In sex case, the child is failed
I seldom become rattled when reading the newspaper.
Reports of rapes, shootings, assaults and homicides are depressingly common — so common that my eyes sometimes glaze over while scanning the police blotter.
However, every once in a while an especially horrific crime jolts me out of my state of calm detachment.
When I read about the Schenectady man accused of raping a girl continually from 2006 to 2013, impregnating her and killing her baby in 2010, I was genuinely shocked. The girl was just 11 when the sexual abuse began, and 14 when she gave birth; if the child had lived, she would now be 4.
What kind of depraved monster does such a thing? And how come nobody noticed or said anything?
I’m sure I’m not the only person who started asking questions after learning of this horrific case.
Such as: Where were the girls’ parents? What was the victim’s relationship with the suspect, 38-year-old Herman Robinson? (Prosecutors have said that the girl is someone known to Robinson, but would not elaborate.) How did the girl manage to hide her pregnancy?
Once my initial shock dissipated, I began looking at the case in a different light.
I began to see it as yet another unreported case of child sexual abuse — one that, had it not been for the murder of a newborn baby, would likely have generated minimal interest.
When Robinson was arrested in late 2013, it was reported in a short news brief. “A city man faces rape and other charges dating back as far as 2007 and involving a victim younger than 13,” the brief stated. The Schenectady County District Attorney’s office continued its investigation, which led it to hand up another indictment last week, charging Robinson with murder and predatory assault. The new charges and gruesome details resulted in two front-page stories.
But I want to go back to the news brief, because if you read between the lines, you can see that Robinson is accused of subjecting the girl to terrible abuse, raping her repeatedly for six years.
Unfortunately, this type of abuse is not unusual, though the exact rate of occurrence is unknown.
According to the National Center for Victims of Crime, “the prevalence of child sexual abuse is difficult to determine because it is often not reported; experts agree that the incidence is far greater than what is reported to authorities.” One study, conducted by the Crimes
Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire, found that one in five girls and one in 20 boys is a victim of child sexual abuse. Other research has found that most of the abused children — possibly 90 percent of them — are abused by someone they know.
Numbers are useful, but they can also be dry and clinical.
One of the more haunting stories of child sexual abuse I’ve ever read was an essay, printed last year in Harper’s Magazine, by the writer Barry Lopez.
In the piece, Lopez reflects upon his own victimization, which took place between the ages of 7 and 11, and tries to come to terms with things that are difficult to understand, such as his failure to report the abuse.
“It is hard to imagine, now, that no one suspected what was going on,” Lopez writes. “It is equally difficult, even for therapists, to explain how this type of sexual violence can be perpetuated between two human beings for years without the victim successfully objecting. Why, people wonder, does the evidence for a child’s resistance in these circumstances usually seem so meager? I believe it’s because the child is too innocent to plan effectively, and because, from the very start, the child faces a labyrinth of confused allegiances. I asked myself questions I couldn’t answer: Do I actually need protection in this situation? From what, precisely? I was bewildered by what was happening. How could I explain to my mother what I was doing? Physical resistance, of course, is virtually impossible for most children. The child’s alternatives, as I understand them, never get much beyond endurance and avoidance — and speculation about how to encourage intervention.”
Adults are supposed to protect children.
Whenever a child is abused by an adult, it represents a betrayal of trust and also a wider failure. Little is known about the victim in the Robinson case, but it’s worth asking what troubling signs or clues were overlooked or missed by the people close to her. When police met with the girl, “she disclosed what had been happening over the course of the years,” Schenectady County Assistant District Attorney Tracey Brunecz said.
Which is great — the victim appears to have provided investigators with indispensable information.
But it’s too bad it took so long for her story to come out.
Reach Gazette columnist Sara Foss at firstname.lastname@example.org. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Her blog is at www.dailygazette.com/weblogs/foss.