Girl, Interrupted

The Ordeal That Binds the Mother of an Incest Victim and Reverend Al Sharpton

JOYCELYN CHARLES WAS SIX YEARS ahead of the January 10, 2000 deadline set by the state division of parole, which had been expecting her to file a victim-impact statement. Dreading the possible April 2000 release of the man convicted of raping her daughter, Charles —a staunch proponent of the proposal to end parole for all sex offenders— embarked on a crusade to deny William Cosby an early release.

Cosby, Charles's former live-in boyfriend, is serving a six-to-18-year sentence for raping and sodomizing Charles's daughter in 1993. The child was 10 at the time. Cosby, who was convicted in 1994, has served the minimum of six years and is scheduled for an early parole as mandated by law.

Charles, who runs her own cleaning service, claims that Cosby will carry out a threat to stalk and kill her and her family when he gets out of prison. "I want this fear to go away," the mother of three cried last month as she pressed a tattered Polaroid of her then 10-year-old daughter to her breast. "I keep imagining how we would all die if the parole board makes it easy for him to kill."

On April 28, 1995, in one of its intermittent appeals for her continued cooperation in determining whether Cosby should remain behind bars, the parole board invited Charles to make her statement in person. Regardless of what the law requires, she says she told a member of the board, William Cosby must never be set free.

"Mr. Cosby is very dangerous," Charles reiterated in a letter to the Impact Statement Unit of the New York State Division of Parole. "He said when he gets out, he will fuck us all up." Charles reminded the unit that she was still living at the same address, "thus making us a helpless prey for his retaliation." Although her daughter is now almost 18, Charles insists the scars from her ordeal have not healed. "My kid still experience[s] constant nightmares despite continuous counseling," Charles wrote. "A mere sighting at this point of Mr. Cosby would further hurt our efforts to forget and forgive. . . . "

Releasing Cosby, "who committed such a heinous crime against a child, after serving a fraction of his . . . sentence," Charles argued, "would be rewarding him for destroying the lives of other children who might come into contact with him. . . . In my opinion, there is no amount of time Mr. Cosby can serve which will adequately pay for what he did to my child and my family."

As the parole hearing for Cosby draws near, Charles criticizes advocates of parole who claim that the state parole board, under the growing influence of members appointed by Governor George Pataki, has been unfairly denying supervised release to violent felons who apply for it. Charles says she is more concerned about authorities losing track of Cosby if he is released. New York State has a law that requires anyone convicted of serious sex offenses to register with police and provide details regarding their employment and place of residence, as well as driver's license and vehicle registration information. Prosecutors must classify offenders considered dangerous into one of three levels. Neighbors are to be notified of the presence of Level 3 offenders—those deemed most likely to commit new crimes. Certain community organizations are to be notified of Level 2 offenders, but only law enforcement agencies are to be notified for Level 1 offenders.

"The protection they offer people like us is not adequate," Charles maintains. "Convicted felons like William Cosby slip through the cracks every day; they are bent on revenge. Will the police be watching me and my family 24-7? I don't think so." Charles has been surfing the Internet, checking for Web sites that legally post the names, addresses, and photographs of convicted sex offenders.

"I don't care about William Cosby's rights!" Charles exclaims. "He is a danger-ous convicted rapist, who has threatened to kill!" Within days of Cosby's release, Charles intends to contact the National Sex Offender Registry. Created by the FBI last fall, the registry alerts law enforcement in every state to the status of offenders convicted anywhere in the country. Charles says she hopes to obtain a recent picture of Cosby and other biographical information, which she will send to the registry. "I will do everything I can to protect my family from this man who came into my life, betrayed my trust, and raped my daughter," she vows.

 

IN 1991, WILLIAM COSBY ALLEGEDLY gained the trust of Joycelyn Charles's 10-year-old daughter, then started having sex with her and warned her not to tell anyone. But the child, wracked with guilt, eventually told her mother. "My daughter disclosed that she had been sexually assaulted for the past [three years] by my male partner," Charles would later recall in a letter to Frank Puig, then deputy commissioner of the Division of Services in the New York State Department of Social Services.

"Learning about this caused me great pain and I wanted to do whatever I could to help my daughter," she added. "Little did I know what would happen when I took her to the hospital for an exam." Documents obtained by the Voice show that on August 14, 1993, Charles won an order of protection, prohibiting Cosby from coming near her daughter.

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