Monday, October 22, 2007

Longer Prison Sentences for Child Abusers

In an investigative report that makes a number of important points, writers for the Dallas Morning News suggest that tough new laws designed to increase sentences for perpetrators of sexual abuse against minors may not have much impact, even though it is almost universally agreed that those who commit these acts currently are not punished severely enough:

Even when abusers are prosecuted, they rarely get long sentences. A Dallas Morning News analysis of sentencing in more than 13,000 cases of aggravated sexual assault of a child since 1991 found that four of every 10 offenders initially received no prison time at all. And when an offender was sent to prison, less than one in five got 25 years or longer.

Among the reasons: Parents are reluctant to take a relative or friend to trial; children may make poor witnesses; and despite depictions of the tattooed ex-con hiding in the bushes, most sex offenders look like the harmless guy next door.

The article repeatedly drives home the point that while much of the public attention given to this unpleasant subject in recent years has involved abuse by strangers, that in reality these crimes are in the vast majority of instances committed by family or friends of the victim.

The article suggests that education for victims and the public at large, not punishment, should be the emphasis of reform, though one would think that those different remedies are not mutually exclusive. Certainly, tougher sentences at least get those convicted off of the street. That being said, the willingness of families to ignore this kind of abuse in order to avoid family disruption is incomprehensible to me. Unfortunately, it is a problem not readily susceptible to legal remedies.

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