Ignoring Evil
 
Ignoring Evil
Written By Thomas Hampson   |   05.31.23
Reading Time: 4 minutes

The problem of child sexual abuse in the United States is far greater than most people realize. Sixty million American adults are sexual abuse survivors. Twenty percent of us. Thirty-nine million of the victims were abused before turning twelve years old. Because most of them will never tell anyone about their experiences, the scope of the problem remains largely a hidden evil.

One in four girls and one in six boys are sexually abused before reaching eighteen.

Why is so little being done to stop it?

During the 70’s and early 80’s I worked for the Illinois Legislative Investigating Commission, eventually becoming the Chief Investigator. More commonly known as the Illinois Crime Investigating Commission, the agency was created to attack organized crime and official misconduct. Because of that focus, we were directed to investigate the rising instances of child pornography and child prostitution that we were seeing throughout the country.

It was well known that vice activities were dominated by organized crime. So it stood to reason that the outfit was responsible for sexually exploiting growing numbers of children as well. That theory proved to be untrue.

Ninety percent of abuse victims are abused by someone they know. Sixty percent are abused by a family member. Almost twelve percent of students who graduate from high school are victims of educator sexual misconduct sometime between kindergarten and twelfth grade. The mob was not behind it.

The sexual exploitation of children turned out to be something beyond what anybody thought.

Our investigation uncovered a range of horrors none of our investigators ever expected and it led to an almost eight-year investigation into every aspect of the issue—the victims, the families, the perpetrators, the social service agencies, the health workers, the police and detectives, the prosecutors, the entire judicial system. It was all a mess. Nothing worked smoothly. There was little or no cooperation or coordination between and among agencies. Every facet of the system was riddled with incompetence and indifference.

There is no easy solution.

We contacted every police department in the state and interviewed scores of detectives about sex abuse cases they handled. What became very clear immediately was most detectives did not like being assigned these cases. A downstate detective told me one time he heard over the radio the call come in about a child being sexually abused. Immediately, he said, he hid under his desk until the supervisor assigned it to someone else.

The cases were depressing, even more so than homicides. And because the conviction rates were so poor and because they sometimes involved prominent people in the community, they were seen as career killers. Today, these cases generally are handled by specialists. But there are not enough of them.

As a way to improve the overall system, we drafted the initial enabling legislation for what has now become known as the Child Advocacy Centers. There were none back then. Today there are over 800 around the country and, for a time, they were performing a coordinating function that was very effective. Based on indicators I’ve seen recently, I am not sure that is true anymore. In Illinois they seemed to have lost touch with the original intended purpose. I have seen a similar erosion of purpose in other states as well.

During the 70’s, prosecutors were reluctant to take on cases involving child sexual abuse because convictions were hard to get. That remains the situation today. Prosecutors often take plea deals that don’t involve the perpetrator admitting to a sex offense. Or, they agree to a less serious offense that has less jail time.

Social workers for DCFS and contract agencies remain ill equipped to handle any serious cases as they remain hamstrung by rules that prevent adequate triaging of the caseload. Often, then and now, they will spend more time on easy cases where parents and caretakers are cooperative, than they will on much more serious cases where the parents actively resist and evade the caseworkers.

You would think that at least the health care workers would be universally committed to the protection of children. Not always. They generally are pretty good at reporting suspected cases of abuse, at least physical abuse. But underage girls who are pregnant sometimes are not reported as victims of abuse, despite the prima facia evidence that the child was sexually abused. Children legally cannot give consent.

In some cases, health workers help arrange, or provide, abortions without notifying the police, DCFS or any other official.

This is also sometimes true when there is evidence boys have been sexually abused, and the boys refuse to cooperate.

No report.

When a case overcomes all the hurdles, and the prosecutor secures a conviction, there is no guarantee justice will be served. Too often, judges minimize the sentencing.

Recently, a teacher in Michigan engaged in sexual intercourse repeatedly over several months with her 13-year-old student. She was convicted of multiple counts of first-degree and third-degree criminal sexual conduct, for which she could have received life imprisonment. She was sentenced to 3 to 20 years. Period. She probably will be out much earlier. She’s not the only one. It’s the same as it was 50 years ago.

In the 70’s, one of our first cases involved a man who was sexually abusing a girl for three years, starting when she was 6. We got him cold on child pornography charges and he gave a full confession. He was sentenced to five years.

Pathetic.

Those immersed in the system know all this is true, but for one reason or another are not inclined to do anything about it. Those outside the system are largely oblivious, and very often want to remain ignorant.

This leaves our next generation condemned to evade the predators as best they can largely on their own. The consequences? More and more children will become victims of child sexual abuse. In thirty years maybe there will be 90 million adult survivors. By then, twenty five percent of us?

Unless we step up and start doing something much more effective, the numbers are going to keep growing.

(Next time, some things that are working and what you can do.)


Thomas Hampson
Thomas Hampson and his wife live in the suburbs of Chicago, have been married for 50 years, and have three grown children. Mr. Hampson is an Air Force veteran where he served as an Intelligence analyst in Western Europe. He also served as an Chief Investigator for the Illinois Legislative Investigating Commission and served on the Chicago Crime Commission as a board member. His work as an investigator prompted him to establish the Truth Alliance Foundation (TAF) and to dedicate the rest of his life to the protection of children. He hopes that the TAF will expand to facilitate the...
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