Victim counselor and advocate Jessica Piro was familiar with the work Bill Carson was doing in child abuse prevention and intervention as police chief for Maryland Heights, Missouri.
But Carson’s presentation Friday on women who molest children opened Piro’s eyes to new issues, she said after the Cambria County Sexual Assault Response Team’s annual conference on the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown campus.
“It was great to see him in person,” Piro said. “It was a new subject for me, and it was interesting. I learned about working with children who have been molested by women.”
Piro works with Victim Services Inc. of Cambria and Somerset counties and was among 210 participants in Monday’s conference, “Into the Mind of an Offender.”
“This was our biggest crowd ever,” SART coordinator Erika Brosig said at the event.
Piro has also followed the research published by this year’s keynote speaker, William Hagmaier, a retired FBI supervisory special agent.
“He’s amazing,” Piro said. “I was able to learn more to apply toward my master’s degree in forensic psychology.”
The former head of National Center for Analysis of Violent Crime and a federal task force on missing and abducted children, Hagmaier’s two-hour presentation covered his experience interviewing serial rapists and serial killers about their crimes.
Although he holds a master’s degree in psychology, Hagmaier said he doesn’t present himself as a psychologist and avoids labeling criminals as psychopaths or sociopaths.
“I always told my staff to be very careful on that medical labeling, and to stay away from that,” Hagmaier said, noting it is not always clear what triggers violent criminal behavior.
“People do crazy things, but they don’t have to be crazy to do it,” he continued. “We can find a million other people in the same circumstances, who never hurt a flea.”
During his workshop session, Jimmy Hinton urged participants to rethink training and common child abuse prevention measures. Hinton is the minister at Somerset Church of Christ and has been working with sexual abuse prevention since 2011 when he reported his pedophile father, John Wayne Hinton.
The younger Hinton said he had no clue his father – who was also a minister – was molesting children from the church and his own family until his youngest sister came to him and asked for help.
“It haunted me,” he said Monday. “It was going on in my church; it was going on in my social circles. I wanted to know how we missed it.”
Hinton has remained in touch with his father, gaining insight into how molesters select and gain access to their victims.
He says the common belief that all molesters groom their victims is not accurate.
“I think the terminology is close, but it misses the mark,’ Hinton said. “They probably test their victims.”
He compared it to the psychological technique to a magician’s ability to pick volunteers and set them up for a sleight of hand.
Trickery also enables molesters to abuse children while parents or other trusted adults are keeping an eye on the kids – even in the same room. He gave the example of former Johnstown pediatrician Dr. Johnny Barto, whose victims said they were molested during examinations as parents and medical staff stood nearby.
Increased visibility with windows in doors at churches is not always going to protect kids, he added.
Watching for a potential molester’s “tells” is a better prevention method, he said.
“Watch the eyes, watch the hands, and listen to the words,” Hinton said, warning the abuser will try distractions.
Be careful of anyone who asks many personal questions about a child – especially without offering much of his or her own personal information, he added.
In his workshop session, Carson pointed out there is sometimes a double standard when women molest children.
He gave the example of Mary Kay Letourneau, a school teacher who was convicted in 1997 of statutory rape of student, who was 12 or 13 years old at the time. News reports used terms such as “an affair” or “sexual relationship” in stories.
The fourth workshop session featured Barry L. Nelson of Sexual Offenders Assessment Board, who described how the board helps assess, register and track sex offenders.
Hagmaier commended organizers of the SART conference.
“I’m very impressed with the team players they have here,” Hagmaier said. “They brought all these experts together to share information. Of course, the focus is on the victims. This is one of the best conferences I’ve been to, to see that kind of chemistry in action.”