Guest Opinions

Silence too often clouds the tragedy of child victims

Melissa Davlin
Melissa Davlin

In 2007, the rape and attempted murder of a 5-year-old Nampa girl shocked Idahoans. Just as horrifying as the crime: the age of suspect Kenneth Trevor Reizenstein, who was just 12 years old.

What to do with Reizenstein, how to punish him, put the Idaho court system in a difficult spot. And rightfully so. In America, we don’t treat juveniles the same as adults, in detention or in any other aspect of society.

The Idaho Supreme Court eventually ruled 4-1 the young man could be tried as an adult, and in 2009, the court sentenced Reizenstein to 20 years in prison, with the possibility of parole when he turned 21. He was recently released.

I’ve thought about him as I’ve read the recent stories about the alleged sexual assault of a 5-year-old girl in Twin Falls. I’ve also thought of the boys, the youngest of whom is just 7 years old. The other two are only 10 and 13. We know little else, as the case — like the vast majority involving juvenile suspects — is sealed. You would think that would give pause, however slight, to those wanting to comment on the incident.

That wasn’t the case. Reports of the alleged assault (initially peppered with false information about Syrian refugees raping the girl at knife-point) prompted angry residents to show up to the last three Twin Falls City Council meetings demanding answers.

I worked at the (Twin Falls) Times-News for almost six years. In all of the Monday evening city council meetings I covered, I never witnessed a single member of the public testify on behalf of abused children.

And there were plenty of victims whose stories hit the paper. That, sadly, hasn’t changed. A search for “lewd conduct” on magicvalley.com brought up multiple cases from 2016 alone. A Twin Falls man accused of sexually abusing two minors. A Burley man accused of sexually abusing a 13-year-old. A Rupert woman pleading guilty to sexual contact with a 13-year-old. A Jerome man accused of molesting a 12-year-old.

These examples are among many from just the last two months, but none sparked the same social media lynch mob. The difference? Too many speculated the juvenile suspects might be Muslim refugees (still undetermined) giving them a stereotype on which to blame the alleged behavior. But that narrative explains nothing about the number of similar crimes and the mounting toll on innocent victims.

We know sexual abuse is shockingly prevalent in our society. According to the National Center for Victims of Crime, 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys has been a victim of sexual abuse. Many of those perpetrators will never face justice; the Children’s Assessment Center reports 73 percent of child victims don’t tell anyone about their abuse for at least a year, and nearly half don’t tell anyone for at least five years. I don’t need statistics to tell you not all victims are believed — I know that from the experiences of loved ones.

But there’s no outrage on those children’s behalf.

We’ve accepted that sexual abuse from our neighbors and family is unremarkable — that it’s only outrageous when it’s perpetrated by an imagined other.

As a society, we should talk more about the sexual abuse of children. We should be angry. We should teach our sons and daughters about abuse, both to protect them from becoming victims and prevent them from becoming perpetrators.

And we shouldn’t let the victims’ trauma get hijacked.

Melissa Davlin is co-host of Idaho Reports on Idaho Public Television.

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