It is a difficult question to ask, and even more difficult to answer, but Minerva Perez willingly took it on. Perez is the head of Organización Latino-Americana of Eastern Long Island. She is also the former director of residential and transitional services for The Retreat, helping abused adults and children.
The question put to Perez is why, across the East End, and, particularly in East Hampton, have there been so many recent arrests on charges involving the alleged sexual abuse of children, many in the Latino community?
“None of this should be hidden,” Perez said. She said that, across America, a child is sexually abused every nine minutes. “This is not exclusive to any race or ethnicity,” she noted. “This is what is under the surface, and there is so much more.”
Police officials have been reluctant to comment on any overarching reason for the current trend. There were, as of May 20, four men in custody who had been arrested since the beginning of April on charges of sexually abusing minors in East Hampton alone, with more across the East End.
In one of those arrests, the alleged victim, still a child, revealed the abuse to a teacher at school after seeing an educational video on improper touching by an adult. Another alleged victim made her difficult revelation in a school setting, as well. Other arrests came after a parent contacted the police.
Perez and OLA stress the need for continuing to improve communication and openness between the Latino community and the local police. Education and an improved relationship with police may all be factors in increased reporting, Perez said.
In Perez’s experience at The Retreat, a shelter for abuse victims, she has observed that it is not just the poor and working-class victims of sexual abuse that are afraid to come forward. Victims in well-to-do settings are frequently reluctant to come forward, afraid of losing their position in life. Perez said that such victims can find themselves in an “iron-gated status jail.”
In the end, she said, “We need to do everything we can so that people are not even hesitating to come forward.”