By Jim Cegielski publisher
Last week, we ran a front page story with the headline “Toddler Torture.” The headline was about as accurate of a description for what two small children had to endure as we could come up with. In his story, Mark Thornton wrote that those children had been taped to a wall and forced to watch their mother and her boyfriend have sex and were punched if they turned and looked away. Sadly, the rest of the details about what those kids went through were so disturbing, sickening and disgusting that we couldn’t, in good conscience, publish it in a community newspaper.
Then, the very next day, the JCSD alerted us to another equally disturbing, sickening and disgusting child-abuse story involving a different mother, boyfriend and toddler. But maybe what is even more disturbing, sickening and disgusting is just how little is being done to stop the sexual abuse of children.
Take a look at the number of people who are on the official sex offender list in Jones County alone, as well as the number of new arrests for the sexual abuse of children that we report on each week and there is little doubt that pedophiles are not only living among us, but their numbers are much larger than any of us would like to admit.
And what most people don’t realize is that the vast majority of pedophiles living among us haven’t been identified yet because their victims are too ashamed or scared to come forward, or they have been victimized by a family member and they are being urged by others in the family to simply “get over it” so as not to bring shame to the family. Believe me, it happens every day.
Our failure to protect our most vulnerable citizens — our children — is not simply a black eye for society, it is a revolving door of abuse. There is no cure for pedophilia. Sexual predators will keep on abusing children for as long as they are alive, or at least sexually capable of it. Not only that, but a high percentage of the male victims of childhood sexual abuse will grow up to be sexual predators themselves, thus propagating evenmore abuse.
The numbers are quite staggering. According to YWCA.org, one in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before age 18. Ninety-three percent of the victims know their abuser. Experiencing childhood sexual abuse is a life sentence. It can affect educational outcomes and lead to drug abuse, psychological health and sexual issues, as well as suicide.
As I’ve written before, I’m one of those statistics. When I was 12 years old, I was molested by Bob Markham, a married father of two small children. He was a neighbor in an Orlando, Fla., apartment complex, and I was a prime target for a predator, as my mom had only months earlier fled our New Jersey home with my younger sister and me in tow, leaving my father and two older brothers behind with no idea of our whereabouts. I was incredibly sad, lonely and depressed — the perfect victim for Bob, who at first befriended me, then hired me to babysit his 2-year-old and 4-year-old children, then took my sister and me to Disney World, then one day invited me into his apartment while his family was out and molested me.
Like most victims, I was ashamed, embarrassed and scared. I didn’t tell a soul. And Bob kept molesting young boys. And that is my life sentence — guilt. Bob was caught later the next year and charged for his crimes against another young boy, but could I have saved someone else if I had spoken up? Probably.
Would Bob have been given more jail time if I had said something? Most definitely. Like most victims, I stayed quiet. I didn’t speak of it for decades. And that is why thousands of pedophiles are allowed to live amongst us without detection and continuing their reign of terror and abuse, quite often for their entire life.
We must do something. Heck, I must do something. But I need help. First of all, it is time for our elected leaders and judges to face some terrible truths.
Pedophiles cannot be rehabilitated, and the only criminal sentence long enough to protect the innocent is life in prison. If you give a pedophile a 20-year sentence, that just means that in 20 years, another child will be victimized.
I know that in this day and age where criminals of all types keep getting lesser and lesser sentences, this is going to be a tough sell, but if we truly want to protect innocent children, we need to give pedophiles one of two options upon conviction — life in prison or castration. If you think that is barbaric, then you obviously value the rights of pedophiles over the safety of children.
Secondly, we must do away with all statute of limitations when it comes to child sex abuse. Like me, most people are unwilling to even talk about the sexual abuse that happened to them as a child until years later. According to “Child USA,” a national think-tank for child protection, the average age child abuse victims finally disclose that they were abused is at age 52!
The third thing that needs to happen is the development of a Childhood Sexual Abuse Victims Database. I don’t know why this doesn’t already exist. This would be a place where any victim of a pedophile could go into a database and put down as much information as they remember about the crime. The name of the pedophile, place it occurred, date or year of the crime, etc. They could do this anonymously or they could leave their name and contact number.
The database would serve many different functions.
1.) Give an easy way for current and past victims of child abuse to report a crime. This would include having a kid-friendly portal into the database made available in every school.
2.) Put law enforcement on alert of a possible child abuser or serial child abuser on the loose if that person’s name keeps appearing.
3.) Provide a way in which victims of pedophiles can be alerted that someone else has reported being victimized by the same abuser. There is strength in numbers, and these victims can team up to file whatever criminal or civil case they are able to under the current law.
And, lastly, even if pressing criminal charges or filing a civil claim is no longer an option because of the statute of limitations, victims could, at the very least, form their own self-help groups.
Don’t overlook the importance of a database like this.
Because pedophiles keep sexually abusing children for a lifetime, even someone who had been abused decades before could end up saving some kid from a lifetime of trauma by reporting the crime years later.
Let’s get this started in Jones County … then the state of Mississippi, and then the entire nation. But most importantly, let’s get it started now.
Let’s do something! What could be more important than protecting our children?