It is with great interest that I have become aware of a new debate (new to me, anyway) in the sometimes crazy world of public discourse, and it has to do with whether pedophillia (child molestation) should be decriminalized. There are some people who are arguing that this is a condition or a disorder and should not be a crime. They argue that people are born this way and therefor are not responsible for their actions. They argue that they should be given the same protections as are now given to same sex couples by the U. S. Supreme Court. HOGWASH! While I am not going to get into the pros and cons of that discussion, there is a distinct difference between what two consenting adults do and what happens when there very definitely is a “victim,” in every real sense of the word. In the twelve years that I spent in the DA’s office prosecuting these cases involving child victims, I was amazed at the damage that was done to the young people that were scarred by the horrible things done to them, often by the very people they depended on for protection. And, I was amazed by its prevalence. In virtually every child molestation jury trial I did, when we were doing the voir dire (the legal process of determining who was qualified to sit in the jury pool from which we actually chose the jurors), it was almost without fail that we would have at least one, if not multiple women (and men!), that would confide in the judge that they could not sit fairly as a juror, because they had been molested as a child.

There is a very significant difference between having an urge and acting upon that urge; especially when the person you are acting upon is going to be damaged by what you do. The youngest victim that I ever had testify in a trial was three, as I recall, when we believe the molestation began by her father and she was five when we removed her from her home. She was six when she testified against him. But, my point in mentioning her was that she was a very disturbed young girl - as one would expect under that scenario. Unfortunately, we were much more advanced in our knowledge of how to prepare a victim like her so that she was capable of going into the very hostile environment of a courtroom (where the criminal defendant has all the rights, not the victim), and testify against her father, than we were on trying to fix her and the damage that was done by the years of molestation and to protect her from further damage from that same legal process itself. Since she was placed in State’s custody after the jury convicted her father, we tried psychological facility after psychological facility in order to get her the help she needed to overcome what her father had done to her. So, here is where I briefly depart from the basic moral obligation of society to help her, to discuss public policy as a legislator: I believe we spent well over six million of your tax dollars trying to undo that damage, and, unfortunately, we were unsuccessful. When she aged out of “the system” at eighteen, she was still a very messed up young lady. I have no idea what ultimately happened to her because she left the state and we lost track of her.

So, where am I going with all of this? It is to show the importance of the construction of the building that is now going on in Miami across from the old Boys and Girls Club at B SE and 1st SE. The Children’s Advocacy Center of Ottawa County is finally getting to build the facility that many of us have only dreamed about for decades. It will house their operations with a one-stop child abuse investigation center. They will be able to do interviews, medical exams, counseling and team meetings where the investigators, doctors, social workers, prosecutors and mental health workers can all meet and go over each case individually whenever needed. We have had facilities here since the 90's, but nothing that contained it all in one, child-friendly facility. Delaware County has been way ahead of us in Ottawa County for a long time with the Delaware County Child Sexual Abuse Network (DCCSAN); I am so happy that we will soon be able to provide the same service here.

In the time that I spent in charge of prosecuting those cases here, I was very proud of the work that we were able to do to protect our children that suffered what no child should ever have to live through. We were able to bring many of those that preyed on the most vulnerable in society to justice. But it was also so much more than that. For instance, at the time of the case I talked about earlier, my goal was to prosecute the guilty, her father. But over time, I learned, we learned, we had to do much more than that; to do what was best for the child. Some kids find therapeutic value in confronting the person that violated their innocence by saying publicly, “You did these horrible things to me.” For other kids, it might be the worse thing to do, making them relive that trauma once more. As we learned to be more sophisticated in handling those cases, we truly helped the children. With the child I talked about, we didn’t understand all the implications of what we were putting her through, and I still wonder to this day if what we did in taking her into the courtroom to confront her father, helped or made her worse off than she already was.

Further, we learned that when parents separate, it was not unusual for one or even both to use the child as a weapon against the other parent, by making the child make false allegations. That is a form of child abuse in and of itself, in my opinion; but I take great pride in my belief we were able to discern what was real and what was not. It was just as important to us then, as I am sure it is now, to clear the innocent as it is to convict the guilty. We had, and I believe we still have, such great investigators, medical, prosecutorial and psychological professionals and well trained, dedicated case workers here in Ottawa County, too many to name, which all work together as a team to protect children, just as they have there in Delaware County. My hat is off to you men and women - keep up the good work! I know it is one of the most emotionally difficult jobs there is.

Finally, unabashedly and with a heartfelt fervor, let me put in a big plug for United Way. They are just starting their fund drive for this year to help this and many other services that are so desperately needed by our kids and other citizens here locally and so I hope everyone that can will contribute generously and really get behind all of these agencies that do so much for those of our neighbors that find themselves in difficult circumstances.

Lev. 19:18 and Mark 12:31 – You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

Rep. Ben Loring (D-Miami) represents District 7 in the Oklahoma House of Representatives. Contact him at ben.loring@okhouse.gov or 405-557-7399.