17 Feb



Posted Sunday, February 17, 2019

There is a quiet epidemic of child sexual abuse, an epidemic which robs every child victim of their innocence; an epidemic which destroys the innocence of thousands of children every year.  For each child victim it is innocence lost, innocence which can never be restored.   

This is a quiet epidemic which most of us do not want to know about, or for that matter, an epidemic which no one wants to believe could happen over and over and over again.  An anonymous person once said, “It's not consent if you make me afraid to say no.” These few simple words paint a word picture for thousands of child victims of sexual abuse.  Sadly, many of these innocent victims live in silence, fearful to tell someone, or anyone about their nightmare of sexual abuse.  In the words of Herbert Ward, “Child abuse casts the shadow the length of a lifetime.”

One national organization estimates that every 11 minutes a child is sexually abused. In 2015, the National Children’s Alliance estimated that more than 200,000 children were sexually abused. Yes, more than 200,000 children, a staggering number, a staggering number of child victims who have had their innocence stolen, innocence which can never be restored.

Oftentimes, after a child victim has had the courage to come forward, they find themselves trapped in an adult world, in a legal system which challenges their honesty about the sexual abuse; in an adult world where they are thrust into a legal system where they must relive the memories of their sexual abuse over and over and over again, simply because they had the courage to reveal their victimization.

Imagine one true story of sexual abuse, the story of O.H a young girl whose nightmare of child sex abuse began nearly two years ago while she was alone with her step-father as he was driving her to her high school Homecoming dance.  Close your eyes for a moment and pretend that you are O.H. and listen quietly as she describes what happened that evening:

I had to pick up my friend because we were going to do makeup that day together. And Charlie and me were in the car alone, and we had to take the long way around, and he asked me a lot of sexualized questions, -- he’d always – he’d ask, can I see your boobs or can I touch them or he asked me if I’ve had an orgasm or if I knew how – if I knew what a – if I knew what it was. He talked about my mom’s sex life. He – asked if I knew how to kiss, if I knew – if I knew what a _____ ___ was and --.

Now imagine that O.H.’s journey of sexual abuse did not end on the night of her high school Homecoming dance.  Fast forward a few months, and again close your eyes for a moment and pretend you are O.H. and listen quietly as O.H describes what happened that night:

It happened six months ago, and I – we were in the car alone again, and I might – I was – we were talking about the last trip I went with  my mom to Lexington, and I brought up all the stores we went to and – we went to Victoria’s Secret – we went to and – we went to Victoria’s Secret – we went – that time that we went, and it got onto the topic, and he asked all these questions about what bra I was wearing, and he – asked he [sic] if he could feel like, the material, and he grabbed my boob. That’s the time that he touched me.

What happened to O.H. on those two nights was the beginning of O.H.’s own private journey of a lifetime of nightmares, of a lifetime when her own shadow of abuse would cast a shadow the length of a lifetime.  One could only pray that O.H.’s story of victimization ended after she had courageously come forward and testified in court, before a judge who understood that O.H. was a victim, and that O.H. deserved to be protected from the man who stole O.H.’s innocence, innocence which will never be restored.

But like many victims of child sexual abuse, O.H. once again found herself being revictimized when her case, and her sad story of sexual abuse was written about in a published court opinion, a tortured opinion where two of the three judges decided that what happened to O.H. was not sexual abuse.  In the words of the dissenting judge, “The majority premises its opinion largely on its conclusion that there was insufficient evidence to establish that Charles touched O.H.’s breast for sexual gratification.” 

So, one is left to ask these two judges the rhetorical question of just exactly what other reason an adult man would have to “grab” the breast of an innocent and vulnerable teenage girl?  For most of us the answer is both simple and obvious, the only reason Charles touched O.H.’s breast was for sexual gratification.  

One could only wish that O.H.’s story was not true.  One could only wish that O.H.’s story which was believed by the circuit judge would not have been published in a court opinion, an opinion which O.H. will have to live with the remainder of her life.  Sadly, what happened to O.H. when her case was published was that she was revictimized; only this time instead of sitting in the car alone with Charles, she found herself the victim of a court system, of two judges who believed that grabbing the breast of a teenage girl is something other than sexual abuse.

In the end, there is so much more that could be, and should be said about O.H.’s story of sexual abuse, not only by Charles, but by a legal system which has now unnecessarily cast O.H. into the limelight, once again reopening O.H.’s wounds, once again adding to O.H.’s nightmare which will last a lifetime.  There is so much more which could be and should be said about a legal system which would allow this to happen.

So, as I often do, I would invite each of you who share my sense of outrage at a legal system that has failed O.H., a system that has reopened O.H.’s wounds, to join me on my imaginary mountaintop, where we can all shout loudly that enough is enough, that we will not accept or allow the legal system to fail and revictimize child victims of sexual abuse.  And this time I would especially invite the thousands of survivors of child sexual abuse, the thousands of child abuse survivors who have had their innocence stolen, who will live out a life where their own story of abuse will cast a shadow the length of a lifetime, to join me on my imaginary mountaintop and stand with O.H. and demand that the legal system correct this injustice, it is time to end the practice of revictimizing the victim.

Oh, and by the way, for those of you interested in reading Castle v. Castle, No. 2018-CA-000019-ME, the opinion is available on the Kentucky Court of Appeals website at  https://courts.ky.gov/courts/coa/Pages/coa.aspx.

Mark Wohlander, a former FBI agent and federal prosecutor, investigated and then prosecuted dozens of child molesters during his career and is often an advocate for the survivors of child sexual abuse. Mark practices law in Lexington, Kentucky.

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