Bonner Springs detective fights child abuse with knowledge
By Melissa Treolo
One of the most terrifying experiences a parent can face is losing their child to a kidnapper.
Bonner Springs Police Department detective Vicki Fogarty calls such an occurrence “stranger danger,” but in sexual abuse cases involving a child, it’s extremely rare when the abuser is a stranger.
“It’s more likely you’re going to be molested by someone you know and trust,” Fogarty said. “What a lot of parents will tell me … they’ll say no, I know that person. They wouldn’t do that. What I tell them is a molester doesn’t wear a sign. They look like you and I.”
It is this point, among others relating to sexual abuse, that Fogarty is trying to get across in a class she has been teaching for about a year.
So far she has taught the class, which consists of a single session’s-worth of material and information presented in PowerPoint, to teachers and students in a couple of USD 204 schools.
In the presentation, Fogarty shares the warning signs of a child who is being abused, gives preventative tips and offers abuser statistics. These statistics include:
• 90 percent of the time the child and family know and trust the abuser.
• One in four girls and one in six boys under the age of 18 will be sexually abused.
• 70 percent of all reported cases are those under the age of 17.
• Less than 30 percent of victims report their abuse to the police.
• 20 percent of those who report their abuse will later recant the allegations.
Fogarty says warning signs that a child is being abused are usually in the emotional or behavioral area, where a child who is being abused may strive to be too perfect or may exhibit depression or unexplained anger. She says that only 30 percent of victims actually report their abuse simply because they are afraid to do so.
“Sexual abuse is a crime of silence,” Fogarty said. “It keeps happening because kids don’t report it.”
This is why it’s so important, she said, for parents, teachers, guardians or any adult in a child’s life to listen if the child approaches them and says they are being abused. Even if they suspect the child may not be telling the truth, Fogarty said it’s always a good rule of thumb to report it to the police or the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services anyway. Once a report is made, the child will be interviewed extensively and expected to give as many details as possible about their reported abuse. Fogarty said she can usually tell during the interview process whether a child is fabricating his story. Statistically, only 1 to 4 percent are.
“What the kids (who are lying) can’t give you is details; they’ll be very generalized,” Fogarty said. “What we try to tell the parents, don’t question your kid. Let us do our job.”
To drive the class home, Fogarty also offers stories of victims, whose names are changed, who she has helped in her time with the police department. She says students who have sat in on one of her presentations often ask the question whether the abuser made threats to their victim to keep them silent.
“And I can tell you in a lot of my cases there are no threats, because people don’t have to threaten them,” Fogarty said, noting the shame and embarrassment the victim usually feels as a result of the abuse they’ve experienced. “You tell someone that’ll listen, you tell a friend, your parents, a teacher.”
Fogarty said she would like to start offering her presentation at churches, to parents in homes and even at a Bonner Springs City Council meeting — wherever there is someone to listen. She says she is very passionate about sharing the information in her class as a way to break the silence associated with sexual abuse. After all, as she said, “knowledge is power.”
To request a free class from Fogarty, call her at the BSPD at (913) 422-7800.