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Social worker raped woman, police say

In 1996, she asked the Florida Department of Children and Families to protect her children until she got on her feet.

A year later, police say, case worker Frank L. Rossi threatened the woman and told her she would have a better chance of regaining custody of her kids if she had sex with him.

"I believe in God and I have to forgive," said the woman, whose identity is being withheld because of the nature of the case. "Someone I trusted betrayed me, used me. I don't really understand why he did this to me."

Now, Rossi, 39, of 5911 32nd Ave. N, St. Petersburg, is charged with four counts of sexual battery. He is being held at the Pinellas County Jail in lieu of $200,000 bail.

Police say he forced the 35-year-old woman to perform sex acts twice in his state office, once in his truck and once in her apartment.

"He led her to believe that he was trying to help her," Officer Lilla Davis said.

Brenda Porter, spokeswoman for the Department of Children and Families, said Wednesday that in her 20 years with the agency, Rossi's arrest is the first of its kind.

"My chin is on the floor," Porter said.

Rossi has been placed on unauthorized leave, she said. The agency has not taken formal disciplinary action, but the Inspector General will begin an internal investigation to determine whether Rossi misused his position.

"The agency is definitely looking at dismissal," Porter said.

Last year, the woman voluntarily gave her brother custody of her kids while she straightened out financial and personal troubles. She asked for the state's help, and Rossi was assigned as one of her caseworkers.

Police say that from August to November, Rossi forced the St. Petersburg woman to engage in sex acts against her will. On Monday, after one of the alleged acts, the woman went to a local hospital with cuts. The police investigation followed.

"We were able to come up with some evidence corroborating what she alleged," said Sgt. Glenn Stofer, who declined to detail the evidence, which has been sent to a lab.

He said Rossi was asked to come to police headquarters, where he was arrested and charged Tuesday night.

The victim said she initially put off reporting the attacks because she distrusts the state's social services system and she feared damaging her marriage. But about a month ago, she said, she could no longer handle the situation.

She told her pastor, who went with her to her attorney's office. She recently told her husband, who had noticed that she was withdrawn and unhappy.

Rossi's duties included managing cases under court-ordered or voluntary protective services due to child abuse or neglect. He also made home visits, court appearances and referrals to other social service agencies. An employee since 1992, Rossi earned about $22,128.

He is a former military police officer who received an honorable discharge and a bachelor's degree in criminal justice. A father of three sons, Rossi was divorced from his wife in March.

The only hint of disciplinary action in Rossi's personnel file is a memo detailing an incident in 1995 when Rossi did not inform the proper person when he called in sick. He also received a letter recognizing his "extraordinary customer service."

Both the victim and her husband plan to seek counseling. While she said she does not hate Rossi, she said she and her husband are hurt and fear that Rossi will be released from jail.

"What hurts me is the other people that are going to be hurt because of the mistakes he made," she said. "He wasn't thinking about me, my family, and he wasn't thinking about his."