let's talk about sex offenders

do they exist? yes. do we watch too much "law & order: SVU"? well, that'd be a yes as well. do shows like "to catch a predator" depict an accurate portrayal of the sex offender samplings in our area? probably not.

here are some of my personal experiences with the topic:

during my time as a domestic relations legal assistant i saw some pretty strange things.... mostly icky
divorces and not a few custody battles post divorce. some other random domestic issues like guardianships, adoptions, and grandparents rights. in one case the crux of a custody issue was a mom who had remarried and the daughter accused the step-dad of sexual abuse. over the course of a year or two (this was in like 2003 people- i can barely remember what i wore yesterday- ok?) it is finally discovered, unquestionably, that it was the father who had abused the girl, not the step dad. through testimony, research and reading the evidence, i found out that redirection is common when an abuser  is someone that is too close to the child. (the same thing is possible with the rape of an adult woman too... but from what i've read, it's most commonly in children who can't face the terrible reality.) it's a lot less of a breakdown of the idea of their family if they accuse an outsider rather than a parent, or other close relative.

i spent a year as a casa. (this should've been about 04ish?) my case was, luckily, sex abuse free. but, in being a court appointed special advocate (CASA) i was able to sit in on many, many cases (waiting for my case to be called), and was just plain aghast at what i heard. there were women who continued using meth their entire pregnancies and were trying to get their poor babies back. (babies that would have life long problems due to the meth.) there were stories of filth and neglect. (socks that actually wouldn't come off a small child's feet. they were stuck to the skin.) there were some heartwarming stories of adoption out of bad situations... by family members or grandparents.... but what got the kids to that point was heartbreaking. and of course, sprinkled in, there were issues of abuse. this is where i learned some of the statistics on children abusing children because they were abused. it is SO sad... but it happens... and often, it's not because there's something inherently wrong with child a, it's because they were abused themselves, and so, to act out, to feel better, to get attention, or because they still think it's a valid way to show affection they abuse CHILD B. and this can continue into adulthood. (last i heard the statistics were about that about 40% of abusers had themselves been abused as children.)

my husband and i took jujitsu for several years... you can guess where this is going- but you're only half right..... our instructor was married with a 3 year old son and a step daughter. his wife was/is? pretty high up at wal-mart and made tons of money. (you know, the big house, the nice car, the whole bit.) he made good money with the dojo too, but i don't believe it was as much. i worked for him for several months while my husband was gone to basic, doing accounts payable/receivable, collections, general organization of what was sort of an "office" at the dojo. he was a nationally recognized instructor, national competition winner,  just about as high up as a person can reasonably be. (i believe sixth dan for those of you who care much about martial arts.) he had a messy divorce. his (ex) wife told him she would do whatever it took to keep his child out of his life and keep her money. she accused him of touching her daughter on a family trip, and boy, did the story grow from there. in addition, when all of that crap hit the fan he came and asked me to suggest a lawyer. from there i was what you'd call "in the loop" and i read through every.single.report. every.single. piece. of. evidence. everything. read:nothing. no physical evidence, no consistency of story, no corroborating witnesses (the news media actually did several specials in our area asking other "victims" to come forward- there were none.) and honestly, my heart broke for that poor little girl. in between every interview, every time she talked to an officer of the court, her story changed.... i seriously hope and pray that she is dealing with all this now. i know that she believes that it happened, some of it at least i'm sure. and at the very least she should have counseling for what she thinks happened (nevermind that her mother used her in a terrible terrible way). we knew him VERY well and we both were familiar with the evidence (and the people) in the case, we're confident to this day of his innocence. the tragedy is that his lawyer told him he would make a bad witness for himself. (it's true... he is a bigger guy... he has a hard look to him. i guess that's what the marines and a life of martial arts will do to you.) his lawyer advised him to plead no contest. and (before i knew he was going to do it) he did. he was terrified. it was possibly life in prison if he was convicted of what he was charged with, or, he could get off with probation in about 2 years if he plead no contest. the sickest part in THE WHOLE STORY IS THIS: a man pleads no contest to sexual abuse and gets the possibility of parole in 2 years- disgusting isn't it? a man, who is innocent and railroaded by his crazy wife, is forced into pleading no contest and has to serve up to 20 years- disgusting isn't it?
well,  i'll wrap it up. sexual abuse in divorce is actually becoming so common that there's an acronym for it now. (S.A.I.D) sure, you can find studies that support it, you can find studies that say it's fake... but i've seen it quite a few times now... not just in this case.. but this is the one that hit the closest to home. (it's on SVU- that means it has to be real- right?) he is still in jail. the first 2 times he could be paroled he wasn't able to be considered for administrative reasons. imagine the DMV, now imagine the DMV is full of people that no one care about- that's about how the prison system is run. he has a ton of hoops he's had to jump through to complete everything required and is hopefully going to be getting out next time around. we're going on 4 years people. his son is about 8 i would guess. what a sad, sad story.

lest you think me naive or heartless i'll share a little bit about myself. i know that abuse happens, i know that rape happens. i know that adults behave in ways that are inappropriate to children. i know that NAMBLA exists. (do me a favor, don't google it if you aren't familiar with it. it's the national man/boy love association- based out of- you guessed it- san fransisco and new york.) i've been sexually harassed by peers, touched inappropriately by older men, raped by a "friend" and share those experiences with far too many of my fellow women. now, i'm the mother to a daughter.... man, oh, man... how i want to protect her from my experiences. so, don't get your feathers mussed thinking that i'm not aware of the world we live in. i'm all too aware. i just have the sad advantage of seeing both sides of the coin.

now. here's the post by lenore skenazy that spurred this post:

How your son could end up on the sex offender list
Let's say your son turns 18. He gets a job at the local carnival, running the ride where the kids lie face down and spin around till they shriek with delight (or puke). Before each ride he has to buckle the kids in so they don't fly out. But then -- tragedy strikes.

Oh, don't worry. Nobody goes flying. They're buckled just fine. But one girl does tell her mother, "He touched my bottom!" 

The mom alerts the police.

The police come over and ask, "Is that true?" Your son replies, "Maybe. I have to lock the bar around their waists and between their legs. They squirm. It could have happened."

The next day the police take him in for questioning. They ask him the same thing, this time with the videotape running. He gives them the same answer.

It is considered his confession. He is convicted of "Indecent Assault and Battery on a Child." He goes to jail for nine months. He is put on the Sex Offender Registry -- for life.

Meantime, a few years later, your younger son is now 18. He's at the urinal in the school bathroom during a weekend service project. A girl too young to read bursts in and he yells, "Out out out! Get out!" She starts crying and leaves. Her mom is concerned. The police are called. Was he in the men's room with a girl?

Well, yes. Since everyone agrees the girl was not touched, he is convicted of "Visual Sexual Aggression Against a Child" -- the crime of having a child see his genitals. He does six months in jail. He's placed on the Sex Offender Registry for the next 10 years.

Let us remember this when we look up our local sex offender maps and see two convicts: One who ostensibly exposes himself to children and one who ostensibly assaults them.

We consult those maps because, as parents, we are hardwired to worry about our children. We worry about them getting hurt by strangers. But few of us worry about them getting hurt by strange laws that can put a young man behind bars for touching a child, even accidentally, on the bottom, in public, with everyone's clothes on. Or for having a child, even accidentally, glimpse his private parts.

I spoke to the actual mom of these two young men. She's a fishing net-maker in Maine and she put it pretty succinctly: "We're all just one accusation away from the sex offender registry."
you can find it [here]
btw. i. love. lenore. skenazy.

not that we should ignore the possibility. we should all be aware of the signs of abuse, and look for it in our children, and keep an open relationship where they feel like they can talk to us about things that scare them, or shame them. [here] are some of the signs of abuse in children.

we just have to be careful not to immediately assume everyone who is accused, or even convicted, is guilty. or as guilty as they seem. (i left off a story of a guy who was trying to adopt his step-daugter but he had plead no contest to a misdemeanor charge after being caught by his girlfriend's dad making out. he was 18, she was 16. he was told that this would go off his record and he would never have to think about it again, just pay a fine and go. well... it was definitely on his record, and something like that keeps you from adopting. he's a "sex offender", but really, not.)

so, watch all those crime shows, and remember, that's not always the way it works, and sometimes things aren't what they seem. (there's a few episodes like that too- right?)


mama-lama-ding-dong said...

If you'll remember when we were in school there was a local case where a youth director was accused of having sex with a 16 year old girl. Did it happen, did it not- of course the girl's parents took her word for it and went straight to the police.

The police raided his home, taking his computer, personal documents, even family videos and photo albums. He lost his position with the church, the story ran on the front page of the Morning News.

Months later when the girl came forward and admitted she'd made it all up to get out of some trouble with her parents, it was a very different story. Unforuntately he never got his job back, his reputation... it ruined his whole life.

I can't argue at all- we really are all one accusation away from a list, from a completely life-shattering problem.

Trish said...

This is a hard one for me. I was sexually abused as a child (from before my memory begins until I was 14) by my ex-step-grandfather.

If you read the witness statements, you might decide he was innocent, too. I was forced to give a statement when I didn't want to. (It's a very long story. If you want to hear the whole thing, I have no problem sharing, but a blog comment isn't the place.)

I assure you that he was not.
I think that false accusations are far more rare than true accusations that get called a liar.
I was called a liar. I was told I was "mistaken." I was told a lot of things.
The fact is that I wasn't lying and I wasn't mistaken.
For me, with my child, I will always assume he's telling the truth and go forward.

It's entirely possible that your friend is/was innocent. But I can honestly say that I wouldn't let my child near him. Better safe than sorry.
I hate to live in fear, but I do. I know the effects far too well- not just of the abuse, but of knowing that your parent(s) think you're a liar.

wrensmommy said...

i'm sorry for your hurt trish... i can understand your protectiveness of your children. i have several friends who have been through similar situations. (childhood abuse that was swept under the rug.) for me, i believe that if i wasn't sure about a person, any person, for any reason, i would supervise interaction, find out what i could about the incident in question, and then decide from there. (not to say i would never let wren around them, or that i would just let her go over to their house for cookies whenever....)

of course, my personal sphere of knowledge isn't the basis for a logical argument. but i have personally known of many more cases of false allegations than allegations that went unheeded. (of course, the people being called liars may have never gotten so far as to make a public allegation. their parents could have stopped them. in which case no one would ever hear.)

it's just sad that there is no way to be sure... and that men's lives are ruined every day with even an allegation. that could be our husbands, our sons, our fathers.... it's really an epidemic. (not necessarily the accusations, but the way that the accusations are received by a community.) you can have real abuse and a redirection of allegations, you can have crazy parents, you can have attention seeking teens, or money hungry women... it's just hard to know.

(with our instructor's case the mother instigated the entire thing. the child didn't come to her with information or anything... didn't tell anyone... didn't have any of the "signs" of abuse... the mother said "didn't this happen?" and she said no the first few times... and then from there every time she went back to be interviewed it was something more and more extravagant that happened.)

Trish said...

I think this sometimes is a case of perception.

I know for me, it seems amazing that any pregnancy goes smoothly. That's not because most don't, but because I have sought out and surrounded myself with people like me, who all had trouble conceiving, losses and/or complications with birth.

I think that may apply to this situation as well. Because I am pretty open about the abuse I suffered as a kid, I often get people who look relieved and say "me, too." And then people are so relieved to talk about it with someone who won't look at them funny or call them liars or question what they did to seduce the 40yo man when they were 6, (sorry, that's the bitter slipping out) that we end up talking at length and becoming close. So I look around and see victims everywhere.
Not accusers. As a matter of fact, I can't think of a single friend who has a history of being sexually abused who ever filed any sort of report or charges. Hell, my case was only reported because I told a friend who told her mom who called the school who called the state who called my dad. (Did ya get all that?)

I've done a lot of research about sex abuse and really, it's far, far more likely for abuse to go unreported than to be falsely stated. I'm surprised that in your work as a CASA, you haven't seen more true cases.

I'm not saying that false reports don't occur or that they don't ruin lives and it isn't awful. But I think by and large, the allegations are true, and ruins far more lives.

wrensmommy said...

i did see true cases.... far too many. it is terrible and tragic and life altering what was done to those kids. (though, oddly, in our training they kept reinforcing to us how "resilient" kids are, and how, with therapy, they'd grow up to be just fine. i wasn't really ever sure what i thought about that. having firsthand experience- what do you think? i'm sure it wouldn't have been the only psychological hogwash we learned, if it was.)

but, like in the story i gave at first, redirection of blame is possible too. (not that it happens every time, but it does happen as well.)

i know how terrible sexual abuse and sexual assault are and that they do happen.. i don't believe that it is EVER a child's fault, *even if* the allegations were false. there is usually an adult behind the child, persuading and pulling the strings, in those cases... teens and women who make false accusations, however, are usually ashamed of something that they did, confused about what happened, or pursuing some other vendetta. the flip side of that is abuse/rape victims being put on trial. i know when i went to report my rape i was questioned like a criminal. it was insinuated that i was lying. that i'd asked for it. that i'd led the guy on. (these are the cops talking.) and sheesh... you've got the police basically telling you you asked for it.. that.is.messed.up. and if it goes to trial they bring out every bad thing you've ever done. (i'm sure we've all seen an episode of SVU like that.) that was actually one of the reasons they gave me for telling me i shouldn't pursue it. perfect, eh?

my beef is with a reactionary public who blacklist a man (or woman? though that's not too often the case) at the first accusation. (we've seen that in the media as well with the more high profile "rape" cases that turned out to be false.) we still identify those guys in our minds as rapists/abusers even after it's been made clear that they were innocent. in our society today it's like blood in the water... and we aren't trusting of evidence like we would be in pretty much any other court of law.

i think our society has to find a balance between caution and panic. i don't know how to get there... being supportive and fair to victims, but weeding out falsehoods.... but i know i'm scared for my husband, for my possible sons, and for all of my male friends. all it takes is a single whisper these days and jobs are lost, families are broken, lives are shattered. and that stigma follows them around forever.

Trish said...

I hear what you're saying and mostly agree.

This probably sounds dumb, but back in the day the show "Party of Five" actually had a story line similar to this. Basically, the youngest kid was at a daycare and some accusations were made. The oldest kid (Mathew Fox. YUM!) was trying to decide what to do. Eventually he decided the daycare owner lady was falsely accused.
But he pulled the kid out anyway. Because even though he believed the lady, he couldn't risk it.

I think there's where I fall into this. The consequences of wongly trusting someone untrustworthy are far greater than the consequences of losing a friend. But that's my personality in general. I almost always err on the side of caution.

Blacklisting.. certainly that's wrong. But as I said originally, I would never let my child be around someone who'd been accused.

Now, if someone made that accusation against my husband or my son, obviously things could get a lot trickier. I honestly can't even imagine how I'd react. I hope to never find out.

As for your question.. sure, kids ARE resilient but it does have lasting effects. Kids who are abused are SO much more likely to be abused later. Then there are addiction issues (drugs, alcohol, sex.) Self-worth and esteem issues. The suicide rates. It's a horrible, horrible, long lasting thing.

Kids who are sexually abused often have faulty fight-or-flight reactions.

I grew up thinking "never again!"
And then in my early 20s, I was aquaintance raped. I told him no. No no no. No. Only kissing, nothing else. It didn't matter.. he did what he wanted. And the minute that it got to that point, I froze. Normal people would flip out, push, fight, scream. I froze. I just laid there and waited for it to be over. I didn't cry. I didn't say anything else.
When it was over, I got up and drove him home. We drove in silence the whole time. When we got to his house, he turned to me and said he was sorry and then I cried. But until that moment, I didn't say a word.

That's extremely typical of sex abuse survivors. Our brains are reprogrammed in how to react to a threat. It's messed up, but that's how the brain works.

I think it takes a lot of therapy and a lot of time to learn to live with it. But it never goes away. Sometimes when my husband touches me, I still cringe. Sometimes he makes a noise or I smell a scent, and I have flashbacks.
Not often, but sometimes. I'm 33 years old and I doubt that's ever going to stop.

Because I know that you're never "over it" I will do anything in my power to keep it from happening to my child. Even if it means treating someone poorly who maybe doesn't deserve it.