TRIGGER WARNING for child sex abuse
Collin Grant wishes he had never told anyone that his stepfather raped him.
Jimmy Don Mackey would hold Collin down, punch him in the back if he tried to move, and cover his mouth if he tried to scream. On one occasion, Jimmy Don duct-taped Collin’s mouth shut. He told Collin that if he ever disclosed the abuse to anyone, he would kill him.
Yet Collin eventually did tell the authorities in Muskogee County, Oklahoma, about Jimmy Don’s abuse. Collin testified about it in court, where it also emerged that Jimmy Don had repeatedly beaten his mother, Alishia Mackey. Jimmy Don pled guilty to rape, forcible sodomy, and other sex crimes, and was sent to prison.
Yet Collin’s mother was also sent to prison for failing to protect her son.
Jimmy Don got 15 years for raping Collin. For permitting the rape to happen, Collin’s mother got an even harsher sentence: 20 years.
As a 12-year-old recovering from repeated sexual abuse, Collin was cut off from his mother.
Today, Collin is 22. He said he misses his mom and believes she does not deserve to be in prison. She should be pardoned, he said.
He also wishes he had never come forward about what his stepfather was doing to him. “Honestly,” Collin told BuzzFeed News, “I would rather have gone through the abuse for the rest of my life.”
A recent BuzzFeed News investigation exposed cases in which mothers have been given sentences of up to life in prison for failing to protect their children from their violent partners — even when, as in Alishia’s case, there is evidence that the mother herself was battered.
In Texas, for example, Arlena Lindley was sentenced to 45 years, despite the fact that she tried to grab her 3-year-old son from her partner the day he beat the boy to death, and despite the fact that she herself had been beaten viciously for months. The prosecution said she should have called 911.
Collin Grant’s case illuminates what domestic violence advocates say is a different problem: the collateral damage to the children of mothers sent away to prison for years.
“What are we really doing on behalf of that child who is the victim of the crime?” said Deborah D. Tucker, executive director of the National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence. “How is that” — imprisoning the mother — “helpful to them?”
At least 29 states have laws that explicitly criminalize parents’ failure to protect their children from abuse. In addition, prosecutors in at least 19 states can use other, more general laws against criminal negligence in the care of a child or placing a child in a dangerous situation.
Only a handful of state laws provide specific defenses for parents who reasonably feared they would be harmed if they stepped in to stop child abuse.
Many prosecutors defend the laws and the harsh sentences as sending a message that mothers must defend their children, even if their own safety is at risk. Domestic violence advocates counter that such sentences are unjust — and a sign that the criminal justice system does not understand how battering victimizes women.
Altogether, BuzzFeed News found 28 cases in which mothers were sentenced to at least a decade in prison despite evidence they themselves were victims of their violent partners. Alishia Mackey was one of those mothers. She was tried under Oklahoma’s “enabling child abuse” law, which has the same maximum sentence — life in prison — as actually committing child abuse.