Monday, August 6, 2007

Prosecutors know what the SBC ignores

The National District Attorneys Association met last week and unanimously adopted a resolution calling on state legislators to reform statute of limitation laws that govern the ability of child sex abuse victims to pursue criminal and civil actions.

The resolution recognizes that "many victims of childhood sexual abuse do not equate the injuries they have suffered, or are continuing to suffer, with the abuse perpetrated upon them as a child until well into adulthood." Consequently, national prosecutors are acutely aware of why "most of these crimes go unreported for many years," and as a result, "most of these offenders escape responsibility for their criminal actions."

Prosecutor Susan Gaertner, who pushed for the resolution, emphasized that the problem of child sex abuse is much larger than most people realize. "The sexual abuse of children is not limited to any one religion, class of people or geographic area."

Prosecutor James Backstrom pointed out that, because there is often a delay in reporting and rarely physical evidence, most prosecutions are not successful. “For this reason,” he said, “it is obvious that the criminal justice system cannot solve this enormous problem on its own.... It is imperative that we explore a multitude of ways to expose the perpetrators of these crimes and prevent further victimization.”

Marci Hamilton, a New York law professor and board member for the National Association to Prevent Sexual Abuse of Children, said, “It is unfortunate that most child predators are never prosecuted.... our nation's prosecutors understand that.”

Tragically, the former prosecutor who advises the Southern Baptist Convention is an exception. He does NOT seem to understand that.

In the Baptist Press, Augie Boto stated that "the proper investigatory panel for Baptists should be law enforcement officials." Yet, as a former prosecutor, Boto certainly ought to be aware of the reality that prosecutors all across the country confirm -- i.e., that most child predators are never prosecuted. He says: "The SBC strongly advises the immediate report of suspected child abuse"... as though this "advice" would solve the problem. Yet, this nation's prosecutors unanimously know that "most of these crimes go unreported for many years." That's the real world, and by pretending the world is otherwise, the SBC leaves kids at risk. The reality is that most victims CANNOT report abuse because the psychological damage is so great. Prosecutors know this; the SBC seems oblivious.

The practical impact of Boto's view is that, for Southern Baptists, as long as a clergy child molester can avoid criminal conviction, he can remain in the pulpit, and usually people in the pews won't even be warned. Since most child predators are never prosecuted, much less convicted, this means that a whole lot of Southern Baptist clergy predators can easily remain in positions of trust...because the denomination does not provide an alternative way of exposing them such as most other mainline faith groups do.

Why should anyone really care what Boto thinks? Because this is the man who is general counsel for the Southern Baptist Convention's Executive Committee and Vice-President for Convention Policy. He is the SBC staff person who assists and advises the subcommittee that has been tasked with trying to figure out how the SBC should handle the clergy sex abuse problem. If the SBC's primary adviser is insisting that law enforcement is the proper way to expose clergy predators (while remaining apparently oblivious to the reality that most predators can't be prosecuted), then it doesn't seem likely that the SBC will take effective action. And if the denomination doesn't take action to expose clergy predators, then most of the time those predators will remain hidden... because law enforcement has its hands tied by statutes of limitation.

To prevent additional victims, "it is imperative" that there be alternative ways to expose child molesters who often mask themselves in positions of trust and authority. This is the reality that other mainline faith groups have already recognized and it is the reason they provide review boards for hearing clergy abuse reports. How much longer will Southern Baptist leaders stand on the sidelines?

Send an email to the SBC’s subcommittee and urge them to bring in outside consultants, other religious leaders who have set up review boards, professionals in the field, and clergy abuse survivors to help them in effectively addressing this issue that affects the safety of so many kids. Clearly, the SBC's subcommittee needs to be getting information and advice from sources other than just Boto.

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