In Search For An Imaginary Safe Place

In today’s world of ever-growing vigilance on child abuse and child pornography, there is hardly a day that goes by without a headline in the news about children suffering at the hands of their parents or other trusted adults.  On Monday, February 28, 2011, a Michigan man pled guilty to six charges related to the sexual exploitation of children, and faces 15 years to life in prison when he is sentenced in June.   Yet, no matter how accustomed one has become to reading such horrific stories, this is one of those news stories that leaves you absolutely speechless, and not necessarily just about what this man has done himself, but who his accomplices were…

Steven Demink, 41, posed as the father of a 14-year-old girl and a psychologist on a website for single parents and convinced women in three states to sexually assault their children as a form of therapy.   If the children resisted abuse, which was either photographed and sent to Demink or streamed over the Internet, Demink would placate the children with promises of presents or trips.   In some cases Demink promised the women a date if they followed through with his directions.    Since authorities arrested him in October 2010, seven children were rescued and at least three mothers have been arrested.  Prosecutors say all of the children are now safe.  The children ranged in age from 3 to 15.

This case is an indication that sexual predators are getting more creative in finding victims, and are continuing to utilize the Internet as the means of living out their sick fantasies and exploiting the vulnerability of some women and children.   Nevertheless, no matter how perverse Demink was, he could not have succeeded without the help of these mothers.

What were these women thinking?! Were they so desperate for a date with some “charming” stranger that they were willing to subject their children to such monstrous acts?  Did they really believe that performing sexual acts on their children will help their children deal with whatever issues they were dealing with?  The list of questions I have for these women is endless and, frankly, I am not so sure that I want to hear these women’s justifications of their behavior…  Furthermore, my main question is whether there are, in fact, places where children can be “truly safe.”

The most common places that children encounter as they grow up are a home, a school, and a religious institution.   Yet, the occurrences of abuse by parents, teachers, and religious figures have become so common that we have stopped associating these places with absolute safety and security.  In situations where parents are being accused of abuse, the children are placed in foster care.  Yet, once again, the foster care system is abounding with stories of abuse.  Then there are stories of pediatricians and therapists abusing their youngest patients.   Even detention centers and prisons are not free from abuse by guards.

We associate childhood and adolescence with innocence, vulnerability, and being care-free but for a lot of children these years are hardly care-free.  The heartbreaking realization is that there is rarely a place where some of these children can feel truly safe and protected from harm…