The rape or molestation of a child marks the end of two lives. The victim's and the perpetrators.
The victim, should it be a months old baby, a five-year-old girl or an 11-year-old boy are damaged; physically, mentally, emotionally. Their momentary physical abuse - often repeated - can expand to span a lifetime of self-destructive behaviors, emotional detachment, up to death through suicide. To say nothing of the lost life that many face in light of the betrayal of trust that their abuse causes. 90% of children are abused by someone they know; 40% by a family member. This is no stranger in the park; this is someone they trust. It results in trauma that ranks among the most grave.
The perpetrators life too is over the first time that they abuse a child. Abuse is a choice; a conscious decision to fulfill an obsessive fantasy. Once that line is crossed and they abuse a child they have cut all ties with society; permanently. They have lost their civil rights by depriving a child of theirs.
Offenders range in seriousness from child pornography collectors, to molesters who use a child's body as a source of titillating pleasure, to rapists, torturers and murderers. The difference between them is the degree of escalation that they allow themselves. They are all criminals and need severe societal intervention. No one can predict when or if an offender will progress to more serious abuse. Society must therefore take universal precautions and treat all as if they will. A child rapist or murderer is not born; they are self-created as they push their moral envelope until they are satisfied, or stopped by society or death.
Sex offenders are members of the 'yet' club. As they position themselves on the scale of child abuse the only thing that separates them from the next degree of offense is they haven't done it - yet. A child pornographer may not have physically abused a child - yet. A molester may not have raped a child - yet. The urge to progress is present; whether they act on it is up to them.
How do we punish these criminals when caught offending against children? There are three trains of thought; therapy, prison and death.
Therapy for child sex offenders doesn't work. Why? Ask yourself, who would molest or rape a child? Using a broad brush, the mind-set of the offender is not one of mental illness or deviant sexuality. It is an anti-social, narcissistic, self-entitled person who demands self-satisfaction no matter what the cost to others. The focus of their desires are children. The child is not a child to them; they are sexual objects. Disposable objects at that.
Molestation and rape of the child is a large part of the game but it is not all of it. Control, power and the satisfaction from deception are all important components too. They enjoy the seduction process involved in grooming a child and their parents into trusting them (they get a thrill out of fooling them), of keeping the secrets, sexually abusing and juggling many victims at the same time. Even the father who rapes his daughter in some way feels justified in his actions, it is his right.
There is a loud call for harsh, tough sentencing for offenders; life sentences for the most part. There are also those who are indignant and argue against such sentencing. Who are they?
Pedophiles for one. Pedophiles populate all levels of society and are represented in all professions including the judiciary. They live in plain sight in all walks of life. There are also the medical practitioners and therapist objectors who are determined that they can change the child abuser's behavior. I'll go out on a limb here and guess that this interest in a cure is directly proportional to the amount of research funding available. There are also those who look to derive income from defending abusers; attorneys. And then there's the average Joe who, unfortunately, is not too sure what it's all about. Denial of the extent and damage of child sexual abuse is still a powerful suppressive mechanism of society; denial is a means of making us feel safe.
Keep in mind that the purpose of imprisonment in this case is not remediation; it's punishment through complete isolation from society, and the protection of future children. Even so the devastation they leave behind on the outside will probably outlive them.
Mandatory sentencing is required to ensure a level of uniformity in the length and severity of prison sentences. Judges should not have any option in determining the length of the sentence for child sex offenses.
Further, multiple sentences should be served consecutively not concurrently to maximize the amount of jail time served. Sentences should be based on flat time without any allowances for early release for any reason. After the sentence is completed, the abuser should be examined to determine their further risk to society.
The U.S. Supreme court this year, acknowledging the life-long risk these offenders' pose, allows states to extend the period of incarceration of a child sex offender indefinitely if they are determined to be a risk to society. Considering that there is a documented 10% risk of re-offense (that we know of) life sentences in prison or in civil therapy institutions are preferable to any hope of reentering society again.
In Oklahoma (1) they are mulling execution of the perpetrator in cases of child rape. For those who think this is a solution and can live with State capital punishment, who am I to argue? The result is the same; the permanent removal of the perpetrators from society albeit without the expense of a lifetime of maintenance.
Child sex offenders of all levels should be registered world-side on a publicly accessible database for life. It exists at present all over the United States on a State and Federal level. The register is a warning to society that the registrants have committed crimes against children and may do so again; let me go further, they probably will do so again. Arguments against this in Europe include that it will lead to vigilantism. This has not proven to be the case in the U.S. where the system has been in place for years and society is armed. The concern of course should be the risk to our children not the offender's welfare.
Tough sentencing is important beyond the punitive aspect; it is also a source of healing for a survivor. When victims are in recovery from their trauma, of real help is the strength shown by family and friends. How the judicial system treats the offender is equally important as it represents society's response to the crime and its respect for the victim.
A judicial system that systematically provides harsh punishment for perpetrators of child sex crimes is one that supports the victim by telling them that they were wronged and that the offense will not be tolerated. A weak judicial system has the opposite effect, telling the victim in effect that they are unimportant; their suffering inconsequential. It really is that straightforward.
We - society - owe maximum protection to our children simply because they cannot protect themselves.
The writer, Evin Daly, is the founder and CEO of One Child International Inc., a U.S. based non-profit which operates the Child AbuseWatch network. One Child has offices in Fort Lauderdale, Dublin and Sydney. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
1. March 18, 2010 - Oklahoma legislature moving forward with capital child rape bill
2. Child AbuseWatch www.abusewatch.net - child abuse and prevention information.