Patrick Perion is a child abuse investigator in Illinois.
This week, two young girls lives were irrevocably changed because of guns.
The one that everyone has been discussing involves the accidental killing of a firearms instructor by a 9 year-old girl in Arizona. The other, has garnered less national attention, but is just as important, and in some ways more so: the arrest of Will Hayden, star of Discovery’s Sons of Guns for the alleged ongoing rape of a minor girl.
The shooting instructor’s death has been well documented. Her parents took her to a shooting range called Bullets and Burgers and allowed her to try to shoot an Uzi submachine gun. The child fired one round then the instructor Charles Vacca switched the gun to full automatic. The child lost control of the gun and accidentally killed Vacca. Because adults weren’t careful, this little girl has to live with the fact that she killed a man. Her life will never be easy. Childhood trauma, especially an event of this magnitude will require years of therapy. Even then, she may not fully be able to forgive herself.
The Will Hayden story broke earlier this week. He was arrested in Louisiana on Tuesday for the alleged repeated rape of a child that started when the child was 11 in 2013. The rapes happened almost daily until July of this year. He allegedly threatened her repeatedly by telling he was all she had and she wouldn’t have anything if he was arrested. That’s a powerful threat to a child. In my opinion, that threat was exacerbated by the fact that Hayden had a reality show on Discovery (Hayden was part owner of Red Jacket Firearms, and his company was featured on the show Sons of Guns, which has promptly been cancelled).
Child sexual abusers use multiple tactics to abuse the child and get them not to tell. They coerce and groom children like Jerry Sandusky did. They convince the child that the behavior is fun and normal, a tactic I’ve seen many times. They also make threats, like Hayden did. What is especially troubling about the Hayden case, though, is that as his popularity and wealth increased, his ability to threaten the child’s lifestyle also increased. The fact that his wealth and popularity were a direct result of his gun shop, the incessant fetishism of guns in America, and the equally unrelenting need for cable outlets to find the next big ratings getter were factors in his threat.
Imagine for a moment that you’re the child in the Hayden case. Hayden is wildly popular already, then he gets a TV show. No doubt that his sense of entitlement grew exponentially. He has the money to buy the best attorneys. He tells you nobody will believe you. You better not tell because I’m all you got. If you tell all this will be gone. It’s pretty easy to see why the child didn’t disclose for over a year.
I’ve dealt with child victims who were threatened with physical and emotional violence. Some of those victims were the children of wealthy parents. Some of those children felt threatened because the abusers had guns. The Hayden case involves a guy who got wealthy because of guns. The psychological strain on Hayden’s victim is unimaginable.
It’s entirely possible and actually probable that Hayden would have raped his victim whether he had guns and money or not — I’d hate to think that Discovery’s elevation of Hayden to the national spotlight gave him the final impetus to carry out his attacks — but child sexual abuse is about power and control. As Hayden’s power grew from wealth his control of the victim became even greater.
Time and treatment may help both girls get on with their lives. The unfortunate part of these stories is that for every one of these that make the news, there are thousands who don’t. Children accidentally kill with guns on a daily basis. Children are sexually violated on a daily basis. How many more children have to be permanently damaged before we take a serious look at these issues?