The tragedy of child abuse

Jeannette Williams was a nurse employed by the schools in Hubbard for many years. Although she is retired, she has not ceased being an advocate for children and young people, especially those children whose lives are manipulated by adults and face addictions or abuse.
During a phone conversation, I had told her about my participation in the community columnist program of the Tribune. There was no hesitation when she uttered the next words: “Rick, you should write about all of the child abuse which is occurring in our county; it is an epidemic.”
My initial response was a feeling of gratitude that we live in Trumbull County where our prosecutor’s office, headed by attorney Dennis Watkins, has a reputation for little tolerance in such cases.
The next day, a front page article reported the sentencing of a West Farmington man, described by Assistant Trumbull County prosecutor Gabe Wildman as a “serial rapist.” And last week, another front page article detailed prosecutor Watkins’ opposition to any release of another Trumbull County man whose address for the past 18 years has been prison. My feeling of gratitude was affirmed. In terms of prosecution and incarceration, our county’s team is tough on those whose crimes victimize children. We are fortunate.
However, these good people address the crimes at the stage of investigation, arrest and prosecution. Should we, as a society, be doing more to be preventive in this “epidemic?”
To be sure, the perpetrators are expert at their criminal activities. They are “con” men and women. In fact, a former FBI profiler specializing in the pursuit of pedophiles informs us that most of these criminals begin to lie as soon as they are arrested. They tell falsehoods about alleged abuse suffered in their childhoods. These felons were never abused, but they continue to attempt to manipulate those around them, even through the judicial process. According to the federal agent, actual survivors of childhood abuse usually become some of society’s most responsible, caring citizens.
Perhaps one contributing factor to the “success” of these criminals is their ability to stay “under the radar” of public scrutiny. Certainly, most of their heinous acts are committed against the young in secret. However, sometimes, they raise the suspicions of adults around them, but those adults might be reluctant to act.
There could be many reasons for this reluctance. On a very basic level, most of us do not want to believe that a human could commit such atrocities on a child. Also, because we live in such a litigious society, some experts speculate that good people fear legal reprisals from these “slick” criminals. Yet, the saddest reason might be the simple fear of confrontation: if we report a misdeed by another adult, we would be a “snitch” and have to face the accused.
One law enforcement official told me there has been an increase in the reporting of such activities over the years, fortunately. Similarly, the education of young people to protect themselves from predators has intensified. But the same authority also quotes people, who respond when questioned as potential witnesses, “I don’t want to get involved,” or “I don’t want to say anything because …” For some, then, their own social standing becomes more important than the well being of a child.
For Jeanette Williams, the situation is very clear. Too many people talk about the priority which our children should be, but their actions belie their words. We seem to hear, increasingly, stories of young, single parents who bring another adult into their lives for companionship, love or need. Yet, this new person visits horrors upon the child, who becomes the “odd-person out” in the dysfunctional triangle.
We must work harder. We, the responsible adults of our communities, must illumine the dark corners of our own neighborhoods and families, both literally and figuratively. The Edmund Burke quote still rings true: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good (people) to do nothing.”

Williams is a Hubbard resident. Email him at