I have written on this subject before. But today’s story out of Sacramento is more tragic and upsetting.
The mother of an eight-year-old sodomy victim has filed a lawsuit against the mobile home park where the crime happened in 2013. She charges that the management of Sacramento’s Park Royal Estates Mobile Home Park knew that a 15-year-old boy was raping and terrorizing resident children in key-access, monitored, and “secured” areas of the park. But instead of calling the cops and reporting their suspicions, staffers kept quiet.
Fortunately, the boy immediately reported to his mother, who called the police. The 15-year-old is now in jail. He has allegedly raped at least one other child in the park.
Why wouldn’t park staffers report what they knew or suspected? Maybe it was fear of the 15-year-old. Maybe it was fear of his parents. Perhaps staffers feared that parents would pick up their children and move out of the park if they knew what was happening. Maybe they just though it was “child’s play.” Whatever the rationale, it was wrong. It’s a cover-up as tragic as the clergy sex abuse crisis … especially since, like clerics who offend and are moved around, juveniles who offend get a “free pass” and no help to actually stop the behavior.
But I am not here to talk about the legal aspects of this case. For this discussion, legal liability is irrelevant. I want to talk about the teen who abused.
The sexual abuse of a child is horrific enough, but when the abuser is a minor, the consequences are far more tragic than what most people realize.
Crimes by juveniles are some of the least likely to be reported, no matter how violent or traumatic they are to the victim.
- Parents of the perpetrator are likely to minimize the severity of the crime or deny the crime,
- The perpetrator is likely the victim of a crime and/or suffering from extreme mental illness with no access to care,
- The victim and the perpetrator are peers, in a sense. The terror of the abuse infiltrates a child’s social circles and peer groups,
- The perpetrator is more likely to come from a violent home or the “system,” where intervention is difficult,
- Parents of the victim are less likely to believe that a child can commit such a horrible crime,
- Many adults believe that a child can easily fight off another child,
- The crimes are often wrongly attributed to children’s sexual exploration or “child’s play,”
- Other adults tend to romanticize their own childhoods, and can find it difficult to realize the severity of the abuse.
So now, we have a victim who is totally terrorized, alienated from his/her peers, afraid to report, or not believed.
But let’s say that the child DOES report, as in this case. Then we have a whole new tragedy.
- The juvenile justice system is not equipped to treat sex offending children—mostly because society barely understands the problem,
- The perpetrator receives little, if any, therapeutic help for his/her criminal behavior or the mental illness that caused the behavior,
- If the juvenile is convicted, his/her record is sealed and his/her name does not appear on any registries,
- If the minor offends again as a minor or an adult, it is difficult—if not impossible—for the victim to get access to the perpetrator’s history.
I have worked with dozens of victims who have been abused by older siblings, baby sitters, camp counselors, neighborhood kids or teens at church of school. Their story is the same: they are more disenfranchised than many other victims of abuse. As they grow into adulthood, they find it difficult to get help or to reach out to friends and family, who simply can’t understand the severity of the crime.
So now what do we do?
- Talk to your kids about bullies and other children who threaten, hurt or terrorize other children,
- Keep your eye out—does your child try to hide from other children out of fear, or does he make excuses to stay inside when he used to love to be with other kids?
- Never push your child to play with kids that your child fears,
- Listen to your child when they talk about the social dynamics of their peer group,
- Don’t assume that girls are incapable of abuse,
- Watch you child at play. Sometimes, abuse can happen right under your nose.
Most importantly: report when you suspect a crime. The ChildHelp hotline is staffed 24/7 with crisis counselors and offers “crisis intervention, information, literature, and referrals to thousands of emergency, social service, and support resources. All calls are anonymous and confidential.”