Who Benefits From Doing Nothing?
Another victim betrayed by family, the media, and the criminal justice system.
In 2009, Mario Caruso was arrested and convicted of sexually assaulting two girls, ages 8 and 9. He served only 16 months for the crimes, and was then allowed by a judge to move next door to victims.
Caruso was a pharmacist in the small down of Carmel, New York. He often paid neighborhood children to do chores around his house, and that is how he gained access to his victims. The assaults occurred in 2003. Not until one girl’s teacher noticed warning signs in the girl’s behavior did the teacher ask, “What happened?” This was in 2009. The teacher, a mandated reporter, brought the abuse to the attention of law enforcement immediately.
During the investigation, prosecutors learned that the father of the victim knew of the abuse, and had convinced Caruso to sign a confession and forgive loans made to the victim’s father estimated between $20,000 and $50,000. Caruso served 16 months for three counts of first-degree sexual abuse, then upon release, was allowed to return to his previous home next door to his victim.
The judge struck down an order of protection, apparently agreeing that the offender’s difficulties in finding housing were valid and this location would be beneficial to the supervision of the parolee. The victim has filed suit against Caruso for the emotional distress of having to live next door to her assailant, and the in his court filing, Caruso says the victim's injuries "are the result of culpable conduct by her and her family members."
It's that statement that the press latched onto. By doing so, we overlook just how badly the criminal justice system failed the victims. Caruso may be right in that the victim’s “family” is responsible for what happened: the rapist clearly had the father’s approval, in that the father did not call the police. The father does not dispute this. However, the betrayal of the victim goes beyond the father’s failure to report and the allegedly coincidental loans forgiven to the father by the rapist.
We have grown accustomed to collaborators, both willful and ignorant, victimizing a person a second and third time after the initial crime is discovered. The victim’s circle of trust has already failed her. The prosecution committed the usual charge bargaining: New York law defines sexual activity between a person under the age of 11 and over the age of 18 as Rape in the first degree, but Caruso was instead charged with sexual abuse, which carries a sentence of between 1 and 3 years, rather than 25 for rape. This makes the job easier for lawyers while ostensibly “protecting the victim” from a longer case, or testifying at trial.
We expect that some journalists and attorneys will use language that continues to minimize the crime. The victim's own attorney labels the rapist “sick,” and the media refers to him as a “child molester.” And we know that some judges will allow a rapist to live next door to his victim, either unaware or uncaring of the trauma it causes.
The victim was failed consecutively by her "father," law enforcement, Child Protective Services, the prosecutor and finally by the judge who struck down the order of protection- because apparently law enforcement's "ease of supervision" supersedes the victim's rights. This clearly shows the sham behind the sex offender registry: Caruso is categorized as a Level 3 Offender, the most likely to reoffend, and his victim is the one supervising his release.
A "father" who did not report the abuse of his daughter in exchange for loan forgiveness was never charged. How can a family member, or for that matter anyone who has knowledge of the rape of a child not be mandated to report the crime? If there was a quid pro quo between the father and his daughter's rapist, why was he not charged? He exacted a signed confession, but did not report it to police. Was there extortion? We do not know. The investigation apparently went no further. We have mandated reporters, but no mandated investigators.
In assessing behavior, the question is always one of “inadequacy or maliciousness” – did this person make that choice because they didn’t know better, or because their own interests were more important? In each grotesque factor of this case, we should be asking, “Who benefits from this decision?”
The father benefited by having loans of up to $50,000 forgiven by his daughter's rapist. The offender benefited by having his charges bargained to first degree sexual abuse, with a sentence of 1-3 years, when under New York law, he could have been charged with Rape in the first degree, which carries a 25 year sentence. The prosecutor benefits from not having to pursue a more difficult charge, and possibly sully his conviction rate. And the journalists get an outrageous headline about a level 3 sex offender blaming his victim and her family, and avoid the difficult investigative reporting that would bring to light why a father didn't report his daughter's sexual assault, and traded loan forgiveness to allow a predatory pedophile to remain free in his neighborhood.
These are problems not easily fixed, but changing a pattern of behavior is possible--if those who commit it are made aware of their error and that there are consequences. Unfortunately, there have been few or no consequences for anyone but the victim. A prosecutor who allows an offender to bargain a sexual assault charge down to a 16 month sentence. Law enforcement that decides not to investigate a father who failed to report the sexual assault of his 8 year old daughter, and had loans forgiven for not doing so. A judge who considers the convenience of law enforcement and the comfort of a sex offender over the victim, and strikes down her order of protection.
Who fights this behavior? One organization that does is PROTECT, a bipartisan pro-child, anti-crime lobby. Their victories include Alicia's Law, which secures funding for Internet Crimes Against Children task forces, the PROTECT Act, which mandated a national law enforcement nerve center to track and combat child pornography, the Circle of Trust laws that eliminate preferential treatment for familial abusers, and the Judicial Accountability Project, which measures judge's performance in sexual assault cases. If you want to take action, join at www.protect.org