Mental health articles

OF mental health care and mentally ill

Remove the offender from the victim’s home

Remove the Offender from the Victim’s Home Removing the offender instead of the victim from the home may be one of the most difficult policy changes because it conflicts with society’s presumption that the accused is innocent until proven guilty. Only with sufficient evidence of abuse can an alleged offender be charged with a crime. Even then, alleged offenders can often post bond and return to the child’s environment while awaiting trial. Further, most convicted offenders are either not jailed or serve only short sentences. All of these issues may quickly place the offender or alleged offender back into the child’s environment. How can victimized children be protected without requiring nonoffending guardians to be held responsible for their protection? The most logical response to this question is this: How can it not happen? Why do we think it reasonable to make mothers responsible for protecting the child from a known or alleged criminal? In what other felony are mothers held responsible for the protection of the victim? Moving beyond this ideological issue, there is a more pressing concern. If the mother is not responsible for the protection of her child, who is responsible? There are two plausible answers to this question—law enforcement and the alleged offender. Perhaps the biggest issue of moving this responsibility under the purview of law enforcement is the difficulty in enforcing it. How would law enforcement know if the alleged or known offender was in contact with the child? Given our technological resources available today, it does not seem like a great stretch of the imagination to consider how law enforcement can bring these technological advances to bear in monitoring the location of a known or alleged offender. Surely it would not be difficult with existing universal locator systems such as the GPS (global positioning satellite) to track the whereabouts of a person, assuming a monitor was required. And if the offender did wear a monitor, then it seems that some other type of technological system could be utilized to monitor how close the known or alleged offender was to the child in question. While this might require some effort, the technology surely exists to monitor the location of one person in proximity to one or even a few children. Employing technological advances in the service of monitoring alleged or known offenders would allow for several changes. First, it would place the burden of responsibility for contact with the child upon the alleged or known offender as opposed to the nonoffending guardian. Any contact could be punishable by immediate incarceration. Second, monitoring the whereabouts of known or alleged offenders would allow law enforcement to protect the child from revictimization from that offender. A third and important effect is that nonoffending guardians would then have the burden removed from their shoulders so that they had the time to work through all the ramifications of the abuse disclosure while not having to maintain such difficult vigilance of their victimized child. Further, they could devote their efforts to doing what they need to do—providing a supportive environment to their child—instead of having to also hold a policing function. The final and perhaps most important effect is that the victimized child would have a much greater possibility of remaining in the home. Only those nonoffending guardians who were otherwise neglectful or abusive of their victimized child would lose custody. One of the most important ramifications of keeping the child in the home is that the child would not suffer the serious iatrogenic trauma of removal. Separation from an important attachment figure is traumatic under the best of circumstances. Under the stress of the child’s disclosure, the iatrogenic trauma must be even more severe. Having a means of avoiding this trauma to an already victimized child is worth the effort that would be required to develop such a monitoring system.

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