Sunday, October 01, 2006

No one could have anticipated the levees would break that a sexual predator would lie.

It's time to order up another batch of Freedom medals.

The Instant Messages are painfully familiar. Millions of us have heard the words or similar ones repeatedly as Chris Hansen reads them back to pedophile after pedophile in his ongoing series "To Catch A Predator".

In Mr. Hansen's show we watch as he confronts men who have shown up expecting to have sex with an underage boy or girl only to find themselves looking into the cameras of a TV News team, with a squad of police waiting in the wings.

"You are a 52 year old man" he might say, "Here you are asking this 16 year old boy to measure his erect penis for you. Doesn't that sound like more than just 'mentoring?'."

"You asked that same boy to describe to you how he masturbated, and even pressed him for details," He might go on, "Do you really expect us to believe that you just wanted to 'hang out' with him?"

Of course the difference here is that instead of being a plumber or a truck driver the perp was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, and the setting wasn't an apartment in Long Beach, but was the very halls of our nation's capitol.

What makes this case particularly egregious is that the predator wasn't stalking a teen chat room to find his victims. He was targeting some of this country's sharpest and brightest kids. These are 16 year old high school juniors chosen for their high academic standing to fill a limited number of positions serving the House and the Senate. It is one of the highest honors a student can receive.

These young people are our responsibility. During their service they are paid by, fed by, educated by, and housed by us, the American people. Their parents send them off expecting that we will keep them safe.

The truth which has now been revealed is the stuff of a parent's worst nightmare. The predator in daily contact with their child was not only a person of authority, but one who was allowed to operate openly without fear of consequence, one who was so tolerated and whose behavior was so well known that the burden of avoiding him was put onto the shoulders of his young targets by "warnings" about him given them at their school.

This predator has not been operating very far under the radar. Besides the rumors or worse over the years that triggered the need for those warnings, a former page filed a report nearly a year ago of inappropriate and unwanted interest by that suspect Representative.

Word of that report made its way up through the highest levels of the Republican leadership of the House, where it was apparently treated as a political problem, rather than as a threat to the vulnerable who needed to be protected. The offender was not punished, censored or removed from the vicinity of his victims, but was warned, in effect, to lower his profile.

Now those same politicians who so proudly put their signatures to laws which they trumpeted would protect the nation's youth from sexual predators are scrambling to avoid any responsibility for the mess in their own house.

They are about to face a painful reality. The parents of America believed the rhetoric. They believed that their elected officials were mouthing truths, not platitudes when they promised to track down and punish those who were targeting their children.

Those parents will not be amused to find that they wasted their trust on a bunch of men who are acting more like diocese officials who saw nothing wrong with hiding pedophile priests than some of the highest elected officials of the land.

No matter how much twisting, avoiding or spin is generated, the one thing that those in position of leadership can't change is that every parent who hears this story is going to look over at their own kid and ask themselves, "What if it was him or her?"

And yes. Someone has already said it. A spokesman for Representative John Shimkus, the Illinois Republican who is the chairman of the House Page Board told reporters Saturday "Obviously Foley lied...”

Who could have ever anticipated that?

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