Are we doing enough to protect children from predators?

Dale Antonio Davis, 50, was sentenced to three years in prison and seven years on probation for the Halloween 2017 statutory rape of a 13-year-old girl. CONTRIBUTED BY DEKALB COUNTY SHERIFF’S OFFICE

Dale Antonio Davis, 50, was sentenced to three years in prison and seven years on probation for the Halloween 2017 statutory rape of a 13-year-old girl. CONTRIBUTED BY DEKALB COUNTY SHERIFF’S OFFICE

You expect all sorts of ghouls and goblins to come out on Halloween night. You even expect that such a spooky holiday will be a little bit weird, even scary.

On Halloween night 2017, Dale Antonio Davis went way above anything I could’ve imagined, let alone expect. Davis put a bag over the head of a 13-year-old girl, drove her to a house and raped her.

According to news stories, the little girl tried to fight him off but he wouldn’t stop. When he was done, the little girl asked two men for help and they flagged down police.

Within weeks of the attack, Davis, out on bond on charges related to a family violence case, was arrested and charged with statutory rape, kidnapping, simple battery and child molestation.

The good news is he finally fessed up, pleading guilty to statutory rape, the only charge prosecutors presented to the grand jury.

That was a travesty in and of itself, but what happened next is incomprehensible.

Last month, Davis, now 50, was sentenced to just three years in prison. Even if you add the seven years he'll serve on probation, having to register as a sex offender and having no more contact with the victim, it still reeks.

Where is the justice in that?

RELATED: Opening up about child molestation

Every year, we write stories about how to keep kids safe during Halloween, and every year, the warnings have to do with cars, candy and costume safety.

Experts suggest we tell our kids to cross the street at corners, using traffic signals and crosswalks. They recommend choosing costumes and bags with reflective tape and the right size to prevent trips and falls. And they even warn against allowing children under 12 out without adult supervision.

I somehow missed this Halloween story in 2017. Maybe we reported it. Maybe we didn't, but I've been haunted by the sentencing story ever since I read it online March 28. I can't help wondering what mix of circumstances would've led Davis to place a bag over a little girl's head and kidnap and rape her.

Child rape is nothing new. We know that.

Every nine minutes, a child is sexually abused in this country, according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization.

In less time than it took me to type in rape and children in a Google search, a half-dozen other cases of child rape bubbled up, and that wasn’t the worst of it. That the vast majority of those rapes involved 3-year-old victims was. Toddlers raped by grown men. One in Florida. Another in Texas. And another here in Georgia.

The question God asked after his creation ate the forbidden apple came to mind: Adam, where art thou?

That isn’t a question about location but condition. What’s the state of your heart?

I’ve asked myself that question quite often, but reading the story about Davis, I couldn’t help wondering what makes the heart of a grown man or woman want sex with a child.

RELATED: Raising awareness about child sexual abuse

From what I read about Davis and the other men, none of them knew their victims, but that’s not always the case.

In most instances, it isn’t the stranger who rapes a kid. It’s a parent or someone the child knows.

According to RAINN, of the 63,000 sexual abuse cases substantiated by Child Protective Services each year in the U.S., for instance, 80 percent of perpetrators were a parent.

And so it begs the question: America, where art thou?

What is in a parent’s heart that would make them want to have sex with their own offspring?

Each week, Gracie Bonds Staples will bring you a perspective on life in the Atlanta area. Life with Gracie runs online Tuesday, Thursday and alternating Fridays.

Credit: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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Credit: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

We make excuses for the men who rape women. She asked for it. She was a prostitute. She was a drug user, unworthy of even our sympathy.

That’s wrong but how in God’s name can we turn a blind eye to what’s happening to our children? Every nine minutes of every day.

America, where art thou?

I’ve been writing this story now for 40 years. Forty years and nothing has changed. Plantation owners raped slave girls. CEOs grope their employees. Fathers fondle their own daughters.

RELATED: Giving a VOICE to victims of childhood sexual abuse

That’s inconceivable to me. My father was a weekend drunk, but I never had to worry he might violate me or my nine siblings in that way.

Incest of little girls happens at a rate of 1 in 4. For boys, it’s 1 in 6.

Is there any wonder why so many children are turning to drugs and alcohol or, worse, suicide?

This is a moral crisis, and the aftershocks are long and lingering.

“Any form of child abuse by parents creates tortured confusion in children and adult children since we rely on our parents for love, trust and protection,” said Deborah J. Cohan, associate professor of sociology at the University of South Carolina-Beaufort and author of the forthcoming book “Welcome to Wherever We Are: A Memoir of Family, Caregiving and Redemption.”

“It is hard to hate your violator when he or she is your parent. And so when you talk about the state of our hearts, that is the central issue,” Cohan said. “Surviving violence in the context of intimacy means having to mend pieces of your broken heart and especially so you can go on to love in a more whole way.

“It also means coming to terms with the often-broken pieces of the abuser’s heart as well — not in a way that necessarily forgives and forgets and lets the person off the hook for reprehensible behavior, but in a way that has space to hold all of our shattered hearts.”

Dale Antonio Davis raped a little girl. Then, the courts did it again. How will she put the broken pieces of her heart back together again? How will her family?

How will we, America?

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