By editorial board • 

Proclamations have their place, but direct action speaks louder

At its March 16 meeting, the McMinnville City Council approved payment of $325,000, through its insurance carrier, to help settle a lawsuit alleging failure by state officials and local police to protect a young girl from her sexually abusive father.

At its March 23 meeting, the council approved a Child Abuse Prevention Month proclamation reaffirming its commitment to “creating a safer, healthier, more thriving community for our children and taking steps to help prevent child abuse through awareness efforts, prevention promotion and training on responding responsibly.”

Unfortunately, good words aren’t enough to ensure good deeds and good intentions aren’t enough to ensure good results. The approval of such a substantial settlement suggests the agencies involved and system in place failed to do their job — in this case, protect an innocent young girl from a sexual predator.

In its proclamation, the city urges the public to wear blue on April 21 to take a public stand for child abuse prevention. In the meantime, let’s hope the city is doing its part — that it is conducting a meaningful self-examination and taking whatever remedial action deemed necessary on the law enforcement front.

This sad story began in 2009, just two years after the victim’s birth, when her mom raised concerns with state authorities and city police about child sexual deviancy on the part of her dad. According to documents filed 11 years later, the state Department of Human Services was unable to determine the validity, so took no action.

In 2011, the dad’s then-girlfriend told McMinnville police she had accesses to his computer and found child porn on it. They seized it, but said they could not get a warrant to search its contents because the chain of custody had been broken. She later recanted, after he accused her of breaking into his car to gain access.

Later that year, the victim’s mom gained sole custody, but authorized visitation rights for her dad, provided he got his drug habit under control. She made no mention of sex abuse concerns, and the arrangement was approved even though he had a record of misdemeanor charges.

In 2017, 10 years after her birth, the girl disclosed a series of sexual assaults allegedly committed by her dad over the course of 2016. That led to the filing of five counts of sodomy and sex abuse.

He was living in Salem at the time, so Salem police got involved. In the course of their investigation, they obtained a search warrant for the computer, still held by McMinnville police, and found it contained 1,300 images of child pornography. That led to the filing of additional charge of encouraging child sexual abuse.

In 2018, the victim’s dad pleaded guilty to four felony counts, earning him a 10-year prison sentence. Later that same year, a $3.35 million lawsuit was filed on her behalf, alleging negligence by DHS and McMinnville police.

In 2020, following a failed effort to bring a third-party complaint against the victim’s mom, the state and city filed a suit alleging contributory negligence on her part. The aim was to reduce their own share of the liability.

However, they delayed serving the suit pending completion of settlement talks that ended up holding her harmless. The victim was awarded $825,000, with the state agreeing to pay $475,000 of it.

Child sexual abuse cases are, experts widely agree, among the most difficult to investigate and prosecute.

The abuser is typically an adult male relative swearing her to secrecy and warning she will destroy him and the rest of the family if she ever tells. Mom is typically prone to some degree of denial, neglect or even outright compliance, and both mom and victim are often subjected to intense emotional and physical pressure.

Among other challenges, there is seldom much if any direct physical evidence. As a result of all this, less than 20% of cases are prosecuted and less than half of those lead to a conviction.

But that makes it all the more important to ensure winnable cases don’t fall by the wayside, as this one almost did.


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