Former St. Tammany Parish Sheriff Jack Strain walks into the parish courthouse before the start of closing arguments on eight counts of sex crimes in Covington, Monday, Nov. 8, 2021. The jury is likely to begin deliberating later today. (Staff photo by David Grunfeld, | The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)

It’s always a tragedy when elected officials, past or present, stray from the righteous path and find themselves on the wrong side of the law. It’s a particular brand of betrayal when a politician once held a position of public trust in law enforcement.

Even by those standards, the years of abuse that boys and young men suffered at the hands of longtime St. Tammany Parish Sheriff Jack Strain shock the conscience.

After a 10-day trial with lots of community and media attention, former St. Tammany Parish Sheriff Jack Strain was convicted on eight counts of abusing boys. Rightfully so. The prosecution, seriously and sensitively led by District Attorney Warren Montgomery, skillfully focused on the wrongs with a prosecution that left little doubt about Strain’s guilt.

A husband and father who served St. Tammany as the top law enforcement officer, Strain might have been the last person most parish residents would have thought might be in a courtroom facing these types of charges. Five of his victims testified against him during the case, and one, Mark Finn, was quite emotional. Finn, who identified himself as one of Strain’s victims, said after the Monday verdicts that he slept “like a baby” that night. The abuse started when Finn was six years old and Strain was a teenager. Referencing himself and his mother, he added, “We don't have to be scared no more."

Strain, 58, was found guilty of two counts of aggravated incest, one count each of indecent behavior with a juvenile and sexual battery, and four counts of aggravated rape, a conviction with a mandatory life sentence. His sentencing is scheduled for January.

Finn, 51, is in prison after being arrested in the summer for possession of methamphetamine and paraphernalia, though he hasn’t been charged. Still, he said during a Zoom interview, he feels free.

Strain’s convictions are justified. The anger, pain and mental torture he inflicted on his victims was wrong. The president of Survivors of Childhood Sex Abuse, Richard Windmann, said that seeing their abusers held accountable is critical to a survivor's healing. "You can speak to any survivor, and they will tell you what they crave the most is justice," he said. "They live a life of misplaced guilt and shame ... without justice, they are psychologically stuck."

Sexual abuse is not limited to one gender or another. The abuser can be anyone. According to numerous research studies, this type of abuse happens far more often than we may think. One study says 28% to 33% of women and 12% to 18% of men were sexual abuse victims during their childhoods. That’s based on reported instances, and it doesn’t include sexual abuse that does not include touching. That means such cases are likely much higher.

One researcher said, “sexual abuse occurs whenever one person dominates and exploits another by means of sexual activity or suggestion.”

While appeals may rumble along in the courts, the lessons of this St. Tammany case ought to stay with us.

The Strain case was a serious and painful one, and quite an education for many. We need to watch for signs of such abuse, listen to victims and take appropriate action to protect our youth.

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