Saturday, January 12, 2002


Diane Dimond

It’s time for America to get obsessed again.

It was once acceptable to slam down a few drinks at the local watering hole then climb into our cars and drive home.

Once it was acceptable – even fashionable! – to smoke cigarettes.

And it used to be we never gave seat belts in our vehicles a second thought. Before they became required equipment in American cars, who ever thought we even needed them?

But because Americans became obsessed with safety, today designated drivers are the norm, smoking is passé (and besides we all now realize it will kill you) and few of us get into an automobile without fastening our seatbelts and those of our kids in their special safety car seats.

Over time those things we used to not want to think about – drinking and driving, smoking and wearing seatbelts – came to be top of mind. Our collective habits were changed and lives were saved.

Can’t we do the same for our children?

There is a plague of pedophilia across the country that we need to face. It is an ugly topic but when a 29 year old convicted child molester from Oklahoma can pass as a teenager and register at middle schools and troll for victims there is a problem. That actually happened recently in Arizona. Neil H. Roderick didn't bother to follow the law and register as a sex offender in his new state. Neither did the other convicted child molesters he lived with.

We need to put our squeamishness aside and talk about what can be done to stop these diseased individuals from staining our children’s souls.

If any good can come from the horrific case of Shawn Hornbeck and Ben Ownby in Missouri it might be that it could be the catalyst for a renewed, focused and definitive conversation on what to do with serial child molesters.

If what prosecutors in Saint Louis charge is true, our worst fears about the Hornbeck/Ownby case have been confirmed.

71 charges of forcible sodomy.

Prosecutors say four times a day for four ghastly days it happened to young Ben at the hands of 41 year old Michael Devlin, a three hundred pound behemoth. The balance of the charges applied to the hell Shawn endured for over four years.

Unfortunately, the Missouri case may not be unique. As we notice all the missing children on milk cartons and television announcements who can say that some of those young souls aren’t living through the same kind of torture? Maybe those children aren’t dead, as we feared. Maybe they are very much alive and just wishing they were dead – hiding in plain sight like Shawn Hornbeck was forced to.

We need a change in our national consciousness so that an alarm goes off when a young boy suddenly appears from out of nowhere to cohabitate with a grown man. Why didn’t someone in Devlin’s sphere call the police? Why can’t we train ourselves to spot possible molestation the way we’ve taught ourselves to be on the lookout for possible terrorism?

It is a subject that is hard to talk about, to be sure, but nothing in life changes – no perceptions shift – unless the population comes to a group understanding about the problem. Pedophiles are a major problem.

What drives them? Can they be cured? Why do they do the things they do? How should society punish them?

As a reporter who has covered lots of cases about crimes against children, I can tell you that burying our heads in the sands of ignorance will only deliver us more young and damaged victims. It is time for the nation to declare war on pedophiles!

The sad truth is that sexual deviants who prefer young children are driven by a demon we can never fully understand. Every one of their actions is driven by the unquenchable desire – the obsession – to be near the young and innocent. It is impossible for them to change their desires. They do not see their actions as criminal. They will not stop until society makes them stop by locking them away.

As retired FBI profiler Ken Lanning once told me, “I had a case with a pedophile who was in his nineties and he molested boys until right before he died.”

Agent Lanning, the author of the bureau’s guide, “Child Molesters: A Behavioral Analysis” also told me average male molesters victimize between 200 and 300 children in a lifetime!

It is well known that those who molest were often molested themselves. It is a cyclical crime that is spinning out of control. Think of it: One pedophile can create 200 to 300 ticking time bombs who may very well go on to molest another 200 to 300 children! And so on and so on …..

This has got to stop. We changed our ways about smoking and seatbelts and driving under the influence, can’t we change this awful spiral too?

Not so long ago many jurisdictions in the United States decided if a criminal used a gun in the commission of a crime the judge was required to tack on an extra five years to the sentence. Why can’t we give a convicted child molester an extra 5 or 10 years?

And, while we’re about fixing the system let’s dump the statue of limitations on sex crimes against kids. I can think of no other crime in which a perpetrator’s past is so relevant. That legal loophole has provided an escape hatch for many a pedophile including Catholic priests.

Here’s the harsh truth: Once a person goes down the path of pedophilia, we cannot trust him again. It should be required that a prosecutor reveal to juries everything about such a suspect’s past.

It is time society got serious about this – before more ticking time bombs are let loose upon the innocent. It’s time we declared war!


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