Greytown, KwaZulu-Natal - A former US Peace Corps volunteer who faces up to 22 years’ imprisonment for sexually abusing five KwaZulu-Natal girls, has told a judge how his addiction to child pornography led him to these acts.
Jesse Osmun, 32, described it as his “gateway drug”, which he wrongly thought was under control when he came to South Africa.
He disclosed this in a letter to Judge Alvin Thompson who is expected to deliver sentence at the US District Court in Hartford, Connecticut, next week.
In June, Osmun pleaded guilty to sexually abusing young girls, under the age of six, for months while he was a volunteer with the Peace Corps at the uMvoti Aids Centre in Greytown.
He resigned from the Peace Corp in May last year after he was confronted by a manager at the haven, and returned to the US where authorities brought charges against him.
“I know that I came over to South Africa with only one intention, to help those most affected by the Aids virus. Perhaps, I was only too confident that I had my desires under control.
“I thought I was fine. Clearly, I was NOT fine. I found myself getting involved in a habit I thought I had finally conquered – viewing child pornography,” Osmun said in a letter attached to his sentencing memorandum for the judge’s consideration.
He said child pornography was his gateway drug and that one of the most awful aspects of being addicted to child pornography was that, after a while, it begins to “normalise” acts which could never be accepted as harmless and healthy.
“When I could not get my fix from pornography, I moved on to hands-on offending.”
Osmun, the son of Reverend Andrew Osmun, described himself as a church-going person whose values reflect a strong desire for justice and kindness to all.
He turned to his past to figure out the reasons for his action.
At the age of 10, he and his twin brother were diagnosed with non-verbal learning disability and, because they used special education services, they were subjected to daily harassment and bullying by classmates.
Because of his worsening depression, he said he was put on three different anti-depressant medications from 1995 until 2004.
“Nobody can carry this burden for me. I and only I, am responsible for the next chapter of my life and I make no excuses for my misdeeds,” he said.
In the memorandum, his lawyer Richard Meehan, said a sad irony of Osmun, a former victim of bullying, was that he abused the very children he professed an interest in helping.
Meehan recommended a term of 14 years followed by a term of supervised release, no unsupervised contact with minors, evaluation and treatment and continued contribution to the retribution fund established for the victims.
Since Osmun pleaded guilty, his father agreed to contribute $10 000 (R85 000) to establish a fund for the victims.
In court papers, US attorney David Fein, labelled Osmun’s conduct “heinous”.
Fein said it was no coincidence that these children had little to no family support and were socially and economically deprived.
“These are among the poorest children in the world who have none of the societal protections afforded to those who are members of a family and a community.
“Therefore, Osmun was easily able to influence and manipulate them by providing them with candy and playing games with them knowing that he could trade the promise of affection and attention for his own sexual gratification,” he said.
Fein also said it appeared that Osmun successfully created a family myth because these children referred to him as “uncle”. Travelling to a foreign country to sexually abuse children was deplorable, he said. “Instead of leaving a lasting and positive impression of America and its values in the developing world, he caused lasting damage to innocent children.”
Fein said it was unfortunate that Osmun’s previous instances of misconduct were not properly reported and if his sexual interest in children, which existed long before he travelled to South Africa, had been known, he would not have been accepted into the Peace Corps.
“When as is the case here, the exploitation occurs when the offender purports to be engaged in good work, the conduct is even more egregious. The offender not only causes irreparable harm to the children but often sets back significantly the tireless humanitarian work of individuals and organisations,” he said.