Note: Cross posted from [wp angelfury] A Human Rights Issue-Custodial Justice.
Beware monsters who harm children
JEFFREY F. BOYLES
Updated: 11/13/2009 02:31:06 PM EST
Ostriches abound. Who knew that so many existed in central Pennsylvania, of all places? Not the large, flightless bird, of course, but the citizenry that has adopted the behavior made famous by this grounded avian. No need to be aware of what occurs. Evil acts are to be ignored, shunned, unspoken of -- heads are buried in the sand. Ignore it and it will go away.
It hasn't yet.
* * *
It started innocuously enough, a lingering hand here, an intimate brush there. It escalated. Skin-to-skin contact, groping breasts, watching her without her clothes on. He told her not to say anything to her mother. After all, "he" was her stepfather, and her mother would likely believe his word over that of an 8-year-old girl.
We'll call her Roberta.
He continued to touch her more intimately. He engaged in oral sex, vaginal sex and anal sex with her. It was not an isolated incident. It was an ongoing, horrific nightmare.
Friends would come to visit. When one stayed the night, he came in and got on top of her friend on the bed, held her down and rubbed his privates against hers. He tried to get them to watch a pornographic movie and solicited them to have sexual contact with each other. They refused.
It didn't always happen that way. Diane, Michelle and Stacy (not their real names) would visit many times. When they visited, and "he" was home, they inevitably ended up in the basement. He would force them all to havesex with him. He would "demonstrate" oral, vaginal and anal intercourse on his stepdaughter, then perform the acts on each of the girls. Diane said it hurt a lot. She didn't tell anyone because he threatened her. Diane was the oldest. She was 8.
Michelle and Stacy verified everything that Diane and Roberta said. Stacy and Michelle explained how "he" would have all of the girls perform the sexual acts on each other while he watched, and sometimes took part. They were told not to tell or he would hurt them. Stacy and Michelle were 6 years old.
* * *
Unfortunately, this is not fiction. It occurred here in York County. If not for the brave action of Roberta reporting the abuse, it may never have come to light. When her stepfather was imprisoned, Diane, Michelle and Stacy felt safe enough to come forward.
"He" was convicted of the assaults against his stepdaughter and her friend. In an all too common fashion, Roberta's mother sided with the stepfather. Rather than kick the convicted rapist out of the home, Roberta was sent to live with her grandmother. Roberta's mother stayed in contact. She badgered her daughter, trying to get her to recant her testimony and say she lied. She was unsuccessful, though her actions further traumatized Roberta, betraying her in a way that even her stepfather did not.
There are people in this county who don't believe these things happen. Intelligent, educated people that think such infamy cannot occur here. Sad to say, some of those are even judges. Luckily, this case was not before one of them. The ugly reality remains. Child abuse is no stranger to York County.
The majority of sexual assaults of children happen, to a lesser degree, just as they did to Roberta. Most abusers know their victim. Many are related, fathers, stepfathers, uncles -- and mothers, stepmothers and aunts. Women can also be abusers.
No one talks about these crimes. Eighty percent of adults who go to the emergency room for help because of a sexual assault don't contact law enforcement. Adults choose not to speak about these crimes. The victims don't, because of shame, fear or social stigma. The abusers don't, for obvious reasons. Society doesn't, because sex is dirty, or naughty, or something not mentioned in polite company. As a result, the vermin continue molesting while everyone around pretends not to see, or worse yet, doesn't see due to ignorance.
* * *
Murderers are considered to be the most dangerous of criminals. The victim of a murder, by that act, is beyond feeling. Sexual assault on a child destroys that child, destroys that child's innocence. It hangs a permanent cloud over the remainder of the child's life. It makes each day a constant struggle. It affects relationships, friendships, breeds fear, skews things the rest of the world sees as "normal." It ruins the comfort of a father's hug, the familiarity of a loving touch. It redefines a victim's self-worth.
Not only is the child abused, those close to the child are also victimized. They must suffer and survive as surely as the child does, sharing the pain and emotional, mental and physical scars.
Life should not be lived like an ostrich, head buried in the earth, ignorant and oblivious to the horrors around us. Child sexual abuse happens. There are not conspiracies between groups of 6-year-olds intent on revenge because they were not allowed ice cream. Nor were the children the sexual aggressors, nor were they "asking for it."
Do children lie? Sometimes. Do adults lie? Of course. Do children lie to get themselves in trouble? Not likely. Do adults lie to get themselves out of trouble? More often than any would like to admit.
* * *
There are many who fight this good fight. Modern day knights, sworn to protect the weak and helpless. Police officers, detectives and prosecutors who specialize in child abuse and focus on the investigation, arrest and conviction of predators immerse themselves in these cases, seeking justice and closure for current victims and protecting and preventing future victims.
Each case wears at them. Sometimes, they cannot continue and burn out. Others must step forward and pick up that burden and carry on. Luckily, they aren't alone. Doctors and nurses treat those ravaged by sexual assault. Teachers and neighbors notice inappropriate behavior and report it. Family members watch and protect the children they see and raise.
In the end, it comes down to each individual. Each person must make the conscious decision to open his or her eyes and look. Each person must choose to act when he or she sees a wrong done. Each person must choose to see the bad as well as the good.
For Roberta, her friend, Stacy, Michelle and Diane, two juries, 24 individuals opened their eyes and stared at the ugly reality of child sexual abuse. Twenty-four county residents faced trauma and cruelty. Twenty-four people listened and lost a small part of their own innocence. Twenty-four faced a hard truth, and performed a harder duty. Twenty-four decided to make our neighborhood a safer place, to protect our children.
Cases like Roberta's aren't unique. Children forced to sleep on basement floors, forced to stay outside in cold weather, forced to perform sexual acts, forced to pose naked, pierced with needles, beaten to death, shaken to death, shot to death -- all local incidents that have occurred recently.
It isn't about arrests or convictions. It's about stopping abuse, pain and predators before they harm again. It's about making our communities safer. It's about feeling secure when our children play next door.
For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. The miracle of birth is balanced by the grief of death. Healthy, loving relationships are offset by the twisted, deviant behavior of predators. It happens here, in our neighborhoods, schools and families. Be aware. Lift your head, dash the sand from your eyes. We owe it to ourselves.
Jeffrey Boyles is first assistant district attorney in the York County District Attorney's Office.
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