State Sen. Mike Folmer of Lebanon County was arrested Tuesday and charged with three counts of sexual abuse of children/possession of child pornography and one count of criminal use of a communications facility. The 63-year-old Republican lawmaker first was elected to the state Senate in 2006; he was elected to his fourth term last November. Until 2013, Folmer’s 48th Senatorial District included a northwestern section of Lancaster County. He resigned from the Senate on Wednesday; he had chaired the influential Senate State Government Committee. According to The Associated Press, Folmer was arraigned Tuesday night and posted bail in the amount of $25,000.
Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf didn’t mince words in calling for Folmer’s resignation, describing the charges against him as “disgusting and beyond comprehension.”
Neither did Senate Republican leaders, who swiftly called for Folmer’s resignation. Nor Lancaster County GOP state Sens. Ryan Aument and Scott Martin, who said Folmer’s alleged crimes were “sickening and inexcusable. ... There is no excuse for the exploitation of children, and there is certainly no place in the Pennsylvania Senate for individuals who commit such heinous crimes.”
We understand the righteous anger and revulsion. We share it.
It’s important to note, as Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro pointed out in his statement announcing the charges against Folmer, that the “defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.”
We, of course, honor this principle of American jurisprudence.
But Folmer’s arrest highlights an essential truth about those who commit — and allegedly commit — “sickening,” “disgusting,” “heinous” acts against children: They can include people previously described as “respected.”
They can be people whom no one ever suspects. They can be upstanding members of their communities — lawmakers, even.
Even one who professed to be so enamored of the state constitution — the foundation of Pennsylvania’s laws — that he carried a copy of it in his pocket and called himself “Citizen Mike.”
For too long, the perception has been that those who abuse and exploit children are “scary looking people lurking in the shadows,” said Cathleen Palm, founder of the Center for Children’s Justice, a Pennsylvania nonprofit that works to protect children from abuse.
“The arrest of Sen. Folmer painfully and powerfully illustrates that too often children can be abused and exploited by so many people we identify as ‘good’ people and fully trust as we work, worship, construct laws and serve in our communities together,” Palm noted in an email.
That Folmer was arrested on the nation’s Constitution Day could be viewed as either ironic or apt. We think it’s the latter.
As Shapiro said in his statement, “No one is above the law, no matter what position of power they hold.”
This is exactly right. We laud the attorney general’s office for its efforts to hold accountable those suspected of harming children.
The documents released by that office describe, in stomach-turning detail, an image allegedly uploaded to an account with the screen name “hoser44” on the social networking website Tumblr. The image was of a “very young female child performing fellatio on an adult male.”
It was uploaded to Tumblr in December 2017.
In December 2018, Tumblr banned all nudity and pornography and began flagging any content containing it. (Whether that’s relevant here we don’t know, but it’s interesting.)
On Feb. 5 of this year, according to a timeline laid out on Twitter by LNP’s Gillian McGoldrick, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children received a complaint from Tumblr that at least one image containing suspected child pornography had been uploaded to that site on Dec. 28, 2017.
In March, the attorney general’s Child Predator Unit opened an investigation into the post and subsequently confirmed that the email account and phone number provided by Tumblr were linked to Folmer’s residence.
And Tuesday, Folmer admitted to police that the hoser44 Tumblr account and associated email address were his.
A forensic search of Folmer’s iPhone yielded two images of apparent child pornography. “The two images discovered depicted indecent contact with a minor,” the criminal complaint stated.
Other news outlets have referred only vaguely to the images Folmer allegedly uploaded and possessed, using adjectives such as “explicit.”
But it’s important to be clear about what we’re discussing here.
As Kristen Houser of the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape pointed out on Twitter, the term “child pornography” is “a sanitized way to say ‘images of child sexual abuse.’ Those are real images of real children really being sexually abused.”
That’s why three of the charges levied against Folmer are sexual abuse of children/possession of child pornography. Such possession is considered sexual abuse.
According to the criminal complaint, “Folmer stated that he had been dealing with some personal problems/issues and that he had received child pornography through his Tumblr blog.”
As if that might mitigate the seriousness, the egregiousness, of his alleged crimes.
As if anything could.
The AP and other news organizations covering Folmer’s arrest have noted that he opposed legislation that would have given older victims of child sexual abuse a retroactive window during which to sue the institutions that covered up their abuse.
In an October 2018 debate between Folmer and Lois Herr, a former Lancaster Democrat who tried unsuccessfully to oust him from his Senate seat, Folmer said, of that legislation, “It fell apart. I’m going to apologize,” according to the Lebanon Daily News. “We can do this still. We need to be big people and need equal justice for all.”
Indeed we do.
Folmer did vote in favor of legislation in 2013 that permitted the enhancement of penalties for those convicted on child pornography charges, based on aggravating circumstances such as the age of the child depicted.
He may regret that vote. But we won’t.
To report suspected child abuse, call ChildLine at 800-932-0313 or online at keepkidssafe.pa.gov
YWCA Lancaster’s Sexual Assault Prevention & Counseling Center’s 24-hour hotline: 717-392-7273