Sexual predators are often mom’s boyfriend
“He would ask me to take off my clothes, and then we would go in another room, and that’s when it would start,” the then 11-year-old Walworth County girl testified at trial.
“He said if I ever told anyone, he would take a gun to my mom’s head.”
Cases such as this, where Mom’s live-in boyfriend molests her daughter, are disturbingly frequent in Walworth County and across the state, officials said.
Live-in boyfriends who are sexual predators have access to their girlfriends’ children. They’re trusted by the mothers, who often depend on them and sometimes side with the men against their children.
Some predators date women with their children in mind.
“I absolutely believe there are sexual predators who target moms with young children for the purpose of assaulting the children,” Walworth County Sheriff’s Capt. Dana Nigbor said.
And the phenomenon could grow as the number of sexual assaults in Walworth County continues to rise, officials said.
For the Walworth County girl, the sexual assaults often happened in her pink and purple bedroom, decorated with dolls, a Bratz pillowcase and Cloe poster.
Even though she was hurt by the man, they played checkers and Uno. They rode bikes together and tossed a Frisbee.
She wanted to tell police, but her mom seemed happy in her new relationship.
And when her mom asked if anything was wrong, she lied.
She thought it was her fault.
The rapes happened while Mom was at work.
“At first it was hard to believe,” the mother told The Janesville Gazette. “I didn’t think that could be true.
“I still feel guilty. That was the last thing I thought was going to happen.”
Walworth County District Attorney Phil Koss said authorities don’t track the relationship between sexual assault suspects and victims, but his office has written many criminal complaints against men who molested their girlfriends’ children.
“Anecdotally, it seems to be common, whether it’s a new husband or new boyfriend,” Koss said. “But certainly I can’t say it’s a majority.”
The Walworth County girl’s mother met Gerald L. Hawley, 56, at work. They had known each other for a few years before they started dating in 2003. It was her first romance after her marriage ended.
They had gone out four or five times when she invited him to live with her in her ranch home.
She was in love with him. He got along with her daughter, who was 7 at the time, and her daughter approved of him moving in.
“It’s not like I had just met him,” the mother said. “We knew each other quite a while.”
Hawley didn’t work much, so she didn’t depend on him for financial support.
But he was able to watch her daughter while she worked from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m.
“That’s when he touched her,” the mother said. “I found out everything took place when I did my 12-hour shift.”
The sexual abuse began shortly after Hawley moved in, the mother said, and her daughter told her about it.
She confronted Hawley, who left the house and stayed at a motel for the night.
“He kept crying, saying, ‘I didn’t do it. I didn’t do it. I wouldn’t do such a thing,’” she said.
She went to report the sexual assaults to police, but her daughter changed her story and never told investigators the truth.
“The police said sometimes kids do that because they get nervous,” the mother said.
She also thought her daughter might have been lying for attention.
Soon, the mother allowed Hawley to move back in.
It was a decision she regrets.
“We’ve had women walk away from these guys and do the right thing … we’ve had women who bail them out and live with them again,” Nigbor said. “We don’t know why they do what they do.”
Turning him in
After Hawley returned, the mother was suspicious.
“I just kept my eyes more open,” she said. “And when I started working more hours, when I had sitters, I shipped her out.”
The mother and Hawley later broke up. He moved out. But it wouldn’t be the last time he’d be in her life.
The mother one day found what appeared to be an explicit picture in the bedroom.
She asked her daughter about it.
“She broke down and cried right away, so I knew,” the mother said.
The two went to police a second time and an investigation started.
“The reason she lied (the first time) was because her mom was crying and didn’t have a boyfriend, and she wanted her to have her boyfriend back,” Detective Thomas Bushey said.
The girl’s mother was ready to pursue a criminal charge.
“I wasn’t going to let him get away with it,” the mother said.
“He may have stayed here too long—I made that mistake—but he’s not going to do it to somebody else.”
The girl was sexually assaulted about 20 times in 2003, according to the criminal complaint.
“He would go in her room and bother her,” the mother said. “That’s why she was tired a lot.”
Hawley told the girl to keep their behavior a secret, according to the criminal complaint, and he made threats to keep her from telling.
The detective recorded a phone conversation between the girl and Hawley after she reported the sexual assaults.
“Why did you do what you did to me?” the girl asked Hawley on the phone.
“We had talked about that, and I had told you that I was very, very sorry,” Hawley responded. “And it was a very, very big mistake and I’m still very, very sick about it.
“I really hurt because I know that wasn’t the right thing. And I hope someday you can forgive me in your heart.”
The girl told Hawley that it “really did hurt” when he had molested her.
“Well, I’m very sorry,” Hawley responded. “I really am.”
He said he still cared about the girl and her mom.
“I’ve been having bad dreams about it, though,” the girl responded.
“Like I said, there ain’t nothing to say but sorry,” Hawley told her. “You can’t redo the past, and nobody can.”
Hawley then hung up.
He was arrested after the phone call and convicted by a jury in November 2007 of repeated sexual assault of a child.
The mother and daughter both testified against him.
“As soon as I found out, I didn’t care what happened to him,” the mother said. “His butt belongs in prison now.
“If he did it to her, he’ll do it to someone else.”
Asking for mercy
Hawley didn’t testify in his own defense.
And he never spoke during his sentencing hearing.
His health had been failing. He had a heart condition and back problems.
He once was taken from jail to a local hospital because it was believed he had a heart attack, according to court records. It turned out he had a spleen problem.
Many of Hawley’s friends and family members sent letters to the judge, asking for leniency.
Hawley’s parents, who had been married 66 years and still lived in the same farmhouse, asked the judge for help.
“We are 89 and 90 years old this year and need Jerry home to drive for us and take care of our needs,” his mother wrote to the judge. “Jerry is our only family to help us, and if my husband can get better, we need help to go into assisted living.”
A lifelong friend asked the judge for mercy.
“I have known Jerry since he was a baby. I have always known him to be a kind and gentle person,” the friend wrote. “Jerry is not a violent person and not a violent threat to society.”
Another friend told the judge a long prison sentence would kill Hawley.
“Jerry’s health condition is deteriorating, and a long prison sentence would be a death sentence,” the friend wrote. “Without Jerry, his parents would surely not have long to live.”
Despite their pleas, the judge in May sentenced Hawley to 10 years in prison.
Hawley is appealing his conviction.
The mother never had money or insurance to pay for counseling for her daughter after the sexual assaults.
Her daughter, now 12, is about to become a teen. She likes computers, television and bikes. She is a fan of Hannah Montana. She has two cats and a dog.
She’s doing well, but she’s had social and emotional problems at school, the mother said.
“I think she’s moved on,” she said. “I think she feels better now that he’s in jail.”
Sexual assaults are on the rise in Walworth County
More sexual assaults than ever are being reported in Walworth County, officials said.
The number of sexual assault investigations referred to the Walworth County District Attorney’s Office for prosecution has increased by an average of 14 percent a year since 2004, according to the office’s records.
“What statistics are showing so far is that adolescent and child sexual assaults are on the rise,” said Gen Reed of the Association for the Prevention of Family Violence in Elkhorn.
The reasons for the increase could be that people are more willing to report sexual abuse, and school officials and parents are more aware of the problem, Walworth County District Attorney Phil Koss said.
Juvenile were victims in 77 percent of the sexual assaults reported in Wisconsin in 2004, according to the Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault.
And when a child is molested, the perpetrator often is someone the child knows, Walworth County Sheriff’s Capt. Dana Nigbor said.
It’s very unlikely the suspect will be a stranger, she said.
The perpetrator typically is part of the child’s social network, and the person is brought into the child’s life by a family member, Nigbor said.
It could be Mom’s boyfriend, a significant other, a babysitter, neighbor or relative, she said.
And the crimes occur everywhere.
“It’s not one community; it’s not one socioeconomic status,” Reed said. “It does happen in every community.”
Sexual predators know how to find their marks, Reed said, and they target women who are insecure.
“We’re finding that there are a lot of different feelings about bringing that person into the household and the guilt,” Reed said. “But it’s not the non-offending parent’s fault.”
Support is the most important part of a child’s recovery, Reed said.
“The first thing is to believe your children when they tell you they’ve been sexually assaulted,” Nigbor said. “It’s a terrible hurdle for the child when the mom does not believe what happened.
“That’s always a constant struggle. That’s why sexual assaults are so underreported; they’re worried people won’t believe them,” Nigbor said.
Children should know the abuse was not their fault, Reed said, and that they are not alone.
They should seek counseling, support groups and become educated about sexual abuse, she said.
“Kids are pretty resilient,” Reed said.
SEXUAL ASSAULT FACTS
Reports to Wisconsin law enforcement in 2004 indicate:
-- 5,618 sexual assaults were reported.
-- 85 percent of victims were female.
-- 93 percent of offenders were male.
-- 88 percent of sexual assaults were perpetrated by someone who knew the victim.
-- 77 percent of sexual assault victims were juveniles.
Source: The Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault
Below are resources for sexual assault victims:
The Association for the Prevention of Family Violence
What: Works with hospitals, law enforcement and human services to help children and families hurt by sexual abuse.
Services: Legal help, advocacy, support groups, individual counseling, referrals to other agencies and support for family.
Where: 461 E. Geneva St., Elkhorn.
Office hours: 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Sexual assault crisis hotlines
-- Walworth County 24-hour crisis line: (262) 723-4653.
-- Rock County 24-hour crisis line: (608) 752-2583.
Physical signs of abuse
-- Irritation, pain or injury to the genital area.
-- Venereal diseases.
Behavioral signs of abuse
-- One child may be treated differently than another in the family.
-- The child may arrive early to school and leave late.
-- Nervous, aggressive, hostile or disruptive behavior toward adults.
-- Running away.
-- Abuse of alcohol or drugs.
Words to watch for
-- “He fooled around with me.”
-- “My mother’s boyfriend does things to me when she’s not there.”
-- “I don’t like to be alone with my father.”
-- “I’m afraid to go home tonight.”
-- “Will you help me go live with my aunt?”
Source: National Committee for the Prevention of Child Abuse