Editorial: Anger to action
Editor’s note: Editorial Board member Codi Fisher was absent at this week’s board meeting and did not participate in the development of this editorial position.
On Monday, a jury found former Moffat County High School teacher and coach Justin Dean Folley not guilty of 10 counts of felony sexual exploitation of a child, as defined under C.R.S. 18-6-403.
The verdict brings to a close an almost 16-month chapter in our collective history — a chapter most of us would just as soon forget.
The case has been in the public eye since Folley’s Aug. 17, 2017, arrest, and in the months since, we’ve been given more salacious details about the case than probably any of us ever wanted. We’ve heard in graphic detail about how Folley systematically groomed one of his female students — who, at the time, was 14 or 15 years old — through a series of sexually charged text message conversations that continued throughout the girl’s freshman year of high school.
Note that we do not use the phrase “allegedly groomed,” because the fact that the message exchange occurred is not in doubt and was not even challenged by the defense during Folley’s trial. To the contrary, it was immortalized on paper.
The jury was given 30 pages of screenshots detailing the exchanges — exchanges in which Folley told the victim of his desire to have sex with her, asked her “how bad” she wanted it to happen, and quizzed her as to whether she had ever masturbated.
It’s difficult even to write those words: The very idea of a 35-year-old man sending such messages to a 14-year-old is disgusting and infuriating, and the community is definitely disgusted and infuriated.
We’ve been monitoring public commentary in the wake of the verdict, both across social media platforms and on our website, and the comments we’ve read are undergirded by a single, raw emotion: Anger.
And, we should be angry. Anger is an appropriate response when someone — particularly someone in a position of trust — victimizes one of our children, and, criminal or no, Justin Folley did just that. He used his position as a teacher to gain the trust of a lonely child, then used that trust in an attempt to lure the child — a girl young enough to be his daughter — into a sexual relationship. It is impossible to read the message exchange and arrive at any other conclusion as to his motives and intentions.
But anger is a powerful, unpredictable, potentially destructive emotion, and we should be very sure our anger is pointed in the right direction.
We should not be angry with the court or the jury.
According to C.R.S. 18-6-403, the statute under which Folley was charged, sending text messages to a child — regardless of how sick, disgusting, or perverted those messages are — is not, in and of itself, against Colorado law, so long as the messages include words only, and not images or videos.
And though Folley’s charges included allegations he’d enticed the girl to send two nude photographs of herself to him and had sent her a video of himself masturbating, the photos and video could not be produced.
They were the heart of the case, and their existence was not proven beyond reasonable doubt. Consequently, under existing law and the instructions given by the judge, the jury did it’s job, and our only response toward its members should be gratitude. The task they were given could not have been an easy one.
So our anger, if directed toward the jury, is misguided.
Instead, it should be toward Folley, himself, and a statute that allows sick individuals like him to victimize our children with impunity.
But our anger toward Folley, no matter how righteous, gains us nothing. He’s been acquitted, and that’s the end of it. The best we can hope for is that he is never again allowed to step foot into a classroom or, indeed, into any role that grants him access to children, and that he one day becomes conscious of the harm he’s done and seeks the help he clearly needs.
That leaves us with the statute, and it is here that our anger and outrage can be channeled into positive change.
Frankly, we were aghast to learn that the text messages, themselves, do not rise to the level of a criminal offense. They should. By sending them, Justin Folley — guided only by his perverse, selfish desires — caused tremendous harm to an innocent child, a child he was charged with protecting and nurturing.
That should be criminal.
So, if anything positive is to arise from all this, it is the opportunity to ensure such a thing doesn’t happen to another child — or, if it does, that the person responsible pays a steep price.
We should use this case to lobby our state legislators toward strengthening the laws governing child sexual exploitation and sending a clear message to would-be predators that this will not be tolerated in the state of Colorado.
So be angry. And stay angry.
Anger motivates us — strengthens our resolve.
But anger is impotent and self-destructive until and unless we turn it into action.
Write your state legislators, call them on the phone, email them: Demand the immediate closure of this legal loophole that protects predators and victimizes victims.
Here’s how to reach them:
• State Rep. Bob Rankin
Address: 200 E. Colfax Ave., Denver, CO 80203
• State Sen. Randy Baumbardner
Address: 200 E. Colfax Ave., Denver, CO 80203
We have an opportunity here to make a difference, and if we don’t take it, we must accept at least part of the responsibility when it happens again.
And we can’t let it happen again.
Not here … not anywhere.