Seventeen years ago, when I had just graduated from Carleton College and was living in Minneapolis, 11-year-old Jacob Wetterling was abducted by gunpoint, in front of his younger brother and a friend, while biking in his St. Joseph, MN, neighborhood. He was never heard from again.
Seventeen years ago, his mother, Patty Wetterling, mounted an enormous effort—one that did not have the advantage of email, blogs, the Internet, or Amber Alerts—to alert the public about her son’s case; her son’s face is still burned into my brain. And when the months and years that followed, as it became clear that, excepting a miracle, Jacob would not be found alive, she became a force for other missing and abused children. I left Minnesota a few years later, but I was always impressed at her ability to be an advocate on this issue without resorting to needlessly scaring other parents about their chances of loosing a child to stranger abduction (which, despite what shows like CSI and Without A Trace and lesser imitators might lead one to believe, is both low, and no greater now than a few generations ago). She pioneered the first sexual offenders registration law — the Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children and Sexually Violent Offender Registration Act—and while subsequent refinements on this act (like Meghan’s Law) may have tipped beyond what civil libertarians can embrace, still it was an important step in the prevention of habitual sex offenders.
Jacob was a really good looking kid, one not, it seems, picked at random, and I think one of the hardest things for the public, and certainly for his family, was the almost immediate, instinctive knowledge of why this particular kid was likely grabbed.
I had no idea Patty Wetterling was running for Congress until a few days ago, when her name came up as someone commenting on the Foley situation. Now her opponent, Michele Bachmann, has claimed that Wetterling is playing politics with the issue of child abuse. This is appalling, and most especially from an extremely religious, values voting woman, who has nobly raised 23 foster children herself.
I don’t want to bash Bachmann here. What I know of her comes from clip searches, and these leave me somewhat confused (used to work for Carter, now darling of far-right mega-churches). But I will say, emphatically, that anyone who says Patty Wetterling is being opportunistic about the issue of child sexual abuse either didn’t live in Minnesota in the early 1990s. Or is full of shit.
And for Scott Johnson of the conservative blog Power Line to say, and this is a direct quote of his headline—“Patty Wetterling Molests the Truth”—is seriously in the worst taste I have ever seen in any blog of any political stripe. Johson’s bio on Power Line notes:
Scott W. Johnson is a Minneapolis attorney. For more than ten years Johnson has written with his former law partner John H. Hinderaker on public policy issues including income inequality, income taxes, campaign finance reform, affirmative action, welfare reform, and race in the criminal justice system. Both Johnson and Hinderaker are fellows of the Claremont Institute. Their articles have appeared in National Review, The American Enterprise, American Experiment Quarterly, and newspapers from Florida to California. The Claremont Institute has archived many of their articles….He can be reached by phone at (612) 414-6464.
Polls have Wetterling and Bachmann neck and neck.