"Peter Boy" Kema case: The good & bad
The plea deal by Peter Kema Sr. is 20 years in the making. Along with the horrific history of abuse in this case, there has also been some positive changes because of "Peter Boy."
HONOLULU - The plea deal by Peter Kema Sr. for manslaughter in the death of his 6-year-old son "Peter Boy" is 20 years in the making. A lot has changed in that time.
Along with the horrific history of abuse in this case, there has also been some positive changes because of Peter Boy.
"Peter Boy Kema was one of the biggest cases 20 years ago, and it really raised awareness. More people were not aware there was child abuse in Hawaii. Most people thought, "'We're in Hawaii, no child abuse' but that is not true," said Prevent Child Abuse Executive Director Aileen Deese.
In Peter's case the abuse started being documented when he was just three months old. After being brought into the hospital, x-rays showed old and new fractures in his shoulder, elbow, ribs and knees. He and his older siblings were removed from the home and they lived with their grandparents for the next three years.
Once he was back with his mother and father, his siblings reported Peter was again physically abused: suffering broken bones and black eyes, as well as enduring mental abuse like being forced to eat dog feces. But those reports came too late to save the six year old boy.
After the Department of Human Services opened an investigation into the abuse in the summer of 1997, "Peter Boy" Kema disappeared.
His parents claimed his was with an auntie at Aala Park on Oahu. Police could not find the boy or his body and without more evidence of the little boy's whereabouts, the investigation stalled in 2001.
But interest grew by the public. People wondered 'Where is Peter?' -- even putting on bumper stickers to ask the question. Others called on lawmakers to do something.
"We'd been flooded by calls many times when that issue came up and thereafter," said Hilo Senator Lorraine Inouye.
The scrutiny of the Kema case also brought to light Hawaii's child abuse problem. The number of children that suffered from confirmed abuse peaked in 2001 at 3665. Four years later, the number dropped to 2577. Then over the past decade, on average 1,500 children are abused each year.
During the past two decades laws about reporting abuse, and assistance for victims have improved.
"We've toughened up many laws, but domestic violence has always been on the forefront of the women's caucus," said Inouye.
Just as important, reporting child abuse has now become the responsibility of everyone in the community, not just those responsible for the child.
"Twenty years ago, people were not reporting and not helping family members. They were stepping back. But now we're encouraging everyone to come forward and help your friends and family -- if they are stressing out as parents and cannot cope," added Deese.
For more information on helping parents and reporting abuse, go to www.preventchildabusehawaii.org.
Friday, April 7, many will turn blue to promote prevention efforts. People will wear blue to also draw attention to the hundreds of children still being abused every year in Hawaii.