Convictions rare for child sexual abusers

Experts say community, parents share responsibilty

Convicted child rapist Otto Schneider should never be released from behind bars, says one expert who works with abused children.

Fred Ford, executive director of the Mary Manning Centre, an organization that offers support and counselling to abused children and their families, said Schneider's 12-year sentence, handed out July 23, isn't nearly enough. That the diagnosed pedophile will only have to serve seven years and five months of that, thanks to time served waiting for his sentencing, aggravates the situation, Ford said.

"I would prefer this person was not in the community again," he said. "He needs to be closely supervised (and) I would be very interested to know when he is eligible for parole. He's fooled people for a long time and he'll try to fool them again."

Schneider, a 70-year-old Saanich resident, is serving three consecutive three-year prison terms for sexually assaulting three girls between January 2001 and March 2006, as well as three concurrent two-year terms for making pornographic videos of the children, two of whom were less than 10 years old at the time. The third child was 13. The sexual assaults ended when Schneider was arrested.

Justice Robert Johnston, who presided over Schneider's case, said he was disturbed by Schneider's ability to "groom" the girls into believing the sexual activities were normal, even enjoyable.

That ability is what concerns Ford most.

"He is the most dangerous kind because he is so manipulative – he manipulated the families and he manipulated the children. We see those kinds of patterns all the time. It's the way of tricking children into thinking what they're doing is OK and even fun for them."

While Ford is pleased Schneider was convicted for his chilling crimes, he said it's a result that is all too rare.

"What is unusual is they were able to get a conviction," he said. "Often children and youth are not believed. Unless there is hard evidence on tape, they (the child abusers) often get off."

Proving a sexual assault is the hard part, Const. Andy Stuart said. He didn't work on Schnieder's case, but followed it, and is a member of Saanich police's child abuse team and a member of the board for the Mary Manning Centre, Stuart sees all too many cases of sexual assault against children.

"A number (of cases) we see, for various reasons, can not go to court," he said.

Stuart added parents have a heavy responsibility to recognize that many child sexual abusers come from within the family.

"They really need to worry about who's in their family and take very seriously what your child says to you if they're making a disclosure," Stuart said. "It's not something to sweep under the carpet. Hoping that it goes away is probably the worst thing you can do because it will reincarnate itself when the child is a teen or an adult."

He listed low self-esteem, self harm, suicide and becoming offenders themselves as possible after-effects.

"That's the reality. We try to convince parents they can't sweep it under the rug. You've got to get it on the table and flush it out."

On the bright side, Ford said there's hope for Schneider's three young victims.

"Most children are able to recover from an experience like this," Ford said. It takes learning the boundaries of a normal, healthy relationship for a sexually-abused child to mend. The community can play a role in that healing, he added.

Educating children about what constitutes sexual assault, and giving them the strength and will to report the abuse is a major step in preventing similar cases in the future.

Schneider's defence in trial, that the children initiated the sex acts, was called nonsense by Johnston at the sentencing, and angered Ford.

"Child sexual abuse or exploitation is never the fault of a child," he said.

Child pornography an image 'you can never erase'

Although the term child pornography is used commonly by police, the media and the court system, it's not really accurate, says Const. Andy Stuart of Saanich police's child abuse team.

"It's used only because that's how it's written in the criminal code," he said.

Pornography refers to consensual sex that's been recorded in some way, Stuart said.

"When it's a child on there, there's no consent," he said. "To make that picture (or video). someone was sexually abused."

Stuart said his work with pictures and videos of sexually abused children has left disturbing images burned in his memory.

"Once that image is in your mind, it's something you can never erase. It's some horrific thing that will be left with you forever."

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