DeKALB – A barber who has been offering free haircuts to children and others with disabilities at a local salon has seen increased interest each time he’s had one of the free events.
But there’s one problem – he also is registered as a sexual predator, records show.
Roberto “Tito” Souchet Jr., 31, of Genoa was convicted Jan. 10, 2006, at age 19 in Cook County of aggravated criminal sex abuse. The victim was a 14-year-old, according to the Illinois Sex Offender Registry.
Souchet was sentenced to 2½ years of probation, which he completed
Dec. 16, 2008, according to Cook County court records.
Souchet said he’s been a barber at Serenity Salon II, 205 N. Second St. in DeKalb, for a few months, and that he’d previously worked at In & Out Cuts, 1963 DeKalb Ave. in Sycamore, after he’d worked in shops in Chicago, Florida and Wisconsin.
His next “Special Needs Sunday” is slated for 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Nov. 12 at Serenity.
Souchet’s fiancée, Melina Castellano, recently reached out to the Daily Chronicle to raise awareness of the initiative.
She said the family has received numerous threatening, anonymous letters, which Genoa Police Chief Robert Smith confirmed.
“There was definitely a lot of hesitation” about publicizing the event, she said. “But I didn’t want to let them win and keep doing this to us. We are prepared for the worst. We’ll keep fighting to do what is right.”
Children with disabilities are about three times more likely than the general population to experience abuse, studies have shown.
Sexual abuse of children with disabilities is reported at only half the rate of those who are not disabled, according to The Children’s Assessment Center.
JoAnn Page, owner of Serenity Salon II, said she didn’t do a background check before renting out space to Souchet, and that she doesn’t do background checks. She said Thursday she still wants to go forward with the
Nov. 12 event, but whether Souchet will be involved remains to be seen.
“I’m not a judgmental person, and I do believe in second chances,” Page said. “He’s a wonderful barber, and I’ve seen nothing but a great heart and a great human being.”
Souchet was convicted in January 2006, the same month the law changed requiring people convicted of offenses such as his to register for life with local law enforcement. Anyone convicted before that date had to register for 10 years.
Sex offenders in Illinois face some restrictions on their freedom. They are not allowed within 500 feet of public school property without permission of the district’s superintendent or school board, except for parent-teacher conferences.
As of Jan. 1, 2011, it also became illegal for sexual predators to be in public parks, according to the online sex offender registry.
“There are no Illinois laws which prohibit a child sex offender from being around children, unless it is at a park, school, or any location designed exclusively for people under the age of 18,” according to the state police website.
Souchet said he held two Special Needs Sunday events at In & Out Cuts and two so far at Serenity, and that he’s given out more free haircuts each time.
He said he gave seven or eight to people in October, and that Page and other stylists have given haircuts and manicures for female clients with special needs during the event.
When not cutting hair at the salon, Souchet said he also cuts hair at his home in Genoa, although Castellano said he’s done that less and less as he’s begun working more hours at the salon.
Smith, the Genoa police chief, said state law prohibits Souchet from cutting hair of anyone younger than 18 at his home, and that the department would contact him Friday to make that clear. Smith said the area also is not zoned for business.
DeKalb Police Cmdr. Steve Lekkas said whether a sex offender can have contact with children at work is a case-by-case situation, hinging on multiple factors, including where the business is located, its licensing and such. Lekkas said the department is looking into whether Souchet is in compliance.
Smith said Souchet was not allowed to cut hair during the Genoa Days festival downtown.
Souchet said he decided to start the initiative because his 5-year-old son, Adagio, has autism.
“It means a lot more than the money to me,” Souchet said. “There’s no reason they shouldn’t be able to have a quality haircut, just like everybody else.”
Souchet said he tells all his clients about his history.
“I’ve been pretty much letting all my clients know, because I’ve been harassed on Facebook, and by all the letters,” he said.
“It got to the point that whenever anyone sat in his chair, this was the first thing he’d have to bring up, which is sad,” Castellano said.
Souchet said the victim in his case was a friend, and that they were at a drinking party, and that they did not have sex.
“It’s something that happened when I was 19,” he said. “This conviction – it’s not who I am. It’s not me.”
Castellano said Souchet’s goal is to eventually open his own shop, where he’d give haircuts exclusively to people with special needs, and perhaps even get his instructor license so he can teach barbers and stylists the trade.