Police Quick to Act on Boy's Claims in Priest Abuse Case
By Emily Gillespie
August 18, 2012
[Woodburn police department report ]
|Father Angel Perez, of St. Luke Catholic Church in Woodburn, was arrested Monday on accusations of sex abuse of a child. He is pictured here visiting a Corvallis nursing home in 2002. / AP file|
The mother of the 12-year-old Salem boy who allegedly was violated by his Catholic priest taught her children what to do if they ever were touched inappropriately.
“She taught all of us what’s right and what’s wrong and to tell her if something happened,” said the boy’s brother, who translated for his mother.
That’s exactly what court documents say that the boy did when he spent the night on an air mattress at Woodburn priest Angel Perez’s house Sunday night and awoke to the 46-year-old man touching his genitals and taking pictures with his cell phone.
Perez faces two charges of felony sex crimes and two misdemeanor charges of supplying the boy with alcohol and driving while intoxicated.
“We’re really heartbroken about what has happened,” the woman said. “It hurts that he was a leader of the Catholic Church ... but it hasn’t affected my faith.”
The Statesman Journal does not identify victims of sex crimes and by extension their families.
The mother said she is still in shock, but that she is proud of how quickly her son got away from a bad situation.
Immediately after the incident, the boy ran from the priest’s Woodburn house while Perez chased him down the street in his underwear, the court record states. Residents standing outside at the time took the boy to his sister’s house, where he told her “Father Angel touched me in my privates,” according to court documents.
Police were involved by 2 a.m. Monday, and after authorities interviewed him, Angel was arrested later that day.
But the boy’s quick actions, and the overall response by authorities and the public to the allegations, are indicators of a cultural change that has occurred in recent decades in the way that child sex abuse incidents are handled.
Dan Gatti, an attorney who has represented victims in more than 100 child sex abuse cases, said that the biggest change he has noticed has been the shift in society’s focus from the alleged perpetrator to the child.
If the same allegations had been brought against the priest decades ago, “(the reaction) would have been, a priest wouldn’t do something like that or he was acting stupid or got drunk or boys will be boys,” Gatti said.
He said his first reaction in reading the news of the allegations that the Woodburn priest touched a 12-year-old boy was that the kid got lucky because he wasn’t penetrated.
“I realized that’s how people would normally react back in the 70s and even in the 90s, when in fact, the kid did not get lucky. The kid is going to be traumatized,” he said.
Gatti has first-hand experience with these types of cases: he was sexually abused by a camp counselor when he was nine years old.
He said that he didn’t report what happened to him, and his reasons were social.
“You just didn’t tell people that, you were told not to talk about sexual matters,” he said. “If this had happened 40 years ago, it would have been absolutely ignored, pushed right underneath the carpet.”
The public’s normal reaction when he was a kid, he said, was to deny what happened. Today, however, the norm is instantaneous belief of the child, Gatti said.
“Hopefully that will lessen the damages toward the child,” he said. Gatti added that the quickness in addressing the problem will likely benefit the perpetrator also.
“He will be put into treatment, he will get legal consequences and social consequences which may help him so that he doesn’t get worse,” he said.
Gretchen Bennett, the executive director of Salem’s child abuse and assessment center, Liberty House, said that she has noticed an increase in reporting these intimate crimes.
The Department of Human Services, for example, reports that for the past 10 years there has been a steady increase in reports of child abuse while Gretchen said that the frequency of the crime hasn’t been affected.
She speculated that this change comes from the public’s overall better understanding of abuse — and that it more commonly happens with the people we know — and increased awareness that through media coverage.
“There is a change in how people are behaving and it’s a tremendous accomplishment,” Bennett said.
Jodie Bureta, a prosecutor with the Marion County District Attorney’s Office, said that although this incident was quickly reported, she hasn’t seen a change in delayed reporting.
“Children still delay reporting for a plethora of reasons, and disclose only when they are ready to do so. The timing of disclosure often depends on who the abuser is to the victim, the victim’s access to safe people to report to, and the particular dynamics of the abuse,” she said in an email.
With recent changes in legislation that lengthen the statute of limitation for these crimes, Bureta said that her office sees more people seek justice for crimes that were committed when they were children.
That change, she said, “indicates how many victims still delay a significant period of time before they are ready to report.”
She stressed that education will make it easier for people to report these incidents.
“I think children who are talked to by their parents and teachers about these things are in a better position to disclose if they are abused, especially when it comes to the fear of stigmatization, or of a stranger perpetrator,” she said.
She added that everyone benefits from learning more about the dynamics of abuse.
“We should all be looking out for the children of our community, and try to recognize signs and not be reluctant to report suspected abuse, or offer help to a child in need,” she said.
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