Clay County man pleads guilty to making child sexual abuse images

CLAY COUNTY, Fla. — A Clay County man will spend decades in prison for child sex abuse and producing images of that abuse.

The Department of Justice announced Thursday that Edwin Hardin pleaded guilty to two crimes related to abusing three girls as young as 12. The charges included attempted production of child sex abuse material and possession of that material.

Hardin was arrested in May 2020 and was charged with six crimes related to years of abuse of three girls under the age of 18, although after striking a deal he only pleaded guilty to two. Dr. Vicky Basra is a women’s trauma advocate and CEO of the Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center. She explained how the time Hardin spent with the girls had a damaging impact.

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“We’re talking about the years and years that someone like him has spent with the child, especially girls, is the level of grooming.”

The indictment states that Hardin started the abuse when the first victim was just 12 or 13 years old, giving her money and gifts and gaining her trust.

“With this grooming process many of these men have built this relationship to the point that they have a level of control and fear,” Basra explained.

For years Hardin was paying one of the young girls for sex, while being seen as a trusted adult in her life. Basra says in these situations, it’s important to remember there’s a power dynamic of fear and it may be hard for the victim to leave.

“It’s really hard to expect a child to outsmart an adult, especially an adult who’s a perpetrator.”

When a Clay County Deputy found the pair behind a shopping center in Orange Park, he started asking questions. In the report he explained the two had been engaging in a sexual activity as he walked up, and had been zipping up their pants as he approached. The first victim identified two other younger girls who were also being abused. She also showed the deputy Snapchat messages that exposed the relationship as being sexual. Hardin was arrested on scene.

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According to the report, the second victim was abused for two years while a third victim was abused during a sleepover with the first. Hardin also had sexually explicit images of the second victim on his phone.

Hardin is facing a minimum of 15 years in prison and a maximum of 40 years — these figures are based on federal guidelines which this case was brought against, instead of county guidelines — as he possessed sexually explicit images of the minors, a federal crime.