Thursday, January 18, 2007

Joe Public and Shawn Hornbeck

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The topic was sensitive - the sexual abuse of a kidnapped boy - yet it was broached in the most public of settings ... the revelation ... raised anew the thorny problem of identifying sexual assault victims and dramatically demonstrated how the line between public and private has been redrawn in this 24-hour media world...

Image and quote from regarding ‘the Missouri Miracles’ - Shawn Hornbeck and William ‘Ben’ Ownby who were found at Michael Devlin's home in Kirwood, Mo., Friday (January 12/07)

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This reminds me of a case publicized over twenty-five years ago. Seven year old Steven Gregory Stayner was abducted by Kenneth Parnell (a multiple felon and convicted child molester) in 1972. As Stayner approached puberty, Parnell began to look for younger victims. His abduction of a five year old boy named Timmy, in 1980, was the figurative straw that broke the camel’s back. Staynor took Timmy and hitchhiked to a police station to deliver the young boy, as well as offer up the fact that he had also been abducted and all he knew was that ‘I know my first name is Stephen’ (later released as a book and tv movie). Stayner effectively saved the Timmy from the life he had to withstand for so many years.

Similarly, Devlin abducted Ben Ownby, aged 11, the same age Shawn was when he was kidnapped by Parnell. Shawn was still not able to actually save Ben and himself, and fortunately some alert policemen happened upon Devlin’s truck, which was the main lead in a state-wide search.

The traumatic loss of innocence, suffered by the boys involved, at the hands of a molester brings forth the ‘ugly’ side of the viewing public. I cringe and become internally angry when I hear Joe Public’s unrelenting, unanswerable questions: ‘Why didn’t he phone his parents?’ ‘Why didn’t he run away?’ Why didn’t he tell a friend?, and ‘Why didn’t he call 911’?

Just by prefacing a question with the query ‘Why?’ immediately puts the child on the defence and sends out the message that the victim had control over his circumstances and, hence, fate. By asking ‘why’ there is an unspoken belief that the child had the power to handle and appropriately deal with his situation/abduction.

If you are following this story, please don’t ever ask, ‘why?” I can only imagine what further hurt and shame this psychologically brings upon the boys involved. We should only ask, ‘What can we do to help?’ Whether they were physically or sexually abused, and whether or not they tried to find ... help does not help them in the present - in the here and now. Joe Public’s focus should be on helping rebuild the boys’ lives, and helping them realize their future goals rather than focusing on the ‘What ifs?’

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