For many Kentuckians, there was hope that with the end of Matt Bevin’s time in office, the healing would begin. However, even before the sun set on the past four years, there was a final hint of a scandal brewing, a scandal that started out at the top of the hill like a snowball and quickly grew into an avalanche as Kentuckians learned more and more about the hundreds of pardons which Matt Bevin granted as the lights were being turned off on his administration, and a new era of civility was about to be launched.
Although much could be said about the pardons, especially the release of convicted murderers, the cases which should cause all Kentuckians to pause for a moment have to do with the pardons for those involved in the sexual exploitation and molestation of children. By pardoning child molesters, the outgoing governor sent a strong message to child victims that the loss of their innocence doesn’t mean anything.
As a federal prosecutor, I prosecuted dozens of defendants who sexually exploited or molested children. Although most people are not interested in knowing the facts of these cases, there was one thing that stood out in all of the cases was that those involved in sexually exploiting or molesting a child victim went to great lengths to groom their child victims in order to ensure they would remain silent. Sometimes this was through veiled threats that either the child would be harmed if they reported their victimization or that their families or siblings would be harmed. And there were other ways to control the victim simply by convincing the victim that they were actually responsible for what happened to them and that if they reported their victimization they would be punished.
Sadly, over the years, from the first cases I investigated as a special agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the 1980’s, until my retirement as assistant federal prosecutor in 2007, the ages of the victims of sexual exploitation and molestation went from teens, to pre-teens, to pre-speech toddlers. Yes, I said pre-speech toddlers, who in the eyes of those involved in sexually exploiting or molesting children were the perfect victims since pre-speech toddlers were incapable of reporting their sexual victimization.
As I wrote in a column earlier this year, “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.””
Unfortunately, nothing can be done to undo the pardons issued by Matt Bevin in state court. However, that should not be the end of the story for the child victims in these cases. It is time to call on the federal government to review each of these cases to determine whether there are any federal charges which can be brought, charges which would not violate the double jeopardy clause, charges which could vindicate the child victims, charges which would send a strong message to child victims that we will not tolerate this injustice, that these innocent children do not need to remain silent or fearful to report the nightmare of their sexual exploitation or sexual abuse.
So, as I often do, I would invite each of you who share my sense of outrage at what Matt Bevin did to not only exploit the child victims of those he pardoned, but to silence other child victims, 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; it is time to stand with all child victims and demand that the legal system correct these injustices.