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Pedophila not just a clergy problem, police expert says

By Rachel Richmond
Catholic News Service

With all the media attention on sexual abuse by priests, there may be a public perception that they are the main perpetrators, but that's not so, says a police expert.

"It's a problem that strikes everywhere," said Lt. Frederick V. Roussey of the Baltimore Police Department. "Every walk of life, every race, every social level."

He should know. Roussey spent 16 years in the child abuse unit of the force, tracking down molesters and protecting children. Now he gives seminars to police academy students and other law enforcement officers throughout Maryland on how to handle pedophile cases.

Pedophilia is an abnormal desire to have sex with children. This desire, Roussey told a recent seminar class, cannot be changed but only controlled through incarceration or medicine.

Pedophiles target children in one of three groups: infants to 3 years old, 4 to 7 years old and 8 to 11 years old. Those who molest post-pubescent children 12 years and older are called ephebophiles.

The police academy class was told pedophiles, who are more likely to be male than female, target children who are outsiders, unpopular or neglected by their families. Victims have been kidnapped, seduced or prostituted into committing sexual acts.

Pedophiles are patient, Roussey said, and often take weeks to seduce a child, providing the youngster with toys, food and a male presence they might not have in their life.

"You have to be very careful," said Roussey, a father of five, adding that pedophiles go to places such as public bathrooms, parks, beaches and stadiums to stake out and pick up kids. He advises parents to screen day care centers, never leave their young children unattended and get to know the people to whom they entrust their children.

"You just have to know what's going on in your kid's life," he said.

While pedophiles attempt to blend into society, they live in what Roussey calls a "reversed world," constantly thinking about their victims.

Roussey said child abuse has been around since the beginning of time, but for many years legal authorities deemed abuse a private, family issue. The first known reported case of abuse in the United States came in 1866.

The American Federation of Animal and Child Rescue became the first organization willing to confront abuse and to look out for young people's safety. Now law enforcement, departments of social services and legal authorities work together to protect children.

It is illegal in the United States to possess or distribute child pornography, including via e-mail or on the Internet.

Only pedophiles enjoy child pornography, Roussey said. The children used in the material are not volunteers but have been sold, kidnapped or abused. Engaging in sex either by force or with a minor is illegal in the United States.

The U.S. Department of Justice estimates nearly 300,000 people who have committed sexual assault or rape are under the care, custody or control of corrections agencies in the United States. Nearly 60 percent of these sex offenders are under conditional supervision in the community.

The median age of the victims of imprisoned sexual assaulters is less than 13 years old.

Sexual child abuse cases are tough to prosecute, Roussey said, because the victims do not make good witnesses in court. Testifying often traumatizes children further, they get scared and some have not even learned to talk yet, he pointed out. Older children are naturally embarrassed to talk about their experiences in public. So the Baltimore Police Department first builds its cases around forensic evidence, relying on the trail a molester will leave behind.

Roussey, who worked undercover to arrest many pedophiles, offers three words of simple advice to anyone who suspects a child is being abused.

"Check it out," he said, for it is better to do so, and be wrong, than to do nothing.