A 21-year-old Payson man was arrested Oct. 31 and charged with six counts of sexual conduct with a minor after a Payson High School student reported the alleged abuse to a guidance counselor.
According to police, the 15-year-old victim had been involved in a sexual relationship with the suspect since she was 13, a relationship that continued because she felt threatened and afraid.
After an initial investigation, police made the arrest and placed a Hispanic man into custody. He is being held on $50,000 bond at the Gila County Jail. A preliminary hearing of the case is scheduled for Nov. 10.
State law mandates teachers, medical personnel and counselors to report sexual assault and other forms of abuse to police or social services.
According to Mary Meyers, a unit supervisor with Child Protective Services (CPS), about 20 percent of reported abuse cases in Payson are related to sexual assault.
"Thankfully, most of those reported are misunderstandings and unsubstantiated. But it's important to talk to your children to try and prevent these things," Meyers said.
Speak Openly and Early
"By the time a child is 2 or 3 years old, parents need to talk to the child about right and wrong touch, and the difference between them," said Darlene Duncan, a prevention coordinator with Southwest Behavioral Health.
"Talk to them about their body. Say, ‘it is your body and you shouldn't let anyone touch you in your private parts.' Show them where their private parts are. And tell them, if you don't want somebody to touch you there, it's OK to tell them no," Duncan said.
Meyers said this is one topic parents cannot be afraid to address clearly and directly. "With my own kids I've been blunt. I say, ‘If somebody asks you to do something -- touching, fondling, or kissing -- tell me.' Let them know in plain terms, even if something happened, it's not your fault, just tell mom and dad. Let us know if something happened," Meyers said.
Victims and Their Families Often Threatened
As with this recent case in Payson, victims are often frightened into silence.
"So often with sexual assault, a perpetrator will tell the victim that if they tell anyone what happened they'll kill them or their parents," Duncan said. "So, it's important to establish trust and rapport with a child at an early age. Children need a parent or someone else they can talk to."
Duncan said having someone a child feels safe talking to isn't something that happens overnight.
"It's a lifelong process. Set up an environment where a child feels safe to talk. It doesn't have to be a parent. It could be an aunt or uncle, or guidance counselor who listens to them," Duncan said.
"I had a case, not in Payson, where the dad was arrested for selling videos over the Internet that he had taken of himself molesting his own kids," Meyers said. "Another case, a youth leader at the children's church had molested dozens of kids in California. A lot of perpetrators are coaches, parent leaders and church leaders. They ingratiate themselves into the families. Many of these people are sophisticated."
Meyers said parents should be concerned if a youth group leader or teacher tells you that you can't visit your child's class. "Be careful if they don't want you to observe. If all of a sudden your child is getting special treatment, ask yourself, why is my child the only one who gets to spend the night with the leader? And don't let him or her go. Let your guts drive you," she said.
Meyers understands that for some parents it may be awkward asking teachers or youth leaders such direct questions, but cautions that it's better to ask now than discover a problem after it occurs.
Say No and Mean it
"Parents need to tell their daughters early on that they need to say ‘no' to boys who want to have sex," Duncan said. "Girls and boys need to know that they can say ‘no' to anyone who wants to have sex with them or touch them inappropriately."
If you or your child is a victim of a sexual assault, contact Payson Police at (928) 474-5177. If you suspect abuse, you can make an anonymous call to the CPS hotline, (888) 767-2445.
Warning signs that your child may be a victim of sexual assault:
- grades fall
- becomes introverted
- more protective
- wears unusually heavy clothes
- becomes excessively loud
- becomes extroverted
(Editor's note: It is the Roundup's policy to not publish the names of suspects in sexual assault cases until there is a conviction.)