August 17, 2006

A decision earlier this summer by an Anne Arundel County court commissioner to allow a father to remain at home with the daughter he was charged with molesting left the 15-year-old victim vulnerable to possible abuse; it was a dangerous miscarriage of justice.

But that's not the worst of it. The county Department of Social Services, which was alerted to the suspected abuse as required by law, closed its case on the teenager and her family without putting into place a customary plan to ensure her safety or that of her siblings -- an unconscionable (and as yet unexplained) action.

What's outrageous is that, when confronted, the father allegedly admitted that he had inappropriately touched his daughter 10 times since 1999.

That information was all there in the police statement of charges on which the court commissioner relied in June to set the incredibly lax conditions of the father's bail. If we know anything about the pathology of sex offenders, it's that they often repeat their crimes, and their young victims are helpless to defend themselves.

As The Sun's Annie Linskey reported yesterday, complaints from neighbors earlier this month alerted county prosecutors that the alleged abuser was living at home with the victim. Prosecutors swiftly sought to have the father's bail revoked, but without additional evidence of abuse, they say they couldn't compel a speedy hearing on the matter. Eventually, through the intervention of a judge and the accused man's lawyer this week, the father voluntarily moved out of the family's Severna Park house.

But how many other cases has the Department of Social Services prematurely closed? In a case of alleged incest, where a child is most at risk, follow-up is not negotiable.

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