No good answers 

The truth behind the headlines of child sexual abuse

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Hudak recommends that judges assign punishment based on the convict's risk of reoffense. In the 1980s and '90s, the psychiatric community developed several criteria based on evaluations of incarcerated sex offenders. A 2006 study by Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Canada examined findings from 29,450 sex offenders: 13.7 percent committed a new offense—lower than the recidivism rate for the general prison population. Child molesters, even those who commit incest, reoffend at even lower rates of 7-8 percent, according to the Canadian study.

Jeff's psychosexual evaluation is sealed, so it's unclear what conclusions investigators drew about his background and motivations and risk of recidivism.

Some studies have shown that sex offenders in general are likely to come from troubled backgrounds. A 2014 study in Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment, which examined 679 convicted sex offenders, found that male sex offenders are three times more likely to have experienced child sexual abuse than men in the general population. Sex offenders also reported experiencing significantly more emotional neglect, physical abuse and verbal abuse than average.

Hudak says that doesn't mean offenders shouldn't be held accountable, but it does blur the line between "good and evil" that so often delineates the public discourse about such crimes.

"There's a division the world looks at between offenders and victims," Hudak says. "When you're around long enough you see that frame break down constantly. When I do sex offender treatment, I also do victim treatment. A lot of [abuse] is born of emotional, physical abuse that isn't processed well. The average sex offender is also a victim of abuse."

Hudak says that kind of input from a psychiatrist might prompt judges to offer some compassion. In the Moua case, for instance, Judge Manley said he sided with the recommendations of the defense and the psychosexual analysis to treat Moua not in prison but in his community, where he'll be supervised under the state's sex offender registration program.

Prison sentences don't stop cycles of abuse

No matter how long an offender goes to prison for, the trauma left behind doesn't go away. In Hudak's experience, therapeutic intervention is vital for ensuring that child sexual abuse victims go on to lead better lives. A wealth of studies, including several published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, shows that cognitive-behavioral therapy and other treatments can successfully reduce the symptoms of PTSD and harmful behaviors in traumatized children.

Hudak says it can be tough to convince kids to disclose molestation if they're afraid that they'll be responsible for sending their family member to prison. In early February, Hudak spoke out against House Bill 133, a proposed state bill that would institute a mandatory 25-year minimum sentence for anyone convicted of raping a child under the age of 12. (The measure didn't make it out of committee.) Hudak says that such bills mean well, but that a 25-year mandatory sentence places an unreasonable burden on a child who's told that her testimony could send her dad or uncle away for the rest of his life.

"Often [victims] hate the offense but love the offender," Hudak says. "But then if they tell, Dad goes away for 25 years. ... Then we're back in the 1950s and '60s when nobody came forward."

Child sexual abuse rates are slowly going down. Today, one in five girls and one in 20 boys is a victim of child sexual abuse, according to the Crimes Against Children Research Center. That's lower than when Hudak first started practicing in the 1970s, when the numbers were one in four girls and one in six boys.

While the offender goes into treatment on his own, Hudak says, the remaining family members can find emotional healing if they are willing to communicate and work through issues together. He's most concerned about families in which the trauma of molestation is compounded by other dysfunctions, including alcohol abuse, lack of communication and poverty.

click to enlarge Jessica took Jane to the First Step Children’s Advocacy Center, which conducts interviews of sexual assault victims in conjunction with the Missoula Police Department, among other services. A detective was present for the interview, according to court documents, but Jessica says she wasn’t allowed to be in the room. - ILLUSTRATION BY KOU MOUA
  • illustration by Kou Moua
  • Jessica took Jane to the First Step Children’s Advocacy Center, which conducts interviews of sexual assault victims in conjunction with the Missoula Police Department, among other services. A detective was present for the interview, according to court documents, but Jessica says she wasn’t allowed to be in the room.

"We've served justice. The guy's gone away for 10 years or 15 years," Hudak says. "But those of us who work with those families, we deal with what happens afterward."

What happens after sentencing?

In a Missoula County Courtroom, on a sunny day in 2016, Jeff sat quietly, wearing an orange prison jumpsuit, awaiting his sentencing. Jeff's lawyer stood, his hands in his pockets, seemingly wanting to keep his distance from his client. Jeff had already pleaded guilty to charges of incest and rape. "The mom wants to read a statement," said another lawyer, representing Jessica.

Jessica stepped up to the witness stand and unfolded a piece of paper. Her hands shook as she read her statement, describing how she had learned that Jeff had groomed and sexually abused her daughter since she was a toddler. Jessica wept as she read, and the judge handed her a box of tissues. Jeff's parents sat in a row by themselves, observing the proceedings stone-faced. Across the aisle, a court-appointed victims' advocate kept her arm around Jane.

The judge expressed regret that he couldn't impose a harsher penalty before delivering the agreed-upon sentence: 50 years in total, with 30 years suspended, and eligibility for parole in 10 years. The hearing took about half an hour. When it was over, the judge went to lunch. I went back to my office.

But the story wasn't—and isn't—over for Jessica and Jane.

The sentencing was enormously difficult for Jessica, the last straw in a long series of struggles. She'd been attending the University of Montana and working full time, but she went broke trying to take care of her children (she has a second child by another father), handle Jane's medical needs and pay attorneys fees. Even after Jeff was restricted from access to his daughter and charged with incest in spring 2016, he still legally retained parental rights to Jane, and Jessica had to seek a court order to remove those rights before sentencing.

She got evicted in spring 2015, when I first met her, and eventually lost her job. She tells me she's called the YWCA, the Salvation Army, WORD and the Crime Victim's Advocate Program looking for help getting back on her feet. She says none of them could offer any help—there were waiting lists, or stipulations she couldn't meet, or she didn't qualify for their particular type of assistance. Jessica talks quickly, in disjointed sentences, when she gets upset.

"So from the CVA, I was in there, and I was like, 'We're getting evicted, this is going on, I'm about to lose my job, I had to drop out of school, is there anything you can help me with?" Jessica remembers. "She was like, 'Here's a $10 gas card.'"

Jessica acknowledges she has an "alky problem," too. A few weeks after the sentencing, she was arrested on Highway 93 for felony drunken driving. Her children, including Jane, were in the car. Jessica served jail time, during which family members took in the kids.

The last time I met with Jessica, in December, she was living at the Poverello Center. She doesn't think Jane is going to therapy regularly, but she thinks she has little power over the situation. In February she messaged me: "My life is a mess right now."

Yolanda is trying to move on, though she says she's often reminded of Jeff when she sees the kind of delivery van he used to drive. She says that even though Jeff will be in jail for at least 10 years, she's frustrated that the legal system hasn't offered any help for Jessica and Jane—Jeff's sentence didn't include any restitution—and that the nonprofit system isn't equipped to help them in the aftermath of the crime, either.

"It's like nobody cares. It's like just all forgotten because there's so many [child abuse] cases to keep up with, the problem just cycles over and over," Yolanda says.

It's unclear what the future holds for Jane, but Jessica does say she's more optimistic about her daughter now that they can talk about what happened. She sees Jane befriending other kids who grew up with tough family situations. Jessica says she tries to keep their relationship as open and honest and possible.

"She says, 'Mom, you cannot imagine the things I have seen. I can handle the truth," Jessica says.

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