TOPEKA — A Saint Francis Ministries employee at the nonprofit’s Hutchinson office distributed nude photos of a foster child’s stepmother and avoided discipline for the personal attack.
Saint Francis, the state’s largest foster care contractor, didn’t deny that Keighla Belote, a social worker, sent the photos. The organization investigated the situation in early January and concluded her private actions on social media are constitutionally protected free speech.
Belote connected with the step-mom on Facebook after visiting the woman’s house with a case manager. Belote then sent three nude images she had obtained from a mutual friend to the step-mom’s contacts.
Kansas Reflector doesn’t identify victims of sexual harassment without their consent. In emails to Kansas Reflector, the woman said Belote’s attack made her feel unsafe. She provided evidence of the attack and other now-deleted images that Belote posted on social media.
“I can’t believe they’d allow people like that to work for them,” the victim said. “They should have morals in and outside of work.”
She sent two emails on Jan. 5 complaining about the situation to Saint Francis’ human resources department, and said she didn’t get a response from the organization.
In the emails to HR, the woman described Belote’s actions as “revenge porn” and “malicious.” She said the attack “has caused so much chaos for my family.”
“I do not believe she is being a mature adult/professional what so ever and I truly fear she will eventually affect my step son or his siblings involved with St. Francis,” the woman wrote.
She provided a screenshot of a selfie Belote had posted on Snapchat in which the employee was wearing a Saint Francis lanyard while flipping off the camera. The caption: “F*** today!”
The woman wondered how Belote’s actions reflected on the faith-based organization’s values.
“What she has done does not portray any of those qualities,” she wrote to HR, “especially since my photos did not involve her in any way other than she came across them and thought everyone should see them.”
Belote didn’t respond to a Facebook message seeking comment for this story, and Saint Francis declined to coordinate a statement from her.
Morgan Rothenberger, a spokeswoman for Saint Francis, said the organization doesn’t support the distribution of porn. After HR was notified of the situation, the organization talked to Belote and interviewed other employees.
Saint Francis, Rothenberger said, is respectful of an employee’s right “to be active online in a variety of forums” and considered the matter to be resolved.
“Some of what you’re discussing would be the employee’s freedom of speech or decision-making and would not impact Saint Francis or our clients if the employee was not involved in the case in question,” Rothenberger said. “Some of which you mentioned — obscene gestures in an SFM uniform — does violate our social media standards, and an employee could expect to be disciplined for such a violation.”
Rothenberger said Belote was in training with the case worker when they visited a client’s house, where the victim lived. Belote didn’t realize she knew the family before she arrived at the house, Rothenberger said.
“The employee was never involved with that case again,” Rothenberger said. “Because of her position shadowing the case worker, it was not considered a conflict-of-interest situation.”
Mike Deines, spokesman for the Kansas Department for Children and Families, said any action that may have a negative impact on children and families “is of utmost concern.”
“The agency expects its case management providers and their staff to treat families with dignity and respect and if that does not happen to take the appropriate action to ensure the behavior does not continue,” Deines said. “Our providers should do everything possible to prevent inappropriate fraternization and ensure their workers maintain professional boundaries at all times.”
The victim in this case said she didn’t know Belote before the visit, and that Belote sent her a friend request on Facebook immediately after the visit. She said Belote’s complicated motivation for revenge involves accusations of infidelity.
Kansas law prohibits transmission of nude images without permission. The victim said she never reported the crime to police.
“I was going to, but after Saint Francis did nothing, I was just over it and felt defeated,” she said.
She added: “I didn’t want to relive this all over again, but I definitely feel Saint Francis needs called out on their actions.”
The woman’s sister was among the contacts who received a message from Belote with the nude photos. The sister threatened to tell Belote’s supervisors.
“Unless you want to lose your st.Francis job, sending out OTHER peoples nudes that aren’t yours..I’d probably stop,” the sister wrote.
Belote responded: “LOL OK what are you gonna do call my boss and tell her that I prove that somebody else was cheating that’s fine we just had this talk once it hits the internet it’s public information thank you.”
After the incident was reported to Saint Francis, Belote posted another selfie on Snapchat:
“I’m still here bitch. Still doing just fine! (kiss emoji, shrug emoji)”
Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news outlets supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: email@example.com. Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.