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Danger in our midst - Victims, families share in the pain

Victims, families share in the pain

Victims, families share in the pain

October 03, 2005|by PEPPER BALLARD

Editor's note: The is the second of a three-part series examining the effectiveness of the Maryland Sex Offender Registry. The names of the victims and their family members in this story have been changed to protect the privacy of the victims.

pepperb@herald-mail.com

Twenty-two-year-old Shelly has faced the pain of being sexually abused for half of her life.

Her father, Thomas, feels it's only right that her molester, a middle-aged former family friend, spend the rest of his life facing it.

Thomas said he thinks convicted sex offenders should spend the rest of their lives listed on the sex offender registry, for the safety of others' children and for the contentment of his own.

"It should be (for) life because it's ruining someone else's life for the rest of their life," he said.

It's true that some victims might never fully recover from the torment of being sexually abused or assaulted, said Citizens Assisting and Sheltering the Abused Inc. (CASA) Clinical Services Supervisor Dona Nikirk, who, along with CASA counselors, treats such victims.

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"It is truly a spiritual, emotional, psychological, medical ... every area that comprises a human being is affected by a sexual assault ... It's a very personal, very intimate crime," she said.

Victims often lose trust in others, are fearful for their safety and have guilt, shame, emotional numbness or obsessive thoughts about what has happened to them, Nikirk said.

In Hagerstown, the CASA office is on West Baltimore Street, its entrance hidden by a concrete lattice. Nearly every door - including those to bathrooms and main hallways - is locked. There are bars on some windows and boxes of tissues in every counselor's office.

"We're helping to re-establish a sense of safety for them," Nikirk said.

Victims often grapple with post-traumatic stress disorder, which can occur months or years after an incident, and causes nightmares, flashbacks and anger, among other emotional problems.

They also might experience humiliation and self-blame, she said.

For 15-year-old Judy, who was inappropriately touched twice - when she was 10 and again when she was 13 - the sex offender registry serves as a safety net.

"I want just to make sure he doesn't do it to anyone else," she said, referring to the man who touched her last.

Her stepfather, Jon, added, "Castration would be nice."

Thomas said his daughter's abuse happened about 11 years ago when she was inappropriately touched by the family friend, but it wasn't until recently, when Shelly was making wedding arrangements and under a lot of stress, that the abuse was "brought to the surface."

He said Shelly has gotten married and bought a house with her new husband.

But her life, as harmonious as it might appear on the surface, has been forever altered by her abuser, a family friend with whom she stayed on occasion as an 11-year-old girl, he said.

"They say you never outgrow the age when that incident happened. You can still see that immature stuff ... That's the time frame she's locked into," he said.

Thomas wants justice. And if Shelly's abuser, now imprisoned, has to spend his life with his picture and address posted on a Web site, so be it, he said.

"My personal feeling is that after they have crossed that line - of actually taking away the innocence of a child - their right to privacy no longer exists."

Both Thomas and Judy's family said there must be better ways to track sex offenders.

The photos of sex offenders posted on the Maryland Sex Offender Registry "are going to change drastically" as time passes, Thomas said.

"Hardly anybody knows that the offender list even exists," he said. "Other than that, people forget about it and nobody knows how to find it and how to use it."

Jon and Thomas said they think police should send notices to the neighborhoods in which sex offenders live and to the schools nearby.

Thomas said he went to a neighborhood in Thurmont, Md., where two sex offenders were listed on the registry as living. He knocked on doors near the listed addresses to let their neighbors know about their past.

"These people have no clue," he said.

Jon said he's not worried about the privacy of sex offenders. "The hell with their privacy. People need to know."

Thomas, 43, suggested that the newspaper run a listing of sex offenders' addresses. A commercial, posting their pictures and addresses and the words "Protect your children," also might have an effect, he said.

Thomas, who said he's not worried his daughter will get in the same situation again, said he worries more about the children who don't understand the warning signs.

"It only takes two seconds for these crimes to be committed," he said.

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