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How exceptional clearance is being used in sex crime cases involving children | An Exceptional Problem

After going through over 600 sex crime case files, we found child sex crimes were often marked closed, or not being worked on, while potential predators were out.

DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. — Mia Johnson spends every day fighting for her son.

“It’s like I’m living a complete nightmare,” she said.

It’s a fight she feels like she is losing. 

“The worst part of it is feeling like nobody believes us,” she said. “And, that nobody’s protecting kids like him.”

In early 2021, Johnson said her 8-year-old son revealed he was being molested. She took her son to the doctor and then to the police. Despite her claims, Johnson said DeKalb County Police would not move forward with an arrest without a statement from her son.

“So, anything I say doesn’t matter?” Johnson questioned as she recalled her interaction with police.

It might not sound unreasonable that police want to hear from the child directly. The problem here? Johnson’s son can’t tell them. Not with words.

Johnson lives with autism and is non-verbal. He can only communicate through pictures and writing. A language, Johnson said, police couldn’t speak.

“They come back and say ‘We couldn’t get anything out of him,’” Johnson recalled.

She said the police told her they would try and keep the case open but they did see concerns.

Two years later, her son’s case remains unsolved. The suspect is still free.

Camille Proctor, the founder and executive director of The Color of Autism Foundation, said there is a high chance perpetrators will get away with these crimes against nonverbal children.

“The fault will be put on the child’s inability to speak,” Proctor told 11Alive Investigates.

A possible solution, Proctor said, is for police departments to provide specially trained therapists for cases like these.

“There’s ways to get the answers from a child that has no words,” Proctor said.

RELATED: An Exceptional Problem: How police are clearing rape cases without making arrests

Justice is hard to come by 

The reality is, even when children don’t have a disability, justice in child molestation cases is hard to come by.

Our team spent a year sifting through more than 600 sex crime case files. We found child sex crimes were often marked closed– or not being worked on– while potential predators were out on the streets.

“I just know that it’s not normal for a 3-year-old to get genital warts,” a nurse is heard saying on police body-worn camera in records obtained by 11Alive Investigates.

This case of a 3-year-old with a sexually transmitted infection was marked closed by Greensboro, Georgia police for lack of evidence. In another case out of Statesboro, a teen claimed her father molested her at least 20 times. Police marked that case inactive.

Credit: WXIA

Then, there’s a case in Gordon County, where a 5-year-old goes into graphic detail about being molested. That case is ruled unfounded.

Whatever the title – these cases are closed or not being worked on. Our investigation also uncovered a number of child sex crimes that appear to be solved even though no one was ever arrested.

For instance, Rockdale County Sheriff’s Office investigated 26 sex crimes against children in 2021. Twenty-two of those cases appear to be cleared. Yet, police only arrested three suspects. The other 19 cleared cases are “exceptionally cleared.” This means police are supposed to have the evidence they need to make an arrest but can’t for reasons beyond their control.

'They are not believed' 

Even children, who are coming forward, are still facing hurdles to justice.

Mosaic Georgia is a sexual assault center, which specializes in care for children. CEO and Executive Director Marina Peed said this lack of justice happens because children are not believed.

Kathy Carter, Director of Forensic Medical Services at Mosaic, said children need time to report.

“It takes a long time for children to come forward,” she said. “They're testing the waters. They're seeing, ‘How are you going to respond to me if I tell you something happened to me?’”

In cases like rape and molestation, advocates said justice is falling short.

“Crimes against women and children are not managed very well,” Peed said.

A reality Johnson knows all too well.

“Unfortunately, I can see it ‘cause it’s happening to me,” Johnson said.



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