Saturday Mailbox

SATURDAY MAILBOX

August 27, 2005

Prosecuting mothers hurts efforts to help

Determining whether pregnant addicts should be held criminally liable for their substance abuse is complicated and evokes intense passion on every side of the issue ("Jailing women who used drugs while pregnant sparks debate," Aug. 18).

There is no reliable evidence that prosecuting drug-dependent pregnant women will prevent illicit substance use; however, evidence does exist that prosecution actually deters this special population from seeking substance abuse treatment and prenatal care.

For example, in South Carolina, since the Supreme Court authorized the prosecution of pregnant women, alcohol and drug treatment centers have reported an 80 percent drop in the number of pregnant women seeking substance abuse treatment.

Now in Maryland we have a county justice system that wants to punish women who abused substances when they were pregnant, despite the fact that we have another major issue - a lack of substance abuse treatment resources.

Only about 35 percent to 40 percent of the substance-abusing public nationwide receives treatment. The problem is even worse for the pregnant addict, because many programs do not offer treatment to pregnant women.

Additionally, many women seeking drug treatment have multiple needs, including child care and transportation. Some 80 percent to 90 percent of them have histories of physical, sexual or emotional abuse and of the concurrent mental health problems of depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Thus pregnant addicts have to interact with many systems, each of which deals with a segment of their problems - medical, legal, treatment, mental health, housing and child welfare. Coordination of these systems is required to effectively address the many needs of this population.

Maryland has the systems, the dedicated people and the tools we need to make prevention, treatment and coordination of these services a reality. Indeed, lawmakers, treatment advocates and the office of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. passed a "treatment, not incarceration" bill through the legislature.

This isn't the time to punish women who have a disease that affects all of us either directly or indirectly.

This is the time to come together and provide prevention and treatment programs.

Vickie Walters

Baltimore

The writer is program director of the Center for Addiction and Pregnancy at the Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center.

Convicted abusers just tip of the iceberg

It's important for there to be stricter laws regulating convicted sex offenders. But the proposed laws are only a Band-Aid to a much larger problem ("Governor promotes sex-crime measures," Aug. 21).

These proposed laws pertain only to convicted sex offenders. And it's important for residents of Maryland to be aware of the fact that the majority of sex offenders have not been convicted of their crimes.

As we all know, childhood sexual abuse and rape of adults are often crimes of secrecy and silence. The problem is compounded by the fact that only 32 percent of sexual assaults against people 12 or older are reported to law enforcement.

According to another study, 84 percent of respondents who identified themselves as rape victims did not report the crime to authorities.

And according to the U.S. Department of Justice, the majority of survivors of sexual violence are afraid to report sexual assault to the police.

Reasons include fears that reporting could lead to further victimization by the offender; fears of other forms of retribution by the offender or by his or her friends or family; concerns about the arrest, prosecution and incarceration of an offender who may be a family member or friend and on whom the victim or others may depend; concerns about others finding out about the sexual assault or about not being believed; and concerns about being traumatized by the response of the criminal justice system.

Vicki Polin

Baltimore

The writer is executive director of the Awareness Center Inc., a Jewish coalition against sexual abuse and assault.

City study distorts ideological labels

Eric Siegel did his usual thoughtful and well-written job in the Aug. 18 Urban Chronicle column, "Baltimore among the most liberal cities." But the same cannot be said for those who did the original study.

Whatever you think of the terms "liberal" and "conservative," they are certainly not synonymous with the party labels "Democrat" and "Republican."

What the study did was to examine voting tendencies for each of the major cities. That's a reasonably interesting undertaking.

But in an era in which labels such as liberal and conservative are confusing at best and used as political clubs at worst, alleging that you have identified how liberal or conservative a city is based on party voting is a huge disservice.

What would be much more useful would be to distinguish how different cities approach major public policy questions - about education, taxation, environment, business regulation or many other issues.

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