USE THE COURTS TO CRACK DOWN ON SEXUAL PREDATORS
Sexual predators are so brazen that they will do anything to get their victims, including, as we have recently seen, plucking children from their own yards, their own homes and even from the cars of their boyfriends, to sexually assault and in many cases to murder them.
Children are being targeted at alarming rates, and what sexual predators are doing to them wild animals in nature wouldn't do to one another. While playing outside of her California home, 5 year old Samantha Runnion was abducted on July 15 and her nude body was found the next day alongside a mountain highway. Investigators said she had been sexually assaulted and suffocated, and, according to reports, the murderer left a calling card displaying her naked and bruised body in a provocative way not far from the highway, as if daring investigators to find him.
A Missouri transient is charged with abducting, trying to rape, and killing a 6 year old child he snatched from the kitchen of her own home on July 26. The perpetrator was last seen with Cassandra Williamson, giving her a piggyback ride down the street. An autopsy revealed that the girl died after being hit by a blunt object.
Ten year old Evan Parker lay dying in the basement of a vacant Indiana house while the man accused of beating and stabbing him helped search for his body on July 7. Evan's cries led police to the abandoned house where they found that he had been stabbed in the chest, abdomen, face, head and left arm and suffered puncture wounds in the chest. Evan died the next day.
Sexual predators place absolutely no value on the lives of their child victims; they simply objectify them and use them to act out their deviant fantasies. More than two-thirds of the victims of rape and sexual assault in the United States are under the age of 18, according to a U.S. Justice Department report. We can expect that one in four girls and one in 10 boys will suffer sexual abuse in childhood and approximately 100 children each year will be abducted and murdered by strangers.
We know that children who are brutally sexually assaulted are more likely than other children to develop severe psychosocial problems, including depression, antisocial and suicidal behavior, and substance abuse. But sexual predators often get little or no jail time for snatching a child's innocence.
Defense attorneys who've represented accused child molesters know that they can easily confuse a child victim in a courtroom in order to create reasonable doubt in the minds of the jurors. While every defendant has the right to be represented zealously, including those accused of sex offenses against children, our criminal justice system does little to give the approximately 13,000 children who testify each year in sexual-abuse cases equity in a courtroom. Although court school-for-kids programs can significantly reduce the potential trauma a child might experience in a courtroom, nothing can fully equip a child to deal with what even most adults feel is an intimidating experience.
Children are terrified when they have to testify and defense attorneys capitalize on that. They can easily confuse and manipulate children into answering questions and use big words and ask complicated questions that children don't understand. If adult witnesses can't understand English, they are provided a translator, so why shouldn't every child who has to testify be provided an impartial children's translator, assigned by the court?
To some the notion of a child translator may be progressive. But to those of us who have seen a shark gnawing away at a child witness, it will most certainly put an end to one of America's most shameful practices. It may save the lives of children like Samantha Runnion, whose alleged murderer was acquitted of sex crimes against two girls prior to sexually assaulting and murdering her. Had he been convicted of the prior offenses, he would have spent his life in prison and Samantha would be alive today.
A failure to enact aggressive civil commitment laws aimed at keeping the highly dangerous sexual predator off our street leaves our children extremely vulnerable. Through up-to-date prevention education, parents and children can learn skills to protect themselves and their children from coercive types of child molesters. But there is a subclass of sexual predator that a community can do little to protect itself against except to pass civil commitment laws, which authorize the state to confine and treat highly dangerous sexual predators, following completion of their criminal sentence.
If we value the innocence of children as much as we value due process for the accused and for known sexual predators, we must reform our court system to give children more protection and to keep violent predators tightly confined.