Editor’s Note: The following is an editorial written by Ithaca Voice reporter Jolene Almendarez.
As always, we are eager to reprint alternative or dissenting viewpoints. To do so, contact me anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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ITHACA, N.Y. — A man who worked with young children in Ithaca for nearly decade was indicted on multiple child sex abuse charges and none of the places where he worked said a word about his employment with them until The Ithaca Voice started asking questions.
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You don’t have to have a child to know that staying silent about an accused child sex abuser is completely unacceptable.
On Dec. 3, Ever Benites was indicted on two counts of first-degree sexual abuse, course of sexual conduct against a child, and two counts of endangering the welfare of a child. This means that in addition to being charged, it’s been determined that enough evidence exists to take the case to trial.
Benites pleaded not guilty to the charges on Dec. 8 and is presumed innocent until proven guilty. He’s due back in court in January.
An official from the Ithaca City School District said last week that Benites worked in various roles in the district — including as a teacher’s aid — for nearly nine academic years. He was also employed at the Greater Ithaca Activities Center until directly before he was charged with the crimes July 10.
Both the school district and GIAC said they knew about the accusations against Benites and had not informed parents of the charges at the time of our interview — Friday and Dec. 9 respectively.
The Ithaca City School District was called about Benites over the course of nearly two weeks, initially telling The Voice that they had not comment, before an official decided to verify Benites’ employment.
The official even brazenly asked The Voice why we would want to report Benites’ employment when the accusations against him are so controversial. The answer is obvious — parents deserve to know if their children spent time with an accused sex abuser.
The fact is, whether Benites is innocent or guilty doesn’t absolve either organization of the responsibility of being voluntarily forthcoming about Benites’ contact with children.
They don’t get to choose how or if parents talk to their children about time spent with Benites — that heavy burden belongs to parents.
It’s commendable that GIAC and the school district were honest about Benites when The Ithaca Voice spoke with representatives. That’s a step in the right direction and one not everyone is taking.
For instance, The Voice received multiple tips that Benites may have also, at some point, worked at at another location with children. As a privately funded organization, officials are not required to disclose employment history. Their comment to The Voice? No comment.
I can’t help thinking that if my tip about Benites’ employment was incorrect, the organization would have vehemently denied that he worked there. The no comment leaves me feeling skeptical that he didn’t.
But more important than my skepticism is that by not telling parents about the abuse, these organizations nearly let the chance for justice — if any of the crimes were in fact committed — slip away.
Coming clean about Benites’ employment gives potential new victims the chance to contact police officers or therapists about any alleged abuse. Every victim has that right.
Preserving one’s reputation in lieu of ensuring children’s safety should never be the default choice when deciding how to handle claims of child sex abuse. The children, parents and members of this community deserve more transparency than that.
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