday on the charges.
Ms. Arnold yesterday said her boyfriend is innocent, adding: "Most
importantly, I believe in the innocence of the organization." She said the allegations are part of a "malicious effort to destroy the organization," and she said many group members feel betrayed by the accusers. She wouldn't say why someone would want to destroy the Onionskin Collective.
But she acknowledged the charges have taken their toll, saying, "There's no way I can fight rumors. Business is going on as usual, as much as possible."
Kimberlee Shaffir, a 29-year-old incest victim who had been a member of the 2-year-old group, acknowledged that Ms. Arnold has some supporters. But she said the Onionskin Collective is falling apart in the wake of the allegations -- and Ms. Arnold's decision to side with her boyfriend against his accusers.
"We were very devastated by Gloria's reaction, that she would turn her back on everything she supposedly stood for," Ms. Shaffir said. "It's all a sham at this point."
Ms. Shaffir said the group she had been leading in weekly meetings at Anne Arundel Medical Center, along with groups based in Laurel and Edgewater, broke off from Onionskin last month when police started investigating Mr. Fulghum.
About a dozen groups across the state, most with eight or nine members, had been affiliated with Onionskin, Ms. Arnold said, including one group that meets at a women's prison in Jessup.
Maureen C. Gillmer, director of the Victim-Witness Assistance Center of the Anne Arundel County state's attorney's office, said yesterday that she will stop referring callers to Onionskin until the criminal case is resolved.
Mr. Fulghum surrendered to county police Monday and was charged with one count of attempted fourth-degree sex offense, three counts of fourth-degree sex offense and four counts of assault and battery in incidents from February to May in the couple's home in the first block of Dale Drive. He was released on his own recognizance to await trial.
Mr. Fulghum, who had access to records detailing group members' abuse histories, asked "lewd" questions about a 19-year-old group member's abuse as a child before fondling her, according to charging documents. He is also charged with fondling two other women, both abused as children but not members of the group.
Court records show Ms. Arnold was not home when the alleged crimes occurred.
Ms. Arnold, 35, has said she was inspired to start the group because of the pain she felt in trying to recover from childhood sexual abuse at the hands of an older sister's husband. Mr. Fulghum, who runs a public relations company known as Bay, Banter + Repartee Communications, has acted as press agent for the group. Ms. Arnold said yesterday that he also had financed the organization with $80,000.
In an interview last year, Ms. Arnold said a small number of innocent people being humiliated -- and even imprisoned -- by false charges of sexual abuse were a worthwhile price to pay for the greater good of fighting the societal problem of incest.
Asked yesterday whether she still held that opinion, she said: "Absolutely, despite the fact that lightning has struck home. . . . I am deeply afraid the pendulum has swung too far, but that's the way it has to be. You don't change things without breaking glass.
"If my organization becomes a victim of that, I still believe victims need the right to prosecute."