Political attack ads focus on the smallest deviation away from the most draconian punishment for any sexual offense that includes the word, “child.” Liberal congressman Bob Filner lit into his opponent because he missed a vote to increase penalties for this crime. And the opening salvo of the ugly campaign for Duke Cunningham’s congressional seat was that Francine Busby was dangerous because of her response to a teacher involved in child pornography. Had he procured children to perform sexual acts or profited from this industry? Well, not quite. He simply had joined a web site, along with thousands of otherwise respectable men, that featured images of those under eighteen. Francine Busby’s sin was before having him fired, she commented that he had been a good teacher.
The major point that the writers of this article make is that no adult should be trusted, pointing to predators who are our “children’s teacher, doctor, clergy and even the scout leader.” A clean record, rather than being reassuring, should be a red flag, since we are told most convictions are for first time offenders whose age ranges from 18 to well over 60. They tell us that we should be most suspicious of those who are, “charming and someone you know.” as they are under the radar of suspicion. Got it kids, trust no one, especially those who you know and like.
This is hysteria that is spiraling out of control. The very term “molester” is so encompassing that it makes no distinction between traumatic acts of violence and other offenses whose effect on the victim is far less severe. Sexuality, from childhood on throughout life, will always be a source of both joy and pain. Injury, whether from rejection after intimacy or from the unwanted touch of a stranger is a risk of living. We cannot legislate against the emotional pain of sexual humiliation, or that which comes from cruelty or betrayal of trust in all of its forms.
The bruises of life, under supportive conditions, can be a source of maturation and strength. A child who is inappropriately fondled by an adult has been assaulted. The child should be helped and the adult should be dealt with. While this country no longer looks on such an adult as deserving of help, the degree of punishment should be, at the very least, commensurate to the harm that is done.
Right now, a person convicted of touching a child’s genitals can get almost the same punishment as someone who takes a child's life. And, as the writer proudly points out, if it were two children so abused, the punishment can be exactly the same, life in prison. Proportionality in sentencing has long been a foundation of penology. Besides basic fairness, it is mandated by the limits of the capacity of law enforcement. When a category of crime such as this rises to the level of hysteria other crimes receive less attention. Diminished enforcement of drunk driving laws means more kids are killed, while the courts shift to victims of “bad touching.”
Do we really want our children to grow up in a world where every adult, especially those who show affection, are seen as potential predators. And if "abuse" does occur, should the punishment be so extreme as to exacerbate the event in the child’s eyes, thus increasing his or her trauma. And, finally, if the sentiments expressed by the article become accepted, just what person in their right mind would accept any position where unsupervised interactions with children would make them vulnerable to false accusations with life destroying consequences.
While caution should be taught, so should trust. Finding the balance is a delicate task for a parent, but the recommendation of presumed guilt of this article would come at a great price. The natural bond of affection between young and old, even among strangers, would be replaced with defensiveness and suspicion. It is far from certain whether such a world will be safer for a child, but it certainly will be sadder.
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The District Attorney's Office deals with these despicable criminals, but not as often as one might imagine. It's just that when these hideous crimes are reported by the media, they lead the nightly news and are splashed on the front pages of our newspaper. Still, there are many facts that are not being reported about these horrendous crimes.
In 2005, the District Attorney's Office prosecuted 219 cases of lewd acts upon a child in San Diego County. This resulted in an incredible 94 percent conviction rate. Most surprising, only nine of these defendants had one or more serious felony priors, and one of the defendants had three violent felony priors. Nearly all of the sexual predators that this office prosecuted last year had clean records. Their ages ranged from 18 to well over 60, with the majority of molesters ranging from 26 to 39 years old followed closely by those aged 40 to 59.
The child molester is despised within our community and rightfully so. Our office recognizes the gravity of charging a person with this crime. When the police submit their case and evidence to the Office of the District Attorney, strict policies and procedures are in place for our prosecutors in order to ensure justice for all the parties involved.
Once we have a good-faith belief the case can be proved beyond a reasonable doubt then, and only then, do we charge a person with this section of the law.
Child molestation is so egregious the molester must be put away for a long, long time. This is why we diligently utilize the “one-strike law.” One provision of the one-strike law permits us to seek a life prison term if the molester has molested more than one victim.
We were successful in using this important sentencing tool when a local second-grade teacher was convicted for molesting girls in his class. This teacher is now serving a life sentence for his crimes. When someone in that type of position betrays the trust of parents, schools officials, and damages forever the innocence of children, they have forfeited their right to live in our community.
If voters pass Jessica's Law, which will be on the November ballot, we will not have to wait until the molester strikes multiple times. The very first time a sexual predator assaults a child, we could put that person away for 15 years to life. If he or she molests the child while committing a burglary or a kidnap, prosecutors could seek 25 years to life. We know from experience that sexual predators do not stop with one victim, and that's why these tough sentences are so desperately needed. That's why we are asking voters to help us pass Jessica's Law.
What is even more startling about these cases is that most convicted molesters never exhibit any outward clues that they would harm a child until it's too late; they would easily pass any background check at a hospital or a school. The child molester typically will seek out occupations that offer him or her ready access to children. Particularly, they choose occupations that entail trust, such as a teacher, counselor, doctor, coach or cleric. The child molester is frequently charming and someone you know. All of these factors enable the molester to fly under the radar of suspicion and “pick and choose” his next vulnerable victim.
We in law enforcement and government can do only so much; parents must look at those who are closest to their children. According the Department of Justice and our own statistics, 90 percent of those children who are raped under the age of 12 knew his or her offender.
If you suspect something is wrong, trust your instincts. Talk to your child today about “good touch/bad touch.” Encourage your child to tell you if someone has touched them inappropriately. Remind them that they can always tell you anything, at anytime, and that they won't get in trouble. Equally important, know what your child is doing when they are on the Internet. Take steps today to make sure your child is safe. We are doing are part, please do yours. Child molestation is a preventable crime.
Dumanis is San Diego County district attorney. Jacob is a member of the county Board of Supervisors.
U.T. Article: Striking hard at child molesters By Bonnie Dumanis and Dianne Jacob