Wednesday was an interesting day in the editor's office.

The first call I received that morning was from the mom of the 5-year-old victim in the recently reported sexual assault case in which the young girl was molested by a 16-year-old football player.

Then that afternoon, I heard from the dad of the 16-year-old convicted of the crime.

Both parents had entirely different agendas to discuss.

And one similar one: Being a parent.

Just plain wrong

You daily readers already know the basic background. This story is one of two stories that involved a football player sexually assaulting a minor. The other case involved an 18-year-old raping a 13-year-old girl, yes GIRL, and I'm still getting calls and letters complaining about why the paper makes such a big deal out of that one without reporting whether the girl, not woman, somehow lured or enticed him. "They were just a couple of teenagers," someone tried to reason.

That line of thought continues to sadden me to see people try justifying the 18-year-old's actions. It also saddens me that so many people are so quick to doubt a young girl who is the real victim, no matter how you slice it.

I hope and pray other 13-year-old girls out there don't feel they have to keep quiet if they get assaulted, because the message some of you are flat out saying is, "it's not a big deal.


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"

You're wrong.

And this 13-year-old girl is brave to fight the fight, and maybe because of it, other girls will seek courage to stand up for themselves.

Sweetheart, you've got one in your corner here.

And judging by the vast majority of the mail, there are far more supporters in the community, as well.

Are some of you trying to send a message that 18-year-olds shouldn't be punished or held accountable for an action that is called rape for a reason, with a 13-year-old child who despite even the strongest of any argument is still not a mature woman, physically nor mentally?

Get real, folks.

We should all wish the very best for the young man to turn his life around; don't get me wrong. But not holding him accountable for bad judgment and worse action is not the way to help him.

A mother calls

Back to the parents involved in the OTHER case, which is sad to qualify in that we must speak in plural terms.

It was heartbreaking to talk with the mother of the 5-year-old, and just when I didn't think the day could be any tougher, it equally was draining to speak with the dad of the teen who violated her.

Both were upset, though not mad and actually understanding, about their children being in the newspaper so prominently.

The mother reminded us to take every precaution we could to protect her daughter's identity, and she asked if we have to keep repeating all the painful details of her assault.

No ma'am, we don't, and already we have toned it down in the follow-up stories, for which she thanked us.

"The kids and I were in McDonald's one morning, and there were four people in there reading the story about her," she said of the topic that seemed to dominate the entire room. "One of them was reading the story out loud about what happened to her, sitting right next to her.

"We live in a small community and many people living here already know her and what happened to her, but I don't want my little girl to grow up being known for that. I want her to be a little girl," the mother said.

Then, she proudly told me a few background tidbits I hadn't heard.

"He tried to do more, and she said no! She said I don't want to play this game,' and she was ready to fight back and run away if he didn't stop. We had talked with her and talked with her about how to take care of her little body, and that it was hers, and that she should protect it. We had told her to say no and run away, and she did.

"He was sick. He tried to do more. I'm proud of my little girl for getting out of there. She is an amazing child. Then, she knew she could talk to us about it. We've always told her she could talk to us.

"Most kids don't come forward. They just can't do it. Then, to do the rape kit and stand up to it... She's just an amazing kid and I am so, so proud of her."

Without such bravery from victims, the mother pointed out, sex offenders would be able to continue victimizing others without facing consequences or being helped themselves. As tragic as this episode in life is for the family, she is proud of her daughter for possibly helping someone else out there by speaking up and taking a stand as best as a 5-year-old can do.

Then, the mother issued a plea.

"I think it is very important for all parents to talk to their children.

"Tell parents to PLEASE talk to their children. Let them know they can talk to them about these things. Tell them ahead of time what to do if someone tries to do this to them. You have to prepare for the worst.

"Prevention is so important, and it is so important for parents to talk to their children."

Well said.

A son's defense

The day was getting long as I stood and reached to turn off the desk lamp. Perhaps this evening, I thought, I'll get home at a decent hour. The phone rang. Better answer it.

As soon as the caller started talking, I sat back down in my chair and pulled out a pen, realizing I had on the line another emotionally drained parent, with another important message to share.

"Mr. Turner, my son was 15 years old when this happened, and I know and he knows he did wrong, but I don't want to see him dead," the dad began. "We're getting death threats, and that's just not right."

He defended his son, beginning with admission that a wrong was committed, but quickly adding that he and his son both realized that the young man has a problem and that they are taking more than the required steps to counsel and educate the now 16-year-old so that his future life travels better roads.

"Is there remorse? Yeah, there is a lot of remorse," he said. "There is remorse from me.

"I feel sorry for everyone this has happened to."

He told me his son was so successful in receiving counseling and therapy at six months of clinical treatment that the clinic counselors have invited him to return as a guest speaker to help other youths facing similar circumstances.

"The kid is going back to talk to other kids, and I admire him for that," the dad said. "They can do things now with kids young enough to keep it from happening again. I don't think with him, this will ever happen again.

"I'm sorry it happened. I tell you, you hear about these stories, but it is different when it's your own child who does it."

Then he sounded a chord I'd heard earlier, but found interesting to hear in a different version.

"I feel sorry for parents who haven't talked to their kids about it," he said, reflecting on how much he'd learned himself by going through the entire ordeal. "You CAN help these kids."

Common ground

Interestingly, both the mother of the victim and the father of the culprit pledged full support for the ongoing effort this newspaper is endorsing that calls for a new state law requiring authorities to notify schools when the schools have suspected or convicted sexual offenders on their enrollments.

There are laws that require adults to register as sexual offenders, but there are no laws that require youth offenders to register or for schools to be notified that they may have sexual offenders mingling with other students.

"I support the bill," the dad said, although he argued that in his son's case school officials did know about his offenses. "I don't think the school knew what to do."

The mother of the 5-year-old voiced strong support for such a law.

"I think that notification is definitely needed," she said, adding, however, that she is even more interested in seeing the newspaper promote prevention stories to help inform parents and children how to prevent being in difficult situations, and how to handle it if it does occur.

Still, the notification law must be ironed out so that educators have clear direction, she said.

"Educators love kids. They wouldn't be in that job if they didn't, and they will care for the suspects just like they do others," she said. "But they have to be aware of this information."

The column you are reading directly affects the lives of four young people in our community today.

It affects the lives of all their parents, and of all the family members at odds or in pain over all this.

Imagine, however, those suffering today without the stories and the venting to help them cope as therapy.

Imagine the victims who remain silent.

Consider the sex offenders in need of help who might still have a chance to be cured.

No, this isn't about one football team, one town or one single series of circumstances.

It is about us.

Troy Turner is the editor of The Daily Times. He can be contacted at P.O. Box 450, Farmington, N.M. 87499; or at tturner@daily-times.com.