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Molesters often 'likeable' - and familiar

Forest Grove forum lays out abuse particulars


Robert Rookhuyzen works hard to put charismatic, likeable people in prison.

That’s what many dangerous sex offenders are, he told more than 25 people who gathered last Thursday in Forest Grove’s community auditorium. Simply replace the words “child molester” or “sex offender” with the words “charismatic person,” said the detective from the Washington County Sheriff’s Office.

The idea that people can recognize a sex offender through his creepy appearance was one of several myths Rookhuyzen and other detectives debunked Thursday at their presentation on “Recognizing Child Molesters: How to Keep Our Children Safe.”

Nearly 2,000 sex offenders — 96 percent male — are registered in Washington County, according to Det. Chuck Anderson, another Washington County detective who spoke.

That may sound like a lot, Anderson said, but many are statutory offenders whose sex relationship was consensual and only became a crime because one of the people involved was legally underage.

The truly dangerous kind of sex offenders who target young, unknowing victims are usually people we know and like, Rookhuyzen said. “That’s why we give them access to our children.”

As an example, Rookhuyzen played a video of an interview with a man who was once a respected, well-liked youth minister but who ultimately confessed to 53 clear incidents of child sex abuse.

As part of his treatment plan, “Patrick” re-enacted how he had initially responded to accusations of sex abuse: saying he had simply reached out to help an “underprivileged” child at the church, hinting the child had a criminal history and mental illness, suggesting that “ministers are victimized themselves for their kind deeds.”

It was a perfect demonstration of how sex offenders try to blame the victim in an effort to deflect blame from themselves, Rookhuyzen said.

Creepy strangers are the exceptions in child sex abuse, Anderson said. More common are the nice, friendly people who volunteer to babysit for free or who initiate a relationship with a single mother in order to get access to her children.

That’s one reason sex-abuse experts have dropped the “stranger danger” approach to protecting children, Rookhuyzen said.

They’ve also dropped the “good touch-bad touch” slogan, given that “good touch” isn’t always clear, he said. Some sex abuse, for example, might feel physically good.

A hug for Uncle Charlie might seem “good” too, but Rookhuyzen urged parents to not force their children to hug or touch relatives or family friends: “Teach them their body is their own and they can refuse.”

Some sex offenders — who wouldn’t otherwise abuse — simply take advantage of situations that arise randomly in their lives, Anderson said.

Others work hard at ingratiating themselves into a family. They may devote 40 to 60 hours a week “grooming” both their victims and the victims’ parents, sometimes for as long as two to three years, before they first touch the child.

“They treat it like a job,” said Anderson, noting that these types of offenders can accumulate dozens of victims before they’re caught.

Such sex offenders often choose children from troubled families. The victims may get little supervision or attention from their parents and welcome the abuser’s overtures.

The offenders begin trying to normalize what seems like harmless roughhousing, lap-sitting, tickling games, “accidentally” walking in on a child in the bathroom or sexual jokes or discussions, Anderson said.

A man who walks around his home in his underwear while the victim is visiting, for example, might react with “surprise” if the victim voices discomfort, Anderson said.

It’s also common for abusers to expose their victims to pornography, he said.

Some offenders so effectively normalize their behavior that many people “may not even realize they were sexually abused until their 30s or 40s,” said Anderson, whose team routinely gets calls from people years after the abuse happened.

Some of those delayed-reaction cases can be prosecuted because the statute of limitations on child sex abuse ends 12 years after an incident is first reported to police or after the victim turns 30.

Even if a victim is older than 30, it’s still worth reporting long-ago abuse to authorities, Anderson said, because if the offender is still abusing he might be stopped.

Some warning signs, such as “accidental” touching of private parts, can be a grayer area if they occur during certain sports training activities, Rookhuyzen said, although serious abuse usually becomes clear, as it did recently when a coach claimed his fingers accidentally “slipped” into a girl’s vagina as he massaged her thigh.

As far as their crimes, some sex offenders stop long before intercourse, content with kissing, fondling through clothes or hugging.

The detectives presented a hit parade of six Washington County child sex offenders, including three from Forest Grove: Dan Matthews, Donald Wickwire and Mike Frick, all now in prison.

According to Forest Grove Police Det. Mike Hall, Matthews exemplified predatory behavior with his habit of hanging around the skate park, seeking girls from broken homes and then giving them alcohol or drugs to knock them out while he abused them.

Wickwire, on the other hand, was an example of the type of sex abuser who is raised in a family where abuse spans generations and is carried on by many different family members and known to many others — none of whom report it.

Of the 227 reports Forest Grove police got in 2013 regarding possible harm to children, 19 were substantiated as child sex abuse, said Capt. Mike Herb.

They range from relatively harmless reports such as “The parents yelled at the kids last night” or “Mom swatted him on the bottom,” said Hall, to serious reports where someone is “acting out ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ with a 12-year-old.”

To report suspected child abuse, call the state’s Department of Human Services at 503-681-6917 or local police through Washington County’s dispatch center at 503-629-0111.



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