The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

March 16, 2013

Expert: Valley child rape case all too similar

By Ashley Wislock
The Daily Item

SUNBURY — While shocking, a Valley case in which a 37-year-old Northumberland man was charged with sexually abusing an 11-year-old girl in his care is not unusual, an area physician says.

Adam Vigo, 37, Duke Street, Northumberland, is charged with seven felonies, including rape of a child, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse of a child, aggravated indecent assault of a child, statutory sexual assault, indecent assault, endangering the welfare of a child and corruption of minors, according to court documents.

Court documents allege Vigo assaulted the Sunbury child for four years while acting as her caretaker.

Unfortunately, that scenario is all too common, according to Dr. Pat Bruno, with the Children’s Advocacy Center in Northumberland.

Sexual abusers of children are most often “someone the child knows and loves,” Bruno said.

More than 90 percent of juvenile sexual abuse victims know their perpetrator in some way, according to the National Child Abuse Hotline.

Sexual perpetrators of children are also cunning and will often groom the child and the family to avoid detection, Bruno said.

“They’re rather calculating,” he said.

However, if a parent knowingly places a child in the care of a sex offender, he can be held liable for placing the child in “imminent risk,” said Donna Morgan, with the state Department of Public Welfare.

But such cases are hard to prosecute, said Bucks County District Attorney Dave Heckler, once chairman of the Pennsylvania Task Force on Child Protection.

“It’s pretty tough to prove (someone) knew something,” he said.

Sexual abuse of a child can go on for years before being discovered, if the abuse is uncovered at all, because of a number of factors, he said. With sexual abuse, the abuser often takes pains to hide the physical symptoms of the abuse, he said.

“(The perpetrator) doesn’t want to physically harm the child, because then the child’s going to scream and cry and he’s not going to be able to continue with what he’s doing,” Bruno said. “If there’s physical damage, the child’s going to complain ... Physical symptoms are rare. Very rarely do we see kids having those types of symptoms.”

Another complicating factor is that some of the behavioral indicators of sexual abuse are often vague and can be attributed to a number of things, Bruno said.

“There might be some acting out,” he said. “If they’re a teenager, they might be acting out in school ... but those types of signs and symptoms are things that can be very non-specific.”

One important thing for parents and adults to remember is that children rarely make up reports of abuse, Bruno said. Only 4 to 8 percent of reports are fabricated and most are made by adults involved in custody disputes, according to Darkness to Light, an advocacy organization.

“Listen to what the children are saying,” Bruno said. “They lie to get out of trouble, they don’t lie to get into trouble. That might be the one and only time a child discloses that to an adult.”