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Barriere Bits, Issue #020 Sentences for Child Abuse
January 20, 2009

Welcome to Barriere Bits, the child abuse information e-zine that will provide you with international child abuse information.

In this issue, you'll find child abuse news from:


Canada:

Saskatchewan Provincial Court Judge Barry Morgan ruled earlier this month that an aboriginal sentencing circle will help decide the punishment for 25-year-old Christopher Pauchay, the father who pleaded guilty to criminal negligence in the freezing deaths of his two young daughters on the night of January 29, 2008. In a drunken stupor, Pauchay took 15-month-old Santana and 3-year-old Kaydance, dressed only in diapers and T-shirts, into a blizzard and temperatures that went to -50 Celsius. He got separated from his two girls, but found his way to a neighbour's home. After being taken to hospital for severe frostbite and after he sobered up, he asked about his girls. A frantic search had authorities knocking door to door. The toddlers were later found frozen to death in a nearby snowy field.

My Comments: Even prior to Judge Morgan's ruling, this case has been highly controversial in Canada. Whenever a child dies either by the hand of a parent, or through their negligence as was the case here, emotions and outrage run high. And nowhere do those emotions run higher than in the community where this tragedy occurred. The traditional sentencing circle of the First Nation is an opportunity for the entire community to heal because responsibility and accountability for the crime committed is considered by all members of the community; something that is sorely lacking in our conventional court system of trying, convicting and sentencing without regard for those in the community who were affected by that crime.

It must be understood that the sentencing circle, also called the "healing circle" does not preclude a prison sentence for Pauchay's criminal negligence, a prison sentence that could be up to five years. In Judge Morgan's 15-page decision, he declined the request of the some of the First Nation members that the sentencing circle be private and conducted on the reserve. Instead, he decided the process should be public and open to the media, and should be held at the courthouse. Judge Morgan wants the sentencing circle to help him acquire more information about Mr. Pauchay so that he can determine "a fitting sentence".

I believe this decision was a good one in that our entire nation was affected by this tragedy. We should all have the opportunity to view the process of the First Nation; and perhaps our legal system can learn something valuable from observing it.


Denmark:

A couple convicted of severely beating the woman's now 13-year-old daughter were handed a sentence of 5 months for their criminal acts. The court heard that the girl had been systematically beaten with such implements as dog chains and bicycle pumps over the course of 4 years. The girl's mother was also found guilty of holding her daughter's head under water. The judge did not believe there was enough evidence to prove the claim by the prosecutor that the girl had been repeatedly locked in a small dog cage; therefore, found the couple not guilty on the charges of false imprisonment. The stepfather's own mother is said to have turned her son in to the police for abusing the girl. The prosecution sought an up-to-two-year prison term, but the judge sentenced the couple to less than half a year.

My Comments and Some Additional Information: The family in this case had moved from one jurisdiction to another. Authorities in the first jurisdiction made authorities in the second aware of the possible need to remove the girl from the home, but it was over two years and following several additional complaints from concerned friends and school officials before the girl was finally taken into care. Politicians have now called for an external investigation into how the case was handled. A poll of 1000 readers of a local newspaper revealed that 98% were in favour of a lengthier sentence, 74% of whom wanted a sentence of at least 3 years imposed on the couple.

This beaten and battered girl was victimized by the people in charge of protecting her, and then further victimized by a system that in effect allowed the brutal abuse to go on for an extended period of time. I can only hope the prosecution will launch a sentencing appeal in an effort to send the message to the girl that what her parents did to her was unacceptable and had "real" consequences. A 5-month sentence for methodically abusing this girl is not justice; it amounts to a slap on the wrist for the couple and a slap in the face for this girl. Shame on this judge!


USA:


South Carolina:
State Senator Mike Fair (Republican Greenville) confirmed that his office is drafting legislation that if passed would see mandatory minimum prison time imposed on anyone who seriously harms a child. This would include child care providers. But not everyone agrees.

Civil rights attorney Rauch Wise of Greenwood believes mandatory minimum prison sentences would "...treat everyone as if they are a worse criminal than some of them are". He went on to say, "If we continue to pass mandatory minimums, the prisons would become our biggest institutions in South Carolina." President of the South Carolina Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers Drew Carroll agrees. He believes mandatory minimum sentences would cause the courts to "slow to a crawl" because there would be more trials and fewer plea bargains.

State Representative Shannon Erickson (Republican Beaufort) who is past president of the South Carolina Child Care Association supports the higher minimum sentences on child care providers who are convicted of inflicting harm on a child.

My Comments: On the heals of the Denmark case above, where the couple received a few months for brutally beating a young girl, the effects of which will be lifelong for her, how can I not support mandatory minimum sentences. I can understand the position of the two attorneys I quoted from South Carolina, but the answer to child abuse that leaves a child seriously harmed does not lie in plea bargains and fewer trials. As a society, we must send a message to victims and perpetrators alike that criminal child abuse will have more severe consequences; otherwise, we re-victimize the child who will face a life time of ill effects from that abuse.


India:

In order to address the growing epidemic of sexually exploited children, the state of West Bengal's Department of Women and Child Development and Social Welfare now has its own toll-free number: 1098.

My Comments: To us Westerners, it is difficult to understand why a helpline would be set up exclusively for reporting child prostitution and not other forms of child abuse. But the sexual exploitation of children is rampant in parts of India, and society still considers it taboo to discuss the issue, which is often directly tied into poverty. Making people aware of the toll-free number, alongside an educational campaign, will help make people in India aware that turning a blind eye to this widespread problem is unacceptable. Sadly, it takes baby steps In order to change the mindset of society; but baby steps are better than no steps at all.


Website News:

NEW Alphabet Listing of Child Abuse Stories: The volume of story submissions has made it so that I've had to further break down the alphabetized listings for child abuse stories. If you're looking for a story from someone in particular, you can now find it using the new format on my sitemap page at Individual Child Abuse Stories A Z. When you get there, just click on the applicable letter.

Video Readings: I announced last month my newest website feature: weekly videotaped readings from On My Own Terms, A Memoir. I promised a new reading each week for the next few months. My voice is rather croaky and I'm all stuffed up due to a nasty cold, so last week's video will remain until next week. Expect a new reading Thursday, January 29, 2009. If you haven't already, check out what I have to say about my abusive mother at Upheaval.





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Author Bio

Darlene Barriere is a child abuse survivor, a violence and abuse prevention educator and author of On My Own Terms, A Memoir. She lives in semi-arid Kamloops, British Columbia, Canada with her husband, John.



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