Harsher Penalties for Child Abusers ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY

January 11, 1993

The little girl's stepmother was right. Twenty years in prison is not enough for Richard C. Wilson, the Laurel boat mechanic sentenced this week for the most lurid kinds of child sexual abuse. Even the maximum penalty is too light.

The court dockets are full of sexual abuse cases, but this one was particularly vile. For a one-year period beginning when she was 9, trial testimony showed, this child was subjected to bondage sex. Hung from a ceiling hook. Forced to wear her mother's black dress while being abused.

Anne Arundel County Circuit Court Judge Raymond G. Thieme Jr. called it "the most outrageous case I've ever heard," and he has heard some pretty terrible things.

The Wilson case raises serious issues about child sexual abuse incidents in general.

It shows that one of the biggest problems facing victims is finding someone to believe them. This child testified that she told her mother -- the defendant's girlfriend -- but was dismissed as a liar. Only after she confided in a baby-sitter, who notified police, was Wilson arrested.

For years, experts have stressed that children who complain of abuse are almost always telling the truth. Yet family members, especially wives and girlfriends of alleged abusers, continue to ignore their childrens' cries for help.

The Wilson case also demonstrates how appallingly lenient are sentences for child abusers. Prosecutors say that the 20 years Wilson received is, in fact, a harsh sentence. The county state's attorney's office says it is the stiffest sentence for child sexual abuse in its memory; few get more than 10 years, even for cases involving long periods of sexual abuse.

Sentences in cases involving adult rape victims typically are stiffer than those involving children. The reason, prosecutors say, is state sentencing guidelines. The maximum sentence for child sexual abuse, a charge which may include intercourse, is 15 years, but the guidelines recommend penalties as mild as probation to three years for defendants without prior convictions.

Something is dreadfully wrong here. Sexual crimes against children are a blight on society, yet the guilty are getting off too easily. Twenty years may be considered a long sentence; it is not long enough.

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