'Your whole life has just been taken away' One woman's struggle between roles as mother of both victim, victimizer

September 29, 1997|By Dana Hedgpeth | Dana Hedgpeth,SUN STAFF

The nightmare began with a phone call.

It was her former husband, with chilling news about their son: "[Our son] has been molesting my children."

She dropped the phone and screamed.

"You don't think of kids -- especially your kid -- as being sex offenders," said the 35-year-old Eastern Shore woman.

Each year in Maryland, dozens of families -- discovering a young sex offender in their midst -- are torn apart by anger, guilt and sentences to faraway places, say juvenile experts.

The woman says she didn't know until her former husband called in February 1996 that their teen-age son, now 15, molested his two half-brothers -- then 4 and 6 -- at least 10 times over two months.

Nor did she know, until police started investigating, that when her son was 11, he molested her 3 1/2 -year-old son, she says.

"You don't want to believe your child would do something like that to one of your own children," she said.

Though deeply shocked, the woman didn't tell her son that the sheriff's department was planning to arrest him in the wake of his father's allegation. Instead, she savored her last moments with him by pampering him with a night out at the batting cage and pizza parlor.

Three days later, the sheriff called him out of class. She watched with tear-filled eyes as they escorted the boy from his school and handcuffed him.

In spring 1996, a juvenile judge found him guilty of three counts of sexual abuse. His punishment: up to 18 months of intensive therapy at the Pines Residential Treatment Center in Portsmouth, Va.

"You sign your kid right over to the state of Maryland," said the woman, who has vibrant eyes and a straightforward manner. "You lose all rights. It was a numbing experience. You feel like your whole life has just been taken away from you."

She struggled between her roles as mother of both a victim and his victimizer. Torn by guilt and grief, she grew distant from her two other children, ages 10 and 11. She slept late and ate little. She thought often, she said, of killing herself.

Her youngest son, the one who was molested, seemed no better. Counseling did little -- and he quit after 10 months. Now he lives with his father and sees his mother only eight days a month.

They never talk about the older boy or what he did.

Telling this story, the mother fought back tears as she gazed at old, innocent photographs. Her sons are at the beach, playing baseball, riding bikes. In one, her youngest son is just 3, laughing as he swings in the air.

"That was before all this," she said. "He doesn't smile like that anymore."

As for her eldest son, she drives the eight-hour round trip to the Pines to visit him when she can.

The $300-a-day state funding for his treatment is scheduled to run out later this month. Only a judge has the power to send him home, but he doesn't have a court date yet.

When he is released, he will probably go to a group home in Virginia or Maryland and after that, his grandparents' house on the Eastern Shore. Returning to his mother, the final step, could be a year away.

She is already nervous.

"I am sure that he wants to come home because he is homesick, but I'm not sure he's ready to come home as a sex offender," she said. "I don't want him to slip again. I don't want him to fall into the same trap."

Shattered lives, though, are not easily repaired.

"I will never forget about it," she said, "because my family is separated. I'll never be able to have my three boys back together again. It's lost. It's destroyed."

Pub Date: 9/29/97

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