Saturday, March 16, 2013

Society’s Failure to Protect Children Against Violence: 5 Ways to Improve

It was 9:00 in Clay, New York, on Thursday, 3/15/13. Most of the people in the central New York area were still celebrating the Syracuse University’s men’s basketball team’s victory over Pittsburgh earlier in the day.

No one knew at the time that nearby, at the local Great Northern Mall, that a 29-year-old man had abducted a 47-year-old woman (Lori  Bresnahan) and a 10-year old girl she was with as they innocently walked out of a gymnastics class to their car. It is the same gymnastic class that so many mothers I know, including friends and family, have walked out of at night with their own precious little children.

In a remote parking lot area of the mall, they were both bound in the car and the child was molested. They were both driven a short distance away in the same car, where the mother was stabbed multiple times and killed. Somehow, the child had enough mindfulness after the trauma she had been through to run away, where a passerby took her to safety. Shortly thereafter, the accused perpetrator, David Renz, was captured in the woods by police.

This story is upsetting in so many different ways. First and foremost, is the sadness and outrage for the pain and suffering that the victims must have experienced, not only physically, but emotionally, as each appear to have alternated in knowing that the other was suffering horribly. Second is the additional fear that each must have had (particularly the child) due to facial disfigurement of the accused, as can be seen here from a picture taken from his MySpace account.

Third, is the information that came out later in the media that Renz had been charged by the FBI for possessing an extensive array of 500 videos and 3,000 pictures depicted depraved acts exploiting children (at least as young as age 7). This information was stored on one of his computers over a period of 6 years, amounting to 100+ gigabytes of information. It was confiscated on 6/4/12 but amazingly it was not until 11/8/12 when Renz was again tracked down for the encryption key code that he used to hide the files. It then took another 2 months (1/9/13) for him to be arrested.

Despite all of these delays in searching Renz’s computer and arresting him, U.S. Magistrate Andrew Baxter wasted little time ordering his release from jail two days later. There were conditions put in place which included a curfew, restricted computer access, and requiring him to wear an electronic monitoring device. The monitoring device (ExacuTrackOne) used is supposed to be “tamper-resistant” and immediately notify the company if tampering occurs. However, Renz found a way to deactivate the device at 7:08 pm and it was not until 11:30 pm that the company noticed something was wrong and informed the U.S. Probations office.

One cannot help reading this and concluding that we are not doing enough to protect our children. As a society, we are providing people accused of heinous crimes involving children with more protections than the very children (and sometimes adults) who are vulnerable to their criminal acts. Lori Bresnahan and the child she was with should have the right to go to a gymnastics class without needing to worry that they will be the victims of such crimes. Here are some examples of future changes that need to made:

1. Immediate apprehension of people found in possession of videos and images depicting real-life crimes exploiting children. It is absolutely outrageous for there to be a 4-month delay in the computer search process and a 6-month delay in the arrest. In that time, the accused could easily commit a violent crime against a child victim. The accused should be detained when probable cause is established until the computer search is completed. 

2. Improved electronic monitoring. Judges should not be allowed to release people known to be in possession of the materials described above, especially to that degree, unless there is full-proof electronic monitoring technology. We cannot expose our children to suspected predators who can deactivate monitoring devices, compounded by a lack of immediate notification to the monitoring company. As this case shows, by the time that happens, it is far too late. The technology of these devices must be improved greatly or technology needs to be developed where people are fitted with a surgically implanted monitoring devices.

3.Although the suggestions in the above paragraph need to be consider at the very least, a more drastic solution would be to make a legal exception for adults accused of possessing videos and images depicting real-life exploitive crimes against children so that they are not afforded bail until the investigation is complete and/or a trial occurs with a definitive outcome. Not everyone in our legal system is afforded bail and we need a carve-out exception for these types of alleged crimes.

4.We need to significantly increase the punishments in this country for violent crimes against children. What those increased punishments will entail are a source of great debate and will ultimately be up to the citizens and legislature in each state, but the current penalties are simply not enough of a deterrent.

5.There needs to be better efforts by the U.S. and other governments to shut down websites that are the source of the types of images and videos that Renz was watching. These videos and images add fuel to the burning internal fire that gives rise to the type of crime that occurred in this case. Those caught running such websites must be severely punished with long prison sentences to send a message to others considering hosting such websites.

STEPS YOU CAN TAKE: There are likely manner other solutions that you may feel free to offer in the comment section below. If you agree with these solutions, please contact your local representatives which you can find here by tying in your zip code and send them the link to this blog entry, expressing your support or simply providing your own ideas. In the Syracuse area, please contact the office of Senator DeFranciso and Congressman Dan Maffei.

Suggested DVD: Stranger Safety for Kids

Related blog entry: 5 Reasons Steubenville Occurred and 5 Ways to Prevent It

Correction: An earlier version of this blog entry stated that he had the information on 4 computers but it was actually one one. This has been corrected.

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