Let me preface this column by reiterating the obvious: child sexual abuse is not the same issue as marijuana legalization, abortion nor the war in Afghanistan.
There's positively no pro-child-sex-abuse stance. There's no "I'm pro-child-sex-abuse" t-shirts being worn at rallies. If you added "pro-child-sex-abuse" to your Facebook political ideology, you'd be short a few dozen friends.
Everyone is on the same side of this issue. People just have different ways to go about it.
Last week, I discussed a packet of information I received from Grandparents and Others on Watch, Inc. (GrOW), a Columbia-based group dedicated to preventing the sexual assault of children. In not-so-meek words, it called out the Cooper County Prosecuting Attorney's Office for failing to follow up on a handful of child sex abuse cases.
I checked their references, and it looked like their ducks were in a row. So I worded my column as an open-ended question to Cooper County Prosecuting Attorney Doug Abele, with the promise of a phone call at the end, so we both could get to the bottom of the problem soon.
Mr. Abele didn't take too kindly to that, understandably. Most people don't care for it when you tell them they're doing their job incorrectly. After all, he's on the same side as GrOW and I, too. To the public eye, Abele asserted, these cases might look like they're not being prosecuted or charged, but there's a lot going on behind the scenes.
Sometimes a charge being dropped is the best possible outcome. When hearings get continued indefinitely, it's typically the defense's call.
They're child sex abuse cases, after all. This is the apex of Mt. Sensitivity. That's why I'm a little confused with GrOW.
It seems like GrOW prides itself on not being lawyers and playing armchair quarterback with court cases. Which is fine, but most average citizens would take their problem to task with prosecutors or jurisdictional head honchos themselves, not flaunt their semi-informed analysis in neat little packets to the media.
GrOW did their research on these cases on CaseNet, an online public court record search, and by "(reviewing) microfilm of the Boonville Daily News," according to their news release, which is akin to writing a research paper only using Wikipedia. A bit of a no-no.
Abele, who, by his own words, "always tried to take a non-confrontative approach whenever (he) can," wanted to smooth things out with GrOW.
He said invited Dan William Peek, president of GrOW, to talk, but was refused. Peek doesn't recall such a thing, saying "to my knowledge, Mr. Abele never invited us to come sit down with him."
"We stand by the conclusions of our study," said Peek in a telephone interview. "We're sorry they can't be more cheerful."
Peek thinks the police are doing their part, but when cases get to the jurisdictional level, they get distorted, talked down or abandoned. "Somewhere along the way," he said, "someone is saying, 'We don't care about the child. We care about processing this as quickly as possible.'"
Which is believable, if you're content with whatever results you're privy to from a Google search.
I waited on the phone while Mr. Abele dug the emails from GrOW out of his drawer.
"Here it is," he said. "December 13, 4:22 p.m. Third paragraph down." Abele invited GrOW to air any grievances they have, plain as day. "I don't know how I could be misconstrued," he said in a phone interview.
"We don't talk to prosecutors, we talk to the media," said the email from GrOW.
As for standing by their study, Abele responds, "How they can stand by things that are factually untrue boggles the mind."
"They don't understand what it is they're talking about...I'm sure these are perfectly lovely people, but we are absolutely in lockstep (with them) about wanting to prosecute (criminals). They don't have very good methods of researching."
That's not to say they should shut up. Noisemakers like GrOW keep public officials' feet to the fire, and that's not a bad thing.
It's evident everyone has their heart in the right place. Groups like GrOW are trying to do the right thing, but sometimes their citizen-vigilante schtick gets lost in hubris and finger-pointing. All that does is waste the time of the media and the people who keep kids safe.
Hell, there's even another story about child sex abuse in today's Daily News. Time is of the essence, and you're not getting it back.
Keep up that hustle. Both of you.