Michelle Sicignano, LMSW

Michelle Sicignano, LMSW

Social Justice Solutions | Staff Writer
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Do Victims Have Rights?

The Jerry Sandusky sentencing got me wondering, mathematically. I wondered what the terms worked out to, so I calculated it, and came up with 1.5 years for each the 45 offenses for which he was convicted. 1.5 years for destroying lives of 10 young children entrusted to his care and sanctioned by a communities blindness and then silence for decades.  But people looking the other way, or failing to believe what they are seeing, or take action is not the focus of this piece. 10 children came forward, and reported well over a 100 offenses between them.  He was tried on 48 and convicted of 45. In reality, we realize those 48 charges resulting in 45 convictions from 10 different victims likely only scratches the surface of the total number of criminal acts Jerry Sandusky committed against many more children, children who chose not to speak up. Who instead will cling to their secrets and hide in shame and suffer silent torment themselves, possibly for the rest of their lives, because coming forward when something so incomprehensible occurs takes more than sadly too many children are equipped with in their lives.

That there are likely many more victims isn’t idle speculation. “A 1994 National Institute of Health survey of 453 pedophiles, conducted by Dr. Gene Abel, showed these criminals were collectively responsible for the molestation of over 67,000 children. That’s an average of 148 children per individual pedophile.”

Sandusky could have been sentenced to over 400 years, and six of the 45 offenses carried 10 year mandatory minimum terms. “But judges in Pennsylvania, as is common throughout the country, have almost absolute discretion to determine whether the sentences for those counts will be served consecutively.”

If, as Wes Oliver explained in his article, “A judge could see a multi-century sentence as a way to send a strong message to would-be child molesters without changing either a defendant’s punishment of the state’s cost of incarceration,” what message does a light sentence send? What does a 1.5 year sentence for violating a child send to other molesters, or, more importantly, to the victims and their families?  While it’s true that a 30 year sentence is more or less a life sentence, it is also true that to the victim of a heinous crime, knowing the perpetrator got a mere 1.5 years for actions that will likely haunt the remainder of that person’s life, is likely a further violation.

So, that is what got me thinking. What does the average child molester get? A simple Google search and:

“According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics of the U.S. Department of Justice, the average sex offender–defined as a child molester–is released from prison after serving approximately three years of the usual seven-year sentence.”  Three years is the average, some perpetrators get far less time.

Some, in fact, merely get probation:  In this case, the perpetrator admitted to sodomy and molestation of a 5 year old girl over the course of seven years; In this instance, the girl, 7,  had been molested over a period of three years; and in this instance the victims were 2 boys, 7 and 10.All these cases resulted in nothing more than probation, and the stories, outrage, and disgust goes on and on.

Sexual abuse of children is not a rare occurrence, and light sentences both send a message and allow further victimization to occur. I don’t like to rush to judgment, but it seems clear we don’t value children as much as we think or would like to think we do.  Consider that the average child molester typically serves three years for such a crime, often much less, and sometimes more. Consider also that three years is the average time served for burglary, which by definition involves no weapons and results in no injuries. And, to be clear, it’s worth mentioning, time actually served is generally not the same as time sentenced. Time actually served usually works out to be about half of the time sentenced. So in sentencing Jerry Sandusky to 30 years, were this not a high-profile case, what do you think the likelihood that he would in fact serve his entire sentence?

I am troubled by this, and I wonder why there isn’t more out-rage. Are people numb? Apathetic? In disbelief? Or, is it simply a matter of this is not me and not my child? I also wonder about the families of those where the perpetrator got only probation, or a light sentence. I wonder if they too thought not me, or not my child. And I wonder about events going forward. What will the judge deem as appropriate justice for men in authority who failed to take quick and decisive action because …..



Some Statistics:

“Sex Offender and Child Molester Statistics

According to the U. S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics, on any given day there are approximately 234,000 sex offenders who were convicted of rape or sexual assault and are in the custody or control of correction agencies. Consider the following statistics:
* The median age of the victims of convicted sex offenders was less than 13 years old.
* Approximately 24% of those offenders confined for rape and 19% of those imprisoned for sexual assault had been on parole or probation at the time of the crime.
* In one year alone, approximately 4,300 child molesters in 15 states were released from imprisonment.
* Of the 4,300 child molesters released, approximately 3.3% were rearrested within three years for another sex offense against a child.

Characterstics of Child Victims

U. S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics has combined a study of characteristics among those child victims of convicted sex offenders and child molesters. These statistics are based on the reports of offenders in the Survey of Inmates of State Correctional Facilities, and include the following:

* Three out of four children who were victimized were female.
* One-third of the convicted offenders had committed a crime against their own child.
* About half of the convicted offenders had a relationship with the child, either through friends or family.
* Only one out of seven inmates reported that their child victim was a stranger.
* Four out of ten child victims suffered forcible rape or another injury from child molesters.

Characteristics of Offenders Who Violate and Assault Children

According to the Survey of Inmates of State Correctional Facilities by the U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics, the following statistics have been recorded concerning the characteristics of offenders who violate and assault children.

* Those inmates who were convicted of committing violent acts against children were more like to have been white, a percentage of nearly 70%, than any other race.
* White inmates were nearly three times more likely to have victimized a child than black inmates.
* About one in every seven Hispanic convicts had been convicted for a crime against a child.
* Nearly two-thirds of convicted child molesters and/or offenders were or had been married.
* Child molesters and offenders were more likely to have grown up in a two parent home and were more likely to have been molested as a child.
* Approximately 22% of child offenders reported having been sexually abused as a child.”

And from Parents for Megan’s Law:

  • One in three girls and one in six boys are sexually abused before the age of 18
  • One in 5 youth received a sexual approach or solicitation over the Internet in the past year.
  • The average age for first abuse is 9.9 years for boys and 9.6 years for girls.
  • Abuse typically occurs within a long-term, on-going relationship between the offender and victim, escalates over time and lasts an average of four years.
  • Many child sexual abuse victims never disclose their abuse to anyone. Less than 10% of child sexual abuse is reported to the police.
  • Children are most vulnerable between ages 8 -12.
  • 29% of all forcible rapes occurred when the victim was under 11 years old.
  • 15% of sexual assault and rape victims are under the age of 12.
  • 44% of sexual assault and rape victims are under age 18.
  • Children with disabilities are 4 to 10 times more vulnerable to sexual abuse than their non-disabled peers.
  • Nearly 30% of child sexual assault victims identified by child protective service agencies were between 4 and 7 years of age.
  • 93% of juvenile sexual assault victims know their attacker, 34.2% of attackers were family members and 58.7% were acquaintances and only 7% of the perpetrators were strangers to the victim.
  • Nearly 50 % of all the victims of forcible sodomy, sexual assault with an object, and forcible fondling are children under the age of 12.
  • 60% of girls who had sex before the age of 15 were coerced by males averaging 6 years their senior.
  • Women who experienced sexual abuse as a child are 2 to 3 times more likely to be sexually assaulted later in life.
  • Like rape, child molestation is one of the most underreported crimes: only 1-10% are ever   disclosed. Source: FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin.



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  1. SB_Australia November 8, 2012

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