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Unspoken Injustice; Washington Post columnist breaks the silence

By Stephen Webster
Investigative Reporter
For the 6/16/06 edition of The News Connection

Part Four in a Series

Since The News Connection began its series of reports on the Denton County child safety advocacy group Building BLOCK, this community has shown a tremendous outpouring of care about this issue. Thankfully, such a sentiment is not unique to this small enclave of North Texas.

On June 11, longtime Washington Post Writers Group columnist Neal Peirce keyed an article titled “Violent Sex Crimes: Free the Children.” The subject of this article is none other than Christopher Largen, co-founder of Building BLOCK and a key interview subject in TNC’s series. Since Peirce is syndicated through The Post, dozens of national newspapers have played host to this outspoken advocate’s cause, and to great effect.


Peirce

“Now a recovered and spirited man in his mid-30s,” wrote Peirce, “Largen is crusading for toughened police, prosecutor and judicial action to arrest, sentence and hold child molesters. And not for vengeance, but because ‘American children are being molested, raped, tortured, even murdered.’”

TNC contacted Peirce as soon as his contribution to Building BLOCK became public. Within mere hours he had responded, and thanked TNC for initiating media coverage of the group. “[This is] an amazing story,” he wrote. “[Of] how very widespread the phenomenon of sexual abuse is in the United States, how many haphazard police departments and prosecutors are in apprehending and holding dangerous offenders.” Included in TNC’s correspondence with Peirce were several emails he received in response to his column.

One respondent, identifying himself as a member of Bikers Against Child Abuse, wrote, “Despite what our name says, we are not big burly bikers out to stamp out child abusers – although at times we might like to. We are essentially a support group for victims of child abuse who need our support and sometimes defense against the perpetrators who would intimidate them and bully them into recanting or changing their stories. The ‘system’ as it is set up does nothing to help these victims, especially in the early stages when the perps are still innocent until proven guilty.” He goes on to plug the group’s website – www.BACAUSA.com.

Another letter Peirce received expresses concern about predators in the home – not just the prowler next door. “[O]ne crucial factor you failed to mention is that many – perhaps more than half – of the children who are molested are victims of someone in their own family of a close friend. … I know at least three women who told me they were raped by their fathers when they were in their early teens. None ever pressed charges.”

This writer drew a response from Largen, the man at the epicenter of this sudden media spotlight. “This is a very good point,” he replied. “Out of my seven assailants, one was in my family, four were acquaintances of my family, and two were strangers. While it is true that stranger assaults are more likely to be of a fixated/predatorial nature (and more likely to result in a kidnapping and/or murder), family members and acquaintances of family members can also be fixated and predatory. For example, there have been men who have married women simply to gain access to their young children. Nauseating, but true.”

Largen’s solution: “We need to teach children to be their own first responders, which means they must be given access to information about their bodies and their rights. Contrast the proliferation of DARE programs, while our public school districts often lack an equivalent program to teach kids what sexual abuse is, how to reduce danger, and what to do if anyone hurts them. Children absolutely need to know that someone will be an advocate for them if they speak out. This concept is a bone of contention for some people, because they mistrust the idea of state officials teaching their children about sex. They want sex to be a private issue for the family, but the reality is, many parents aren’t arming their own kids with vital information. We also need better educated parents who know how to talk to their kids about sex, how to spot warning signs, and just as important, how to develop empathetic and open lines of communication with their children.”

“We argue over issues and vilify people in the press,” wrote another respondent. “What if we instead looked through the lens of development and started to access ethical, psychological, social and cognitive development? When our elected officials think the world is black and white, clearly they are cognitively underdeveloped. When they think it is all about them and power, we are often looking at power addicts. When they lie, cheat and steal, what sort of ethical development have they accomplished? And where are our discernment skills when we elect them? …I am committed to empowering children with the skills they need to look inside and protect, heal and develop themselves. It’s the Pogo thing – the enemy is us; our lack of development individually and collectively.”

From the deluge of responses Peirce received after picking up this chalice from Building BLOCK and TNC, he has drawn several conclusions. “[T]he American public wants (1) to see that this issue is addressed because of the immense lifelong peril to children, (2) recognition of how hard it is to prosecute many cases, and (3) both determined and fair prosecution of offenders.

We at The News Connection could not agree more, and offer our thanks to Neal Peirce of The Washington Post Writers Group for speaking out on this, a formerly Unspoken Injustice.

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