Caylee’s Law and What We Really Need to Do Now to Better Protect Children: Three Proposed Legal Reforms

Posted in: Criminal Law

Caylee Anthony is just the most recent child victim whose suffering reminds us that our laws are not as child-protective as they need to be.  One element of the case is especially hard to tolerate: It is undisputed that the little girl’s mother, Casey, knew that Caylee was missing, yet never went to the authorities.  For many, that fact alone should have triggered serious punishment for Casey.

Thus, as soon as Casey Anthony was acquitted, a “Caylee’s Law” petition, seeking the passage of new statutes to this effect, went viral.  Now, numerous states are considering laws that would make it a crime to fail to report that a child is missing.

I would have thought that such a failure to report was an example of child neglect, which is illegal already.  But I have no problem with a state legislature’s clarifying the point that parents urgently need to contact the authorities, and to do so in a timely fashion, when they learn that their child is missing.

But even the passage of Caylee’s Law would be unsatisfying after this long, highly publicized trial, for there are dark, unexplained elements of the case.  For example, there is the combination of duct tape and chloroform—both were used on Caylee.  For ordinary Americans, such as the jurors in the Anthony case, these elements of the crime are, by themselves, the stuff of horror movies.  For those in the child-sex industry, though, they relay a more predictable story, as I will explain.

An Unexplained and Disturbing Aspect of the Caylee Anthony Case 

Attorney and children’s advocate Wendy Murphy has shed light on these murky elements of the Anthony case by noting that chloroform is a cheap drug used in the sex- trade industry.  Murphy stated in an op-ed:

“The FBI has long taught about the use of sedative drugs in the making of child porn. Benzodiazepines such as Valium and Klonopin—and cheap alternatives such as chloroform—are commonly used to keep kids calm. Many of these drugs also cause short-term amnesia such that the victim has little or no memory of the event when the drugs wear off.

It’s scary to think that ANYONE would do such a thing to a child, but get this: According to the U.S. Attorney General, child porn is a multi-billion dollar industry and the people most likely to be making it are the victims’ parents.”

Despite the substantial work I’ve done in the child-protection universe, I did not know these facts, but they make perfect sense.  How does a porn producer or predator get the child to be still long enough to perform—and endure—the sex act(s) required?  Brute force is one answer; drugs are another.

Thus, one might well speculate that the searches on “chloroform” that apparently were made by someone in the Anthony family, or at least someone with access to the computer at issue, could have had a dark meaning. (Who performed the searches, and why, were questions disputed at trial.)

And that possibility suggests that poor Caylee might not have been just a victim of murder.  Her life on earth may have been sheer hell, as well.

Three Key Ways in Which the Laws Should—and Could—Better Protect Children Like Casey

Lawmakers must change.  Instead of jumping for headlines and leaping onto already moving bandwagons in the wake of children’s deaths, Congress and the state legislatures ought to ask victims’ advocates how children are being shortchanged in the legal process.  Even when there is no headline case to focus public attention on the problem.

Trust me, if legislatures do ask, they will get an earful.  But here are three basic changes that could go far toward leveling the playing field for our vulnerable kids.

First, Amend RICO

First, and this is particularly relevant to the porn and sex-trade industries, Congress needs to amend the RICO laws to include child sex abuse as a predicate act that can trigger RICO prosecutions and civil actions.  RICO targets criminal enterprises, and conspiracies to perpetrate child sex abuse are just such enterprises, and should fall within the statute’s purview.

It is impossible to effectively stop child porn and the coverup of child sex abuse by organizations by prosecuting or suing one person at a time.  New laws are needed to ensure that the organizations of cooperating adults who conspire to perpetrate and permit abuse can be prosecuted, and sued for civil damages.

Second, Mandate Education for Kids  

Second, every state should add to the sex-education curriculum an effective child-protection unit.  It should be mandatory for every child, and no parent should be permitted to bar a child from this part of the curriculum.  Home-schooled children should be required to receive the education via the Internet.

Fortunately, there is a model curriculum on this subject now, which has been pioneered by high-school teacher Pat Toner in Council Rock School District, in Newtown, PA.  I visited her class to talk to her high-school students about legal issues involving abuse.  Toner is shining a bright light on a dark subject about which these children need to be educated.  There ought to be “good touch, bad touch” curriculum in the elementary schools, and Toner’s model ought to be implemented in every high school.

Every time I speak to a group about child-sex-abuse issues, I am approached afterwards by individuals who are struggling to deal with the issue right now in their lives.  Unless responsible adults make sure to talk to students about how to protect themselves, explain the boundary lines, and open pathways to safety, kids will remain weaponless against malevolent and reckless adults.

Third, Eliminate Child-Sex-Abuse Statutes of Limitations

Third—and no one will be surprised when I say this, as I have long worked on this very issue—the states need to eliminate their statutes of limitations on child-sex- abuse, as I discussed in my last Justia column, which covered Hawaii’s efforts to do so.  There is no other way for us to identify the perpetrators among us who have been relying on the windfall of an expired statutes of limitations.

In the Anthony case, for instance, Casey accused her own father of having sexually abused her when she was a child.  If her claim is true, then she cannot pursue any remedy through the justice system, because the statute of limitations would have expired ages ago.  Assuming Casey is telling the truth about her own abuse—and she is clearly a very troubled young woman—then perhaps if she had had a pathway to justice herself, her treatment of her own daughter might have been different.  If Casey was indeed abused, but no one reported it to the authorities, could that have led her to be skeptical about whether the authorities ever could help?

The current statutes of limitations for child sex abuse put a lid on festering suffering.  And we all pay the price when that suffering leaks out in other ways—whether it is in the form of alcohol and drug abuse, or emotionally turbulent homes and families.

To every state legislator who is now on the “Caylee’s Law” bandwagon, I say, “Go for it.”  But it would be better for our children if legislators were to slow down long enough to understand why our children are so vulnerable in the first place, under current law, and what new legislation could do to prevent the kind of abuse that Caylee and Casey Anthony may well have suffered.

Posted in: Criminal Law