Much forethought is done before committing an offense


Published: Sunday, January 14, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 14, 2007 at 12:19 a.m.
A few weeks ago, a pedophile whose case made the news at his arrest, quietly, without media attention, pled guilty to two counts of lewd and lascivious behavior, one count of lewd and lascivious molestation, and one count of lewd and lascivious conduct.
These four charges referred to acts committed against two teen males, and were the charges the prosecutor could prove against him. They were likely not the only crimes this man perpetrated, however.
As a victim advocate, I had contact with several other males who identified as his victims, with accounts similar to the crimes of which he was convicted. These stretch back almost 40 years.
With such a history, how does a man remain free to continue hurting perhaps hundred of Alachua County's young men? Why was our community unable to protect them?
In trying to find answers, one could certainly make a case for the burden of proof being so high in criminal cases. The accused must be proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, and juries may be hesitant to trust their instincts about what is "reasonable." Others may mistakenly believe that the police or prosecutors just don't care, or do sloppy work. But I believe much more of the answer lies in a sex offender's premeditation of his crime.
While he may claim that he molested on impulse, there is much obsession and forethought that goes into such an offense. An offender who preys on children he doesn't know, for example, may patrol areas to find where he is least likely to be observed, may outfit his vehicle with the "tools" he will need to subdue a child, and may have a place prepared to take his victim.
Similarly, the more common type of offender, one known to the child and child's family, will be ingratiating to gain the trust of a child's caretakers. He flatters a single mother and may even begin a romantic relationship with her to get access to the child. He may claim an interest in "helping" children and become a coach, a teacher, a foster parent, a foreign exchange student host. He may offer a child money, gifts, and attention.
All of these actions, while seemingly altruistic (the perpetrator himself may rationalize his actions as being helpful and good), are really designed to gain and allow continued access to victims. Citing his "service work," community reputation, his admirable career, the perpetrator fools new parents into allowing sleepovers and unsupervised visits even as the parents of previously molested children are making police reports. He also establishes a "fan club" of supporters who refuse to believe in his ulterior motives.
Choosing to molest some children and not others allows for an alibi: if ten children claim no harm, it is that much more difficult to believe the one who does. Choosing victims who are somehow vulnerable works to his advantage too. A child with low self-esteem may not disclose because of shame, fear, self-blame, or confusion about boundaries, while a child who has a history of acting out is likely not credible to jurors.
Another factor that added to this perpetrator's freedom to keep offending is his attraction to males rather than females. Many parents are aware of the danger to their daughters, and educate and protect them. Those same parents may find it incomprehensible to believe that their sons are at risk too, but some research indicates that as many as one in six boys suffer sexual violence.
Male victims are much less likely to disclose due to the pervasiveness of myths that suggest that they too will become perpetrators, are homosexual because they were victimized by a male, or "enjoyed" the molestation because their bodies responded physically.
So how does a community protect its vulnerable young men from such a pedophile? Parents, encourage open communication with your children, educate yourselves and them about the risk, and believe them when they disclose.
Most sexual abusers - 88 percent - are never reported. Make police reports and acknowledge the difficulties in investigating and prosecuting such cases. While the authorities may not be able to act in this instance, the accumulated effect of many reports adds possible Williams Rule evidence to future cases.
Citizens, remain open-minded about another's potential for hurting children. Confront the neighbor or friend who has odd but seemingly harmless habits regarding children or seeks unsupervised contact with them. Offenders count on others to help them rationalize their actions. Intervening personally or through authorities may lead the offender to seek treatment and change.
Seek more information. Stop It Now! is a national organization committed to working toward the prevention of child sexual abuse, and has a wealth of information for all community members at its Web site: www.stopitnow.org. Alachua County Victim Services and Rape Crisis Center is a local resource for both prevention information and support services for victims and their loved ones.
Let's take the actions we can now to make all Alachua County children safe from sexual violence.
Rita Lawrence is an advocate for the Alachua County Victim Services and Rape Crisis Center.

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