Tardy Truth

The Courier-Journal

August 5, 2008

It's been months since a Bullitt County judge dismissed child sex abuse charges against Clayton Pruett, who is a church youth pastor, substitute teacher and wrestling coach. But only recently has the public learned that Debra Kay Perez Johnson, mother of Mr. Pruett's alleged victim, confessed in a settlement that she lied.

Mr. Pruett, an associate pastor at Pleasant Grove Baptist Church, says he's forgiven Ms. Johnson but fears he'll be scarred for life by her accusation.

The settlement includes a provision that Ms. Johnson is to pay an undisclosed amount to Mr. Pruett for what she put him through. Kentucky law will allow no more than a misdemeanor charge against Ms. Johnson, even though the injury she inflicted is profound

And to think, she was once a member of the county school board.

We shudder to think what might have happened to Mr. Pruett, had this case gone all the way -- through charges and trial to a conviction. It's no secret that, within the prisoner hierarchy, child sexual abusers are considered the lowest of the low, and are often targeted by other inmates.

Mr. Pruett is fortunate to have had strong community ties, and to have been surrounded by people who believed in him. Already restored to his Bullitt Central High duties, he's now able to resume his responsibilities at the church too.

Debra Johnson did a terrible thing, both to Mr. Pruett and to the equally innocent taxpayers of Bullitt County who paid the bill for an investigation. In addition, she both reinforced the paranoia that grips so many, when it comes to sex abuse allegations, and encouraged the public to doubt the next legitimate charge that comes along.

That's a lot of damage.

Child sexual abuse is a major problem. In the last year with respect to which it had full figures, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said there were 83,600 substantiated reports of sexually abused children, with the total not reported assumed to be even larger.

The Bullitt County incident may have been based on lies, but those national statistics are based on some terrible truths.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.