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Editor’s note: This is part 1 of a 3 part series on child molestation in Caroline County. This article focuses on one of the most common ways in which child molestation occurs. The next article will focus on recent cases and those that happened years ago.
Mary was a single mom who had been divorced for two years. She struggled to pay the rent each month.
She and her two daughters, both in elementary school, lived in a modest apartment and her only car was often in the shop. Mary worked as a legal secretary in a small law firm that didn’t pay well, and she often worked late to keep up with an ever-increasing caseload.
Her friends regularly told her she should get out more and meet some guys. But she had all but given up on men, especially after five years of being married to an abusive husband who had a drinking problem and was often between jobs.
At 32, Mary was very attractive, but seldom dated. So one night, her friends placed her daughters in the care of a trusted friend and went by the office and persuaded Mary to go out on the town with them.
They went to Richmond to a dance club that Mary’s friends frequented. Near the end of the evening, Mary met John, a nice looking guy and a real gentleman. The bartender brought free drinks to his friend, John and his new acquaintance. She wished she had dressed better for the occasion.
John and Mary talked for hours and they had so much in common. They both liked ‘80s music and Chinese food and had both voted for all the same presidents. He had a prestigious job in information technology and he offered to give her a ride home. At first she was reluctant, but the bartender vouched that John was fine.
As John opened the passenger door and Mary slipped into his sleek, late-model Corvette, she felt she had transferred to another world. She was getting hooked by everything—John’s cologne, the new-car smell of a nice sports car and his true gentleman behavior. But it was a little strange that he kept asking questions about her daughters—their ages, whether they played video games and how often their real dad saw them.
One night, John invited Mary over to his house for supper. He cooked salmon and they had a romantic candlelight meal together in his beautiful well-furnished house overlooking a lake. She soon discovered they liked the same kind of wine. He put on some ‘80s music and they danced for an hour. It was a blissful evening and they spent the night together. The next morning, he invited her and her daughters to move in with him.
During breakfast, he explained that her daughters would be in a gated community with girls and boys from upscale families. They could transfer to a better school. He would teach them to water-ski and pay for ballet lessons and. Also, Mary could drive his late-model SUV. It all seemed too good to be true.
A week later, Mary and her two daughters, Caitlyn, 11, and Hannah, 8, moved in with John. “This is going to be great,” she told her friends. “No more rent. Plus, I’ve got free babysitting and a nice SUV to drive.” Her friends were happy for her.
John worked odd hours and he was sometimes home when the girls got off the school bus. He spent quality time with them. He helped them with their math homework and played video games. He often bought them nice gifts, including a name-brand jacket that Caitlyn had always wanted.
One night, however, when the younger daughter had gone to bed, John drew Caitlyn close to him and put his arm around her as they watched a movie. At first, Caitlyn felt a little uncomfortable. But she looked over and saw the nice jacket he had bought for her. Plus, she had made an A on the math test (her worst subject) after he had patiently shown her how to work the problems. Mom was so proud. John actually treated her better than any adult had ever treated her, including her mom or dad.
A week later, Mary called and said she wouldn’t get home until 8 p.m. No problem, John said. Hannah was at a birthday party. John cooked a nice meal for Caitlyn and helped her with math. As they watched a movie, she snuggled up with John. She was wearing shorts and he gradually placed his hand on her thigh. She didn’t tell him to stop.
A few days later while watching a movie, he crossed the line and touched her where he shouldn’t. He had calmly and deliberately broken the law. He politely explained that if she told anyone, including her sister, she and her mom and sister would have to move back to the apartment. She agreed not to tell anyone.
Diane Abato, the deputy commonwealth’s attorney for Caroline County, said the above fictitious story rings true and is a classic example of how so many single moms get caught in a trap of dating a guy who is dating them mainly because of his interest in having sex with her children.
Child molestation cases have made the headlines in Caroline County in 2013 in this publication and in other newspapers.
Abato issued a warning to single moms who are in the dating scene: Beware of guys who ask questions about your children shortly after you meet. In fact, Abato suggested that single moms avoid talking about their children when they first meet a guy, just in case he is among the small percentage of guys seeking sex with children.
Once a guy with an interest in sex with children develops a relationship with a single mom, he “gets close to the child and does grooming,” Abato said. “Grooming is where the adult abuser is getting behind those boundaries and starts by touching the child on the back. Next time, it’s on the hand or leg. The abuser is getting closer to private areas. If the abuser started with a private area, it might get a different reaction from the child.”
During grooming, the child might think, “I don’t feel right about this, but I trust this person and I like them. A lot of times, it starts with the abuser giving gifts. It might be a single parent and the friend or relative of the parent who spends time alone with the child. The abuser plays video games with the child and it’s a lot of fun for the child to be with this adult. A single mom might be gone a lot and work a lot.
“In my experience, it’s pretty much always the case of someone the child knows—maybe the mom’s boyfriend or a teacher or a coach,” Abato said. “There is not a bar where the abuser can go to meet kids. These guys will often meet them in other ways.” Preachers, priests and coaches have been known to pursue children in this way, she said.
“Some folks have very specific ages that they like,” Abato said. “It sort of depends on the predator and what they are looking for. Maybe this guy likes 13-year-old girls or that age range.
“An adult male might go after a 15-year-old girl,” Abato said. “If you have sex with someone under 13, it’s forcible rape. With ages 13 to 15, that’s statuary rape. With ages 16 to 17, that is contributing to delinquency of a minor. But if it involves a teacher or supervisor, that is indecent liberties by someone in custodial relationship.”
Abato is quick to point out that it’s not just men who molest children. She has prosecuted women—some who had molested boys and some who had molested girls.
And molesters don’t always molest children, she noted. “Some victims were on oxygen. Some victims were in nursing homes. The oldest was 84.”
One of the problems with child victims, however, is that they often delay in reporting what is happening to them. Some wait years, even 25 years, before reporting the crime.
“You can ask someone on the street what they think about child abuse and they will say it’s terrible, horrible,” Abato said. “But what I’ve found with juries is that people don’t want to believe this happens in their community. They understand it happens in California, but they don’t want to believe it happens in their neighbor’s homes. I find that people don’t like to believe kids, especially juries” when it comes to child molestation cases.
Even a single mom might have trouble believing her own daughter when she comes to her and says her mom’s boyfriend is touching the girl inappropriately. “I’ve had women say to me: I know he didn’t have sex with my daughter. He has sex with me and therefore he must be normal.”
These days, “people decide to live together after knowing each other a short time,” Abato said. “A dude wants to live with you because he doesn’t have a job. You tell your friends: He watches my kids for me. She is working two jobs and he starts acting like he’s a dad and your children listen to him.”
All parents of underage children should keep the lines of communication open, Abato said. “Teach your children at a very young age. Teach them what is good touch and what is bad touch and say, ‘If someone touches you in this way, you must tell me.’ ”
Finally, “you don’t start out introducing a strange guy to your kids, and you don’t move in with this guy until you know him well,” Abato said.