The story was originally published and aired on April 16, 2019, but will be republished after it was not properly broadcast on the WSAW’s new web platform.
WAUSAU, Wisconsin (WSAW) – In Part 5 of 7 Investigations: Cycle of Abuse, we reported that 98% of the child sexual assault cases we investigated knew the suspect. The suspect was a stranger only 2% of the time.
How do suspects get close enough to attack their victims? You may have heard the term “care”, but some professionals who deal with child sexual assault prefer the term “manipulation”. Not all victims are cared for or manipulated, but if a parent sees the signs, they may be able to stop an attack before it takes place.
Christa Jensen, director of child protection services in Marathon County, says manipulation often starts with normal affection. She gave this example, “Well, he and your uncle come by regularly and my kid is always on his lap and they play patty cake and you know he gives her back massages. And then they cuddle up and watch films together. “
She said these are examples that many people would view as positive attachment interactions that were even encouraging until they were no longer the case.
“So it goes like this: ‘This kid trusts me and now we’re sitting on a couch for a while watching movies or cartoons under this blanket and today my hand may land on her leg. The kid seems okay with this, so my hand may be moving over her leg. “
It’s about creating an atmosphere of trust, she explained, then the perpetrator works to overcome the child’s natural limits.
Lee Shipway, executive director of Peaceful Solutions Counseling, said abusers often start out by playing innocent games: “Then they will insert parts into those games that are abnormal, that normally initially touch, not sexually touch. ”
“You may have a child who was sexually abused their entire life and they were cared for as a toddler and toddler. This is perfectly normal for them and they may not even have known they were sexually assaulted,” Jensen explained.
“Sometimes when you grow up in a situation, especially an incest one, you adopt and think that this is what every family does,” noted Shipway. “Sometimes she’s only in a woman’s twenties with other people and talks more about more intimate things. She realizes that none of her friends did that to their fathers or stepfathers.”
Jacqueline Gremler, a forensic interviewer at the Child Advocacy Center, says that sometimes children, especially teenagers, come for an interview but don’t understand why they’re there. “They are called what we call customer sacrifices. Because they are often cared for in such a way that they feel special and have a relationship with their alleged maltster in their own mind. What makes this challenge so is to hold it out and then they grow up and then they get it, and at that point victimization really hit them and they were taken advantage of. “
While not all abusers groom themselves before sexually assaulting a child, if they do, it is intentional and planned.
“I had perpetrators say that I sit outside of playgrounds in schools and I have watched the children in the playground and I see those who never have friends and no one wants to play with them,” recalls Shipway. “And that’s the one I’m going to aim at.”
Even if it’s a child or teenager the perpetrator already knows, they often look for those who are not as connected or disenfranchised from their families.
“Usually they want this child to feel special and to make you feel special to me than someone else, or to try to make the child feel that the abuser understands them like no one else does “said Shipway.
The same goes for maintaining a positive relationship with the child’s support network.
“This perpetrator is also close to the children’s parents or whoever is on the child’s trusted network,” said Jeff Stefonek, Marathon County’s Sheriff’s Office Office Investigations, “and they know how to manipulate these people.”
“So if that trainer is going to say, ‘Oh, I want to take your daughter or son to the special camp this summer. Oh, the parents said: Oh, it’s coach. So and so. Yes, that’s good because I think they can trust this person when in reality they can’t, ”Shipway said.
Even if the child or someone sees something, Stephanie Hamann, a child and family therapist at the Wisconsin Children’s Hospital, said the perpetrator was prepared. “This person will also try to rationalize their behavior when asked about it. For example, “Oh, I just hugged her” or “I was just trying to help her relax.”
Control is at stake, so threats to foster the child for murder are widespread.
“There have been a lot of kids I’ve worked with who took on the abuse because they thought they were keeping their brothers and sisters safe from abuse,” Shipway said. “Because the perpetrator would say to them, ‘If you allow me to do this, I promise I won’t do this to your sister,’ and you have three children and a family who are all molested and think, ‘We’ll save theirs Brothers and Sisters from Abuse. “
The signs of care or tampering are so misleading that a simple list of what to look for won’t catch all of the predators. Child Advocacy Center forensic interviewer Jacqueline Gremler said, “If we could alert them that they were walking down the street, they would not pass and every child would be safe. But there is no mark displayed on that one person to help identify who is and who is not an alleged abuser. “
It’s the biggest question Jensen says that social services hear from the victims’ parents: “How did I not realize that? Why didn’t I see that? ‘Because it’s natural, and it happens to people you trust, people who you wouldn’t expect will hurt your child. “
It is critical to maintain a close relationship with your child, giving them the words to use and the knowledge to understand if an attack has happened to them. “It’s really about knowing your child. Talk about body safety, talk about how you can protect yourself, talk about what sexual assault is, and use these open lines of communication with your child so they can identify them and let you know if something like this happens to them . “
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