As in medicine, the first law of public policy is to do no harm. The story of Lina Carl and her family suggests that maxim has been trampled in the rush to mete out ever harsher punishments to those who have committed sex crimes.
In 1999, Lina was a human resource professional in her fifties working at an accounting firm. (Lina asked that her and her family members’ names be changed for this story and that the name of the state where they live be withheld. They don’t want to invite any more negative attention than they’ve already gotten, she says.)
Things had not been going well in Lina and her husband George’s marriage, and she was getting ready to separate from him. On a fall day that year, she was going to tell her 14-year-old daughter Daisy about the separation when she picked her up from school.
Lina told Daisy she was getting her own apartment and that she’d like Daisy to come live with her.
But Daisy had news of her own. “Mom, I’ve got to tell you something,” she said.
Lina felt herself getting tunnel vision.
“A few years ago, Daddy touched my breast.” Daisy had been 11 or 12 at the time.
It had happened as George was putting her to bed and was scratching her back, which both he and his wife did before she went to sleep at night. He reached around and touched her breast. “Daddy stop that,” Daisy told him. “I’m sorry,” George said immediately, according to Daisy. “I shouldn’t have done that, and I’ll never do it again.”
Typical of some children who have experienced sexual abuse, Daisy hadn’t told anyone because she feared the consequences–she didn’t want the family to be broken up.
When Lina confronted George, he claimed to have forgotten it. But by the following morning, he’d admitted what he’d done. “I think I stuffed it in a corner somewhere in my mind because I just wanted to forget about it and never go there again,” he told Lina.
Daisy had been seeing a therapist because Lina had gotten concerned that she’d been acting inappropriately with young men who were too old for her.
Now Lina and George made a fateful decision—Lina would tell Daisy’s therapist what had happened. “We were trying to do the right thing,” says Lina. “We thought it would help Daisy work through some of her issues.”
After Lina shared the story, the therapist asked Lina a critical question–did she think George would never do this again? “I don’t think so but I don’t know,” Lina replied. “How would I know? I didn’t think he could ever do this in the first place.”
On the basis of that answer, the therapist reported the incident to police, who reported it to child protective services.
“How could I say that it would never happen again?” Lina asks. “At the time, I was pissed off at my husband, and so I never realized how significant my answer to that question was.”
A few days later they got word that George was being charged with sexual abuse of a minor.
The police told Lina she needed to get counseling of her own. They sent her to see a therapist at a local nonprofit resource center for parents and children that could help her. Lina went–free counseling couldn’t hurt, she thought.
The therapist wanted her to leave George. But what she and George had just been through had paradoxically brought them closer–Lina no longer wanted the separation. Daisy had told Lina that the abuse had never been repeated, and several years had passed since it had happened.
Lina told the therapist she wanted to keep the family together. But the therapist, it turned out, wasn’t exactly impartial–she told Lina she wouldn’t support her in that goal.
There was a good reason. The therapist had not told Lina the whole truth—the therapist was serving as an expert witness for the police in the upcoming case.
During the case proceedings, the therapist told the judge that those who sexually abuse children almost always reoffend and are incurable. Lina says she felt betrayed–much more betrayed by the system than she ever had by her husband.
George agreed to the charges because he said he wanted to be honest about what it happened. When they went in front of the judge, Daisy brought a letter–she said she knew that what her dad had done was wrong, but she didn’t want him to get prison time.
George was sentenced to a year of probation and was mandated into a sex offender treatment program. All of that would’ve been good for him, Lina thinks.
But a poison pill was lodged in the other part of his sentence–his name, photo, and the family’s address were to be displayed for the world on the state’s sex offender registry. On the registry, the way his charges were listed suggested that he’d raped a child.
The worst was still ahead of Lina and her family.
Next: A Cure Worse Than the Disease (Lina’s Story, Part 2)