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Stay Out of CHURCH! Out of Harm's Way

Friday, March 13 2009 @ 11:00 PM CDT

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"When you have a traumatic experience you don't forget," Catherine Metropoulos says.

It was 12 years ago on a cold January night and Catherine Metropoulos had just picked her daughter up from church.

"I never will forget her face," Catherine says. "She was terrified; locked the doors of the car and said mom I'm not sure if I should tell you. I said tell me what and she started to tell me what Koveos had sexually done to her."

Emmanuel Koveos was a priest in Burlington teaching Greek school to several girls when he took Catherine's 12-year-old daughter into his office and shut the door.

Catherine explains what happened next, "He was leaning across and every time she would read the book he had his hands inside her clothes and he was squeezing her breasts together and had taken his legs and put them around hers and was squeezing and I know he was pushing himself against her-- it was just gross."

Sexual abuse Catherine never imagined possible.

"This is after church service," she says.

An album shows a more innocent time.

"He's our priest so we let our guard down," Catherine says. "We went to church every Sunday and he took advantage of our family. He took advantage of our daughter."

The abuse happened once and Catherine's daughter told her immediately. It led to an emotional court case where Emmanuel Koveos was sentenced to 4 months in jail.

"He thought my daughter was incapable of her abilities. She is very strong," Catherine says.

Reporter Kristin Carlson: What do you think worked that allowed your daughter to tell you right away when this happened?

Catherine Metropoulos: We are very close as a family-- we have a close communication.

But experts warn most kids do not tell about abuse.

"Even when we direct children to tell only one in ten tells and that's a child who has such a strong relationship with a trusting adult, usually a parent," explains Linda Johnson, of Prevent Child Abuse Vermont.

Johnson says the abuse is rarely from a stranger-- 95 percent of the time it's someone the child knows. It typically starts with grooming-- where the abuser works their way into the child and family's life by offering to pick them up after school, taking them to sporting events, or buying them gifts.

"It happens over time and they need to be alone for it to happen," Johnson says.

In 2007 there were 322 child sex abuse cases in Vermont and about one-third were committed by kids themselves.

Experts say it's important to teach children the appropriate names for body parts so they know how to tell what hurts and where.

Also you should always be able to see your kids while they're playing-- and look for trouble signs, like if someone is tickling and touching your child. Any behavior where an adult is showing unusual interest.

Carlson: Abusers are so manipulative, is it really possible you think for adults to see the signs of abuse?

Johnson: Oh definitely, oh definitely. Looking back in almost every case that you could review there were always people who wondered, people who worried.

Johnson says people need to report abuse by calling the state. You can do it anonymously.

"I'm really proud of my daughter," Catherine says.

Catherine Metropoulos says looking back there were signs her priest was grooming her daughter for abuse. Now she speaks out for prevention and stronger child sex abuse laws.

"We can't allow this to happen," she says. "These are our children. We are adults. We need to protect them."

Catherine's daughter went through years of therapy. She is now 24 years old, has a job and remains very close with her parents.


At the Community College of Vermont, students studying the impact of child abuse and neglect are hearing about the problem firsthand.

"My name is Cathy... I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse."

Cathy did not want her face shown but did want to share her story.

"I was raped by my older brother starting at the age of 7 and ending when I was 12 years old," Cathy says.

Five years of abuse Cathy tried to stop when she was 10 by telling her parents.

"They told me that I must be mistaken and nothing had happened," she says. "I learned to not trust my instinct or my body and that no one would be able to help me except myself."

So at 12 she fought back. It stopped her brother's abuse.

"One of the tipping points was I realized what was happening," she says. "I had no idea what was happening to me. I had thought that was completely normal, that's how all brothers treated their sisters."

Cathy says there were signs of abuse; she had health problems like bladder infections-- a result of too much sexual activity-- and her attitude changed from happy to depressed.

"I have to wonder to this day, didn't any of the teachers ever notice?" she asks.

"We have to be bystanders who will pick up the phone, otherwise children will be abused," says Linda Johnson of Prevent Child Abuse Vermont.

Johnson says that includes relatives, neighbors, and friends. Johnson knows people are scared to speak up but it's key because 90 percent of kids do not tell about abuse. And in almost every case adults near the situation say in hindsight they thought something was wrong.

"There is so much fear I think about getting somebody in trouble, falsely accusing, losing a friend-- and all of that is real, but it's not as real as the pain and suffering that occurs when sexual abuse happens to a child and we could have done something to prevent it," Johnson says.

CUSI-- the Chittenden Unit for Special Investigations-- deals with sex crimes against children.

Sgt. Art Cyr says it's difficult for kids to tell.

"It's embarrassing and very hard for the kids," he says.

They investigate hundreds of cases a year, but Cyr knows there are more.

"The cases that we do get I think we do a good job on and we work hard and we continue to work hard, but there is a tremendous amount of stuff that goes on that never gets reported to us," Cyr says.

"I think one of the common threads in my story is people responded badly; that I constantly reached out and got ignorance and hatred," Cathy says.

Back at class, Cathy is answering questions about her abuser-- her brother.

"He admits to doing it," she says. "He doesn't remember a lot of the details-- this is what I've heard-- he's blocked a lot of it out apparently, but heaven help him when the memories come back."

Reporter Kristin Carlson: Have you forgiven your brother?

Cathy: I would say I've forgiven myself and that I have let go of the anger and hatred I felt towards him.

The Women's Rape Crisis Center organized this talk to spread awareness and prevent sexual violence.

CCV student Jason Forster says it is a lesson that will stick with him.

"Absolutely," he says. "100 percent."

Student Kellie McNayr agrees.

"This is real. This is happening in people's homes. This isn't stranger danger. This is happening in families," she says.

Most children do show some outward signs of abuse that adults can look out for. Those include major emotional changes like changes in personality, also health problems like stomach aches which are a sign of anxiety and often times children will regress by wetting their pants or their bed. And one last point-- and maybe the most important-- experts say trust your instincts. If you get an odd gut feeling about something they say that's enough to call and report abuse. And it may seem difficult to do but experts say it could save a child because in every abuse case adults say in hindsight they thought something was wrong. And if someone had called the abuse could have stopped sooner.


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