Arrests of youth coaches, educators, pastors and priests on suspicion of molesting children are not an epidemic in Sacramento.
It just seems as if they are.
The sacred bond of a mentor and a protégé, of a wise older soul guiding a youthful innocent, is at the heart of one criminal case after another in the capital region.
On Friday, Arturo Bustamante, a football coach at River City High School in West Sacramento, was arrested on six counts of molesting a child under the age of 18.
David Robert Freeman, the varsity baseball coach at Union Mine High School in El Dorado County, was arrested Jan. 5 on suspicion of engaging in sexual activity with a minor.
Uriel Ojeda, a wildly popular priest in the Sacramento Catholic Diocese, was released on bail last Monday but still faces seven counts of molesting a girl under 14.
In December, Tommy Gene Daniels, a former Baptist pastor from Rio Linda, was convicted of molesting four girls with behavioral issues who had stayed at his home. He faces 165 years to life in prison.
Christopher Jason Vargas, a former vice principal at an elementary school in Fairfield, was sentenced in December to eight years in state prison for molesting two boys.
Robert Adams, the principal who ran Creative Frontiers School in Citrus Heights for nearly 30 years, will return to court in February to face six felony counts of lewd and lascivious acts with a child under 14 and one misdemeanor count of annoying or molesting a child under 18.
There's also the case of a Yolo County foster parent and soccer coach, Cristan James Rooms of Esparto, who is charged with 48 counts of lewd and lascivious behavior with two minors over a four-year period.
Rooms is currently incarcerated with bail set at $12 million. The criminal complaint against him cites four dozen instances of Rooms allegedly showering with or improperly touching youths. This case evokes the national story of Jerry Sandusky, the former Penn State football coach accused of molesting kids a scandal that caused the firing of legendary football coach Joe Paterno.
There are other child molestation cases locally that have been in the news, but you get the point. Clearly, the men who have not yet had their day in court to face these charges deserve a presumption of innocence. Ojeda and Adams, in particular, have devoted friends and supporters who reject the charges against them.
Sometimes people are falsely accused of molesting children. Sometimes charges have been wildly distorted. Meanwhile, crime statistics do not reveal a local epidemic of child molestation. They reveal the exact opposite.
Through November, Sacramento police wrote 61 crime reports involving sex offenses against children, down 25 percent from the previous year, police data show. Officers took another 118 informal reports of sex offenses against minors, down 20 percent from the prior year.
The Sacramento County Sheriff's Department also showed a decline in child sex offenses through the first 11 months of 2011, but the drop was slight.
The statistical declines don't seem to make sense in the face of the media attention these cases attract. It's not that the numbers lie. They just don't tell the whole truth.
Youth coaches, educators, pastors and priests represent community. These crimes and accusations destroy the idea of community. They hit home so hard because many of us could have been victims in the vulnerable years of youth. Some of us were victims and kept it secret until adulthood, when we could no longer deny to ourselves or anyone else the hurt and shame tearing at our souls.
I'm lucky it never happened to me. I never got that close to any of my coaches or priests or authority figures, but I know people who did.
Too many of us know people who did.
That betrayal of trust, that abuse of power, is most insidious when the perpetrator is shrouded in the false cloak of love, trust and authority.
The sexual acts are illegal and carry specific punishments measured in years. The betrayal is eternal, staining all involved including the majority of worthy mentors who dedicate their lives to helping young people.