By Melanie Blow
This month, Indiana judge Tanya Pratt will sentence Jared Fogel, former Subway spokesperson, to 5 1/2 years behind bars and restitutions for sexually abusing 2 girls.The case has obtained heavy media coverage, and Judge Pratt is receiving angry letters about how insultingly lenient the sentence is.
She’s not receiving one from me. Here’s why.
I’m not happy Jared is getting such a light sentence. But, he is getting sentenced, unlike 90% of those who sexually abuse children.The FBI spent four-and-a-half years investigating the case– an exceptional amount of effort and expense. Avoiding a trial will recoup some of this money. It means victims are spared the stress of a trial. And it means that a victim not seeming “damaged enough” or “not reliable” won’t upend the whole thing and keep him on the streets. Unlike most sex offenders, Jared was extremely wealthy and could afford very good lawyers, making a conviction less certain.
Another feature of Jared’s plea is that he’s making financial restitutions to 14 of his victims. Few sex offenders are wealthy; their demographics mirror America’s demographics perfectly. Researchers estimate that surviving child sexual abuse costs victims $210,000 throughout their lifetime. The Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) study shows that abuse survivors are more likely to struggle with employment and poverty than people without ACE scores. At $100,000 per victim, Jared is by no means undoing the damage he caused his victims, but he is providing them with something he took from them in a very real sense.
People love arguing that sex offenders need to be incarcerated for life, tortured, or executed; until they recognize someone who is accused. At the end of the day, a judge, prosecutor, or juror often can’t bridge the mental disconnect between monstrous acts and a defendant who doesn’t look like a monster. This, coupled with very traumatized victims and a general lack of evidence, is largely responsible for why the average sentence for a sexual offense against a child is only five years. That said, when you look at the ten ACE’s, all of which do equal damage to kids, you see that non-sexual child abuse is rarely prosecuted, and our present criminal justice system can’t possibly prosecute things like parental mental illness- nor should it.
What is a better thing for outraged people to do, other than writing Judge Pratt? First, adults need to learn about child sexual abuse. We must all wrap our mind around the fact that it’s common, it’s bad, and it’s perpetuated by people we like. We must wrap our minds around the fact that it’s all bad; whether perpetrated by strangers or the 93% of offenders who have an ongoing relationship with the child (I can only imagine the letter-writer who said Jared was worse than “a stranger in a panel truck“ didn’t understand this concept). The precise acts are all equally bad; they were all given equal weight by the ACE study. We must accept that children rarely disclose the abuse when it happens, and they rarely fabricate stories. We need to hold fast to those beliefs when someone we know, like or relate to is accused. We need to eliminate the Statute of Limitations for child sexual abuse, so all survivors can get their day in court, and no offenders are above the law. We must remember that the travesties happening in front of the press are no more, or less, significant than the ones we never hear about.