“The sexual abuse of children is just one part of a system of trickery and abuse created to maintain secrecy, isolation and the offender’s absolute power over the child and all others in the child’s life. The offender sets up a web-like structure of traps, lies and distortions to isolate the victim…” ~ Laurel House
Kidnapping does not always involve a stranger or a man with a gun…a predator who knows how to groom, and manipulate can gain the trust of the victim, and lure them away…
After reading news reports about the teen, Elizabeth Thomas, who went missing from her home after being groomed and manipulated by her perverted teacher, Tad Cummins, my first reaction was: this reminds me of the abuse I have survived. My second reaction was somehow wanting to scream across the distance to Elizabeth that no matter what was said or done to you, no matter what you were made to believe.. it is not your fault. As an adult survivor, and a mother, I speak from experience… you may not understand now, but trust me, it was not your fault…and it never was.
My Story of Survival: When I graduated from high school, I was given a laptop as a gift. My family meant the laptop to encourage my love of writing, and to help me in college. Unfortunately, I discovered chat rooms, where I met the man who would become my abuser and tormentor, Martin.
It started out innocently enough, in my online profile I put a fake name but included my age and the city where I lived. Martin was online searching for a young girl of my description and that was enough for him to find me, chatting in a room with an audience of young people, talking and laughing about random subjects. It would have been obvious to someone much older, as Martin was at age 31, how immature we all were. Martin was online with the handle “Shadoobee”, a reference to a song by the Rolling Stones, and began to entrap me.. though I was not aware of what grooming was at the time.
Eventually, I met Martin in person, and was surprised at how much older he was. I had absolutely no attraction to Martin but he seemed nice enough. Martin adapted all his interests to match mine so it seemed like we had everything in common (later he hated everything about me). Martin read my poetry and writing, and had me so convinced that he understood me so well that it was like he could read my mind. He vented frustrations against his own mother, his work, his life..and told me I was the only one he could confide in, that it was us against the world. There were also signs of Martin’s controlling behavior, and at times anger and violence erupted. One time I rejected Martin’s advances towards me and he got so angry that he nearly ran the car off the road. As he was yelling and swearing at me, I could not even defend myself.. over and over a jumbled voice ran through my mind like a broken record, “itsallmyfaultitsallmyfaultitsallmyfault….”
When I look back it is amazing how many adults did nothing to intervene. I feel so protective of children now, I think I would claw somebody’s eyes out if I saw them harm a child or approach a child in an inappropriate way. When I first met Martin’s parents I was so young – it must have been so obvious that this was wrong..their grown adult son with someone who had not even taken a step in the adult world.. and yet they acted like this was normal. Martin told everybody that we were “just friends”. I desperately wished it was so, that I could stop the pain and abuse he was inflicting on me but by then I ceased to exist, and was being totally brainwashed and controlled. It was not until I became pregnant with my son that the truth was exposed and by then I didn’t have the strength to see the truth, let alone escape.
It took 8 long years to finally escape this horrible, abusive relationship and by then Martin was becoming more aggressive, and openly hostile towards me. My two small children were being physically and mentally abused, tormented in their own home. Martin even abused our pets – and after I fled our home, had my cat euthanized just to hurt me. I left Martin for good after an incident where he physically attacked me. My son was injured after he kicked in the door, and when it swung open, he was hit in the face with the brass door knob, causing a black eye. By then Martin was done with me – he had a new victim, his vulnerable teenage cousin, with her own history of abuse, Lisa whom he calls “Baby Lisa”.
Martin, now 42 years old was preying on his first cousin Lisa and actually assisted her in running away from home so they could have a relationship together. Martin told me, and also told my father, that because I was not pleasing him that he needed to turn to Lisa… that somehow it is my fault that he is now exploiting and abusing someone else. In turn, Lisa has become abusive towards my own children. Each time the children disclosed abuse, each time a bruise was reported, each time the children showed behaviors consistent with abuse.. the family court, CPS, and authorities failed to protect them but instead returned them to the abuser to be re-victimized all over again.
My story does not have a happy ending.. Martin obtained a sleazy attorney and filed a motion for sole custody, and won, in a Hennepin County courtroom. My children were handed over to an abuser…and 11 years later we are still involved with family court.
It troubles me that recently.. my daughter came home with her favorite backpack, which she decorates with colorful metal buttons. Martin made a special button for her backpack. It is a picture of a Rolling Stones tongue and underneath was the name “Shadobee”.. the exact name he used when he met me online, as a teen, so long ago.
In another disturbing incident, my daughter was looking for a favorite shirt that was missing. She found the shirt.. and Lisa was wearing it. My daughter was confused and upset that not only was Lisa wearing the shirt put she was making sexy poses and taking selfies… My daughter wore that shirt as an innocent child, who loves pink and sparkles. It was never meant for a grown woman trying to seduce a man by acting like a teen girl. Makes me sick.. yet the family court protects the abuser, and continues to issue rulings that put my children at risk.
The Kidnapping of Elizabeth Thomas (Maury County, Tennessee): Elizabeth Thomas, 15 years old, is safely back home with her family after being taken across the country by her 50 year old teacher, Tad Cummins. Thomas was missing for more than a month, and found in a remote cabin in the mountains of Northern California.
The cabin’s care taker initially allowed the pair to stay at the hotel but grew concerned by what he described as “red flags” which led him to discover that an Amber Alert had been issued for Thomas. The caretaker then notified police. In my eyes, the caretaker is a hero. So many people look away when there are signs of abuse or have the attitude of “not my business” or “don’t get involved” and as a result, children are harmed. But he paid attention to the warning signs and made a report, and a child’s life was saved.
Cummins allegedly groomed Thomas from inside the classroom, gaining her trust and even initiating a kiss. Thomas was especially vulnerable to the manipulation of Cummins as she had a history of being bullied by classmates, and because this was her first year in the public school system after being home schooled until 8th grade.
Grooming is the term used to describe the deliberate tactics that predators use to select their victim and then engage in sexual abuse. Grooming is done in such a way that the child may not even realize that they are being abuse because they are conditioned to believe something else that reinforce the predator’s control over them. According to former FBI agent Kenneth Lanning, there are five stages in the grooming process (source NAASCA):
|1) Identify the possible victim;
2) Collect information about the intended victim;
3) Fill a need;
4) Lower inhibitions; and
5) Initiate abuse.
Predators not only groom victims but con, manipulate and groom friends, family, neighbors, professionals – anyone – to gain the trust needed to get access to a victim or to avoid detection. Despite what the predator tries to project, the inappropriate sexual relationship a predator has with a victim is not romantic or consensual – it is abusive, exploitative and causes severe trauma to the victim.
After a 12 year old student made a report about Cummin’s inapropriate behavior, the school launched an investigation and ordered him to have no contact with Thomas. However, on March 13, the pair disappeared. While on the run, Cummins called Thomas by the name “Joanna” and told people that she was his wife, and that she is 24 years old.
Cummins since has been charged on counts of aggravated kidnapping and sexual contact with a minor and remains in custody.
Anthony Thomas, father, claims that Cummins has “brainwashed” his daughter and “built up a system where she was dependent on him.”
In America today, there are an estimated 42 million survivors of childhood sexual abuse.
Read More About the Elizabeth Thomas Kidnapping:
Sexual Abuse and Grooming: