Editor’s note: Child molestation is the first installment in a series about crimes against children in Liberty County.
According to the National Sex Offender Public Website, approximately only 30 percent of sexual assault cases are reported to authorities.
In Liberty County, nine child molestation or aggravated molestation cases were opened in 2018, according to the Atlantic Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s Office.
“Since Liberty County’s population is the largest of our six counties, one would expect the cases forwarded to our office for prosecution would be larger, that is not always the case,” District Attorney Tom Durden said. “In 2009, which was the first year we have statistics, Liberty County actually opened the least amount of child molestation and aggravated child molestation cases than the other five counties.”
According to data compiled at the D.A.’s office, since 2009 there have been 108 child molestation or child molestation cases opened. The year with the highest number of cases to date is 2016 with 16 cases opened.
Child molestation and aggravated child molestation are a form of child abuse in which an adult or older adolescent uses a child under the age of 16 for sexual stimulation.
About one in 10 children will be sexually abused before their 18th birthday, according to d2l.org. They also reported 70 percent of all reported sexual assaults, including assaults on adults, occur to children ages 17 and under.
“For someone to be a victim of child molestation or aggravated child molestation, they must be under the age of 16,” Durden said. “That means at the time of the crime, the victim must be 15 years old or younger.”
Of the 90 sex offenders registered in Hinesville, about a third were charged with child molestation or aggravated molestation.
“Just because an offender has not re offended, or received any new charges, does not mean they are rehabilitated,” Durden said. “I have not seen any specific characteristics in child molesters in my 35 years of prosecution, they seem to run the gamut.”
According to victimsofcrimes.org, perpetuators of sexual abuse may gain the trust of potential child victims and their caregivers by grooming them. About 90 percent of children who are victims of sexual abuse know their abuser, according to d2l.org.
“It is very important that parents or caregivers are in contact with their children and should know who their children are always with,” Durden said. “In addition, with the overabundance of social media and the internet in general, the parents or caregivers need to be monitoring children’s usage of electronic devices and what they are looking at.”
Even though there has been a decline in the amount of child molestation and aggravated child molestation cases in Liberty County in the last two years, researchers estimate that only 38 percent of child victims disclose the fact they have ever been abused.
“We have to remember we’re dealing with what gets reported,” Durden said. “Sometimes there are cases where families don’t prosecute due to not wanting the child to relive what happened on the stand.”