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Woman Charged After Asking Help Line Breast-Feeding Question

January 18, 1992 GMT

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) _ A woman was charged with child abuse and neglect after a help line volunteer turned her in for asking whether it was normal to be sexually aroused while breast feeding.

Denise Perrigo lost her daughter, Cherilyn, for nearly a year while social workers and judges decided the family’s fate.

Now, she has the nearly 4-year-old child back and plans to sue Onondaga County.

Robert Stone, the Onondaga County social services commissioner, said he was prevented by law from discussing Perrigo’s case.

Perrigo’s trouble began in January 1991, when she called a local referral service, the Volunteer Center, to get the telephone number for La Leche League, an international breast-feeding advocacy group.

Perrigo, 28, said she wanted to know if it was normal to have feelings of sexual arousal during breast feeding. The volunteer who answered the call turned Perrigo over to a rape crisis center, which called a child abuse hotline.

The mother was charged Jan. 13, 1991, with endangering the child and sexually abusing the girl by breast feeding her at the age of nearly 3. Perrigo spent the night in jail, but was released the next day when the charges were dismissed.

La Leche League officials were outraged.

Betty Wagner, a co-founder of the Franklin Park, Ill.-based league, said sexual arousal while nursing is normal.

Some children are breast fed until age 4 or 5. The World Health Organization and the U.S. surgeon general recommend children be nursed through their second year.

The La Leche League doesn’t advocate nursing for a specific amount of time. Rather, it supports a mother and child deciding together how long to nurse.

″It was a comedy of errors, except it wasn’t funny because once they realized a mistake was made, they still wouldn’t turn back,″ said Perrigo, who lives in Lafayette, a small town eight miles south of Syracuse.

Though the criminal charges against Perrigo were dismissed, one charge each of neglect and child abuse were filed separately in Family Court. They, too, were dismissed, in April by Judge Leonard Bersani.

But the next day the county’s social services department refiled the same charges with another Family Court judge, Edward McLaughlin, and kept Perrigo from regaining custody of her child.

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In November, McLaughlin ruled Perrigo didn’t abuse the girl, but he said she neglected her by failing to wean her by the age of nearly 3.

McLaughlin also said Perrigo earlier neglected the child by sending her to counseling. Perrigo said she sent her daughter to counseling at the suggestion of social service workers because a friend of the girl’s had been abused.

Lawyer Ralph Cognetti, who is working on a lawsuit for Perrigo, said the case was based on ″ridiculous charges″ that were illegally filed a second time.

Karen Marris, Perrigo’s Family Court lawyer, said she will appeal the neglect ruling. She wouldn’t comment Friday on details.

Cherilyn was returned to her mother Jan. 6. The girl lived in a foster family for the early part of last year but had been living with Perrigo’s parents since late August.