Editorial: Injustice happens everywhere, even on Whidbey

  • Tuesday, September 11, 2018 2:19pm
  • Opinion

A report issued by a grand jury in Pennsylvania sent shock waves through the Catholic Church — and world. It described how church leaders in the state covered up child sexual abuse by more than 300 priests over a 70-year period.

More than 1,000 children were sexually abused.

Though nowhere near the scope, a couple of recent cases involving Whidbey Island illustrates how sexual predators are able to manipulate people and how an institution or community can fail to protect its most innocent members to a tragic extent.

After North Whidbey resident Douglas Duenwald was accused of sexually molesting a 4-year-old girl, a detective and a deputy prosecutor uncovered his lengthy history of child predation. Some people, including Army officials, may have tried to cover up or hide the extent of the crimes.

Others allowed him to fall through the cracks because it was the easiest path for them.

A long list of people failed the children. The former Island County prosecutor, the former chief criminal deputy, Army investigators, FBI agents, Honolulu police, the Honolulu prosecutor, a therapist and women who may have known what Duenwald was doing are on that shameful roll call.

Deputy Prosecutor Michael Safstrom described Duenwald’s crimes in excruciating detail in a sentencing memorandum. It lays out how Duenwald used the same modus operandi over and over again to gain access to children and to “groom” them for abuse.

Six or more children were sexually abused by Duenwald, according to court documents.

In another case, the state Supreme Court recently declined to take up an appeal filed by attorneys for former South Whidbey resident Jonathan Sage. He raped two boys over a period of years after befriending their mother and becoming a father figure to them.

Shockingly, the boys’ mother and several “upstanding” members of the community spoke at the sentencing hearing or wrote letters on Sage’s behalf. Two boys whose lives are forever altered by abuse did not get the same community support.

In light of his conviction and all that’s been revealed since, it’s hard to fathom that Sage’s supporters can look themselves in the mirror and feel good about themselves.

One of the boys was even ceaselessly bullied at South Whidbey schools, but he did not get an apology. That apology is long overdue.

These sad and disturbing cases remind us that the worst kind of crime and injustice can happen anywhere, even on our own island. It’s up to all of us to stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves.

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