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Mother of sexual victim says Mark Ober’s comments are why victims hesitate to report sexual abuse

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Hillsborough County State Attorney Mark Ober is being blasted by the mother of a teenage victim involved in a child sex abuse case his office is investigating.

At a political debate last week with his Democratic opponent, Andrew Warren, Ober defended himself against the accusation that he initially did not take serious a report regarding Alexander Pelzer, a now-27-year-old Maryland resident accused of committing crimes against the then-15-year-old Hillsborough County girl.

The case was first brought to the attention of the general public by WTSP-10 News reporter Mike Deeson in February.

According to a police report, the teenage girl flew from Tampa to Washington, D.C., several times to meet and have sex with Pelzer over the course of three years. Pelzer would give the girl sexual “assignments,” the report stated, and referred to her as his “slave.” The girl’s mother notified authorities when she became aware of the relationship.

In Deeson’s television report, the female teen’s mother said she was outraged that the state attorney’s office did not appear ready to press charges against Pelzer. The report also included an interview with Chief Assistant State Attorney Mike Sinacore, who said it was the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s office that was reluctant to file charges against Pelzer. But Deeson then produced a 37-page “case clearance form” written by an assistant state attorney that said, after reviewing the facts, Ober’s office wouldn’t file charges, even after the fact that a detective saw pictures and video evidence of the teen nude. Ultimately, Ober’s office did file charges, and the Pelzer was apprehended.

When confronted by Warren about the story last week, Ober replied his Democratic challenger didn’t know what he was talking about, and said that, “I have a picture of what I call a sex slave, and by no means, do not read between the lines. This young girl … this man has committed a crime, so don’t read between the lines, here. She was with him voluntarily. She flew to see him.”

Warren issued a statement condemning Ober for his remarks on Wednesday, and on Thursday the teenage girl’s mother followed suit, saying Ober’s remarks were a “prime example of why victims remain hesitant to report sexual abuse.”

“It’s been said, ‘Honesty and integrity are the cornerstones of our judicial system,'” the mother, who does not want to be identified, wrote to SPB in an email. “We no longer believe in that, lies have been told, trust has been broken on many levels. Our daughter’s case is very strong, we will continue to fight for her justice. At no point should anyone blame a victim of childhood sexual exploitation, for their trauma, it’s among the most inhumane things someone can project upon a victim.”

“Projecting blame upon the victim like this only exacerbates the shame that sexual abuse victims already face daily,” she writes.

“This case is only part of the broader problem of sexual exploitation/trafficking plaguing our community,” the teen’s mother continued. “These crimes effect all ethnic and economical backgrounds. These perpetrators don’t discriminate, they prey upon anyone, any age, race, religion, or social background. These criminals’ entire purpose is nefarious. Until a properly functioning multi‐agency understanding of the problem of sexual exploitation/trafficking can be developed and implemented, the progress is likely to remain dysfunctional, allowing agencies to individually and collectively deny accountability, both for their actions and for their failures to act.”

On Wednesday, Warren released his own statement, saying “not only did the State Attorney mishandle the case, but then criticized the victim. It’s hard to believe.”

 Ober was first elected as State Attorney in Hillsborough County in 2000, and with one exception, hasn’t had any challengers in this, his fifth run for a four-year term. Warren is a former federal prosecutor running for office for the first time. He’s been extremely aggressive in attacking Ober’s record in office, and pounced on the comment he made last week.

 A spokesman for Ober asked SPB to hold off on publishing this story until Ober was able to produce a statement.

 That statement never came.

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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