90% of child sex abusers are people victims know, trust, counselor says

SEATTLE – It seems like we keep hearing about cases of alleged child sex abuse at the hands of adults.  Hundreds of victims came forward to speak out against former Dr. Larry Nassar.  The statistics are alarming.  One in four girls and one in six boys is abused nationwide.

We’ve heard those same allegations happening right here in our community.  Thursday, a Seattle Public Schools teacher aide was charged with child rape and molestation after allegedly forcing himself on an elementary school student.

We all learned “Stranger Danger” about a creepy man canvassing neighborhoods luring children with offers of candy only to kidnap and sexually assault them.  But Shepherd’s Counseling Services Executive Director and Therapist Janice Palm says 90% of the time, it’s someone the child knows and trusts.

“They may like this person a lot. They might not want this person to go away from their lives. They may not want this person to get in trouble,” said Palm.

People like teachers, coaches or babysitters who have power or authority over kids and who have opportunities to be alone with them.

A former coach at Kirkland’s Puget Sound Adventist Academy faces voyeurism charges, accused of recording student athletes while they undressed.

Ask "why this adult might be forming a relationship with your child, for example.  And question your child how does it feel to be hanging out with this person? And a lot of times it doesn’t make sense,” said Palm.

And most recently, former US Swimming Olympian Ariana Kukors from Auburn.

“No matter where I am, I've lived in a lot of places the last three years. Seattle is home. The Washington community is home. This is what it says on my bio, Auburn, Washington,” said former U.S. swimming Olympian Ariana Kukors from Auburn in 2012.

Now, she says ,while training in Federal Way, she was sexually assaulted repeatedly by a former coach who convinced her it was OK after years of grooming.

The former coach has denied any wrongdoing, and he has not been arrested or charged.

“Takes the time to form a relationship not only with the child but the child’s community and child’s parent and by the time, a great deal of time, by the time the abuse happens the red flags don’t go up because this person isn’t a threat certainly not to the community or the child,” said Palm.

So as a parent, who can you trust?

“The message here is not distrust everyone either the kids or the parents. The message is keep children safe always. Understanding that this can happen gives parents an extra sort of radar,” said Palm.

It is happening right here in our neighborhoods in Western Washington.  In charging documents, Seattle Public Schools teacher’s aide Albert Virachismith was said to have made, “threats of violence toward the child victim.”  Palm says that behavior is not uncommon from abusers.  It took Kukors years to do it.

“They don’t understand what's going on so they might not speak up about it because they literally might not have the words to do that,” said Palm.

So if a child does talk about their abuse…

“The correct response is I believe you. Let’s talk. I want to hear more about that.  That’s it. It’s really all about the child,” said Palm.

In every case when it’s a teacher or coach, investigators say that poses a greater risk to the community because that person had access to many kids over the years.  That means there could be more victims who haven’t come forward.

Shepherd’s Counseling Services in Seattle helps adult survivors of child sex abuse.