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New Britain - If you've ever wondered about those cops who troll Internet chat rooms looking for child molesters, you should meet James Holler, retired police chief of Liberty Township, Pa.
In person, he's gray-haired and 50-something, with a slight stomach paunch - he's not ashamed to call it a gut. But online, he's a 13-year-old blonde girl. The first time a cyber predator asked him about his chest size, he responded that he was a "double D" because he didn't know that was a bit large for a teen. Holler said he has since undergone "a reduction" and is now a C cup.
Speaking Thursday at the Melanie Ilene Rieger Memorial Conference Against Violence, Holler, who provides training to criminal justice employees and others, used humor to discuss a problem most people don't like to think about.
His overall message was three-fold: child molesters are in every community; parents should speak to their children about their "private parts" as soon as kids can understand; and kids should trust no one. One in four girls is sexually abused by the age of 18, he said. One in six boys becomes a victim. Ninety percent of the perpetrators are someone the child knows and trusts.
Knowing what he does has made him "a little nutty" in his personal life, Holler admitted. Because most abused kids don't tell anyone, he once confronted his adult children, one by one, to ask whether anyone had hurt them when they were growing up.
The conference, in its 16th year, was started by Samuel and Wanda Rieger, the parents of Melanie Rieger, a Naugatuck Valley Community College student who was murdered by her boyfriend in 1994.
"We try to concentrate on helping people who become victims and trying to reduce crime," Sam Rieger said.
A packet of tissues was distributed along with informational materials, and a licensed clinician was on hand for those who needed to speak to someone, but the tone was not tearful on Thursday morning.
Suzette Jones, whose son Vincent was murdered by her son-in-law, Johnny Joyner, in New London on Oct. 16, 2007, had served on a panel the previous day with attorney Chester Fairlie, who facilitates the local chapter of the Survivors of Homicide support group.
"Remember how angry I was?" Jones said. "Now I'm on the other side, helping out."
Jones said that during the dark early days after her son was gunned down, others in the support group listened to her and told her they knew how she felt. Now, when new people come into the group, she knows what to tell them.
"It's OK if you go to the cemetery every day," she said. "It's OK if you cry in the morning and scream in the evening. It's OK."
Chief State's Attorney Kevin T. Kane, who was New London's top prosecutor for years, and Judge Susan B. Handy, who presided over the major crimes court here, were on a panel about Victim's Rights along with New Britain-based Victim Advocate Kitt Tierney and Beau Thurnauer, deputy chief of the East Hartford Police Department.
Unlike many other states, Connecticut has a Bill of Rights for victims and provides victim advocates in criminal courtrooms, but victims are sometimes bewildered by the process. Many don't understand why offenders are allowed to plead guilty to lesser crimes for reduced sentences. Kane explained the sometimes insurmountable distance between the "probable cause" that police need to make an arrest and the proof beyond a reasonable doubt that prosecutors need to secure a conviction.
"There's this victim who seems so believable to us, and our heart goes out to them, but it's one person against the other," Kane said. "Victims come in and are rightfully upset by what they've been through."
Handy said she always asks whether a victim is in the courtroom. She said she takes time to explain the proceedings so they will know what is happening. She said it's important for her to see a victim or a family member.
"I like to be able to put a face with a name," she said.