Protecting our youth | Editorial

A girl was sexually abused by her father, and nothing was done. That same child was later pulled out of school by her mother and then abandoned by her family at 16, and nothing was done. She was left to fend for herself during a time when her biggest concern should have been homework, and nothing was done.

She found shelter with a co-worker’s family where she was drugged and raped frequently by the person she hoped would protect her. Professionals in the community noticed something was “off” with her living situation, but nothing changed. Despite multiple calls to Child Protective Services and the Department of Children, Youth and Family, she remained in the house. According to accounts from those close to the victim, the agents of said protective services bullied and shamed her. When she was able to summon the courage to seek help on her own, report the situation to the police and seek to hold her rapist accountable, community members either shamed her or let her be shamed.

Every step along the way, we failed her. The adults failed her, this community failed her and what is even more distressing is: she isn’t the only one. Two other similar cases occurred during the same time frame. So we didn’t just fail her, we are failing our children.

We live in a society where many still believe rapists don’t deserve to have their lives ruined on account of a few mistakes. We live in a society where many people still blame the victims of sexual assault for making life choices that led them to be abused. We live in a society where many don’t want to hear the details of abuse because it’s uncomfortable and scary. Every time we write a story about a sex crime, we receive complaints from readers. We also receive letters from victims, thanking us for sharing their stories.

A witness close to the victim testified during the sentencing hearing that “shame is the enemy of social justice.” I could not agree more. Shame keeps victims quiet. Shame keeps them from reporting crimes, and shame keeps pedophiles and rapists from being held accountable for their actions.

Shame didn’t work this time. This victim told her truth and did not stop telling us her truth, every step of the way. As a result, her perpetrator, at least one of them, is now serving seven years.

What about islanders? Will we learn this time?

San Juan Superior Court Services Administrator Linnea Anderson told me recently, “What if we started by believing young people? Started by generously listening. Our kids need us to advocate for them. It does not matter what the outcome is, if we see something, we have to say something. It is on us. We can not be secret keepers.”

It’s time for us to start listening, believing and protecting our youth.

The Journal has reached out to the Department of Children, Youth and Family for comment and for a better understanding of their policies regarding situations like this. At the time of print, they have not responded.