At the 2019 Hope Awards Gala held on May 18, 2019 in Georgetown, Washington, D.C., the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) presented its highest honor, The Hope Award, to Jan Broberg, of Santa Clara, Utah.

A survivor of child sexual assault herself, Ms. Broberg was recognized for her advocacy and public outreach on behalf of children at risk of assault – particularly by someone they know.

John Walsh, the public figure who founded the NC MEC 35 years ago after his own son was abducted, was master of ceremonies. His son, Callahan, introduced her, saying: “Jan Broberg and the documentary “Abducted in Plain Sight” has done more to open the door to the conversations of child sex abuse by known, familiar predators than anyone else in the history of this organization. We have received more phone calls, more letters and more outcry in the past four months than in the past 25 years combined, from people wanting to help children who are being abused by someone they know. By sharing her story, she has helped ignite a movement that will make a difference for the 350,000 children we are now working with, and millions more. It has blown the doors wide open...”

This tremendous accomplishment – of starting a worldwide conversation about sexual abuse by familiar predators – is worthy of front-page news. And yet its impact is largely overlooked in the media, which has instead focused on the public’s reaction to the lurid details of Broberg’s own kidnappings, ever since “Abducted in Plain Sight” went viral after airing on Netflix this past January.

The documentary tells the story of how Robert Berchtold, a close family “friend,” was able over a three-year period to build trust, groom Jan’s parents, and eventually kidnap her and sexually abuse her.

The reaction to the documentary has been fierce. Some viewers have expressed disgust at the bizarre details, and outrage that Jan’s parents, Mary Ann and (the late) Robert Broberg, could have been so naïve.

Surprisingly, rather than focusing on the predator himself, much of the anger has been directed at Jan’s parents, who failed to comprehend what was happening with their daughter until it was much too late.

Jan has chosen to step into the tsunami of negativity and speak out, telling her story in countless interviews and on national news and talk shows like “Dr. Oz,” “People Magazine,” “E! News,” “The View,” etc. in hopes of educating people on just how “possible” it was for something like this to happen, especially if you understand the concept of “grooming.”

“I understand why people blame my parents,” Jan explains. “They were fooled. And they were not innocent. But keep in mind, it’s impossible for most people to imagine that your friend, your brother or grandfather… a favorite schoolteacher who just won teacher of the year, is capable of something so heinous.

“My parents just could not imagine that our trusted friend – whose family sat by us in church – could do something so horrible. And when you don’t conceive of that possibility, you’re blind to all the subtle warning signs staring you in the face. Berchtold groomed my parents, he groomed me… he groomed everyone.”

Educating the public about grooming, and recognizing warning signs, are key messages Broberg is sharing with the world. The dictionary defines grooming as: to get into readiness for a specific objective: to prepare. When used to describe what pedophiles do to children, “grooming is a process of identifying and engaging a child in sexual activity. It involves an imbalance of power and elements of coercion and manipulation.”

Broberg’s advice for people wanting to protect children is to learn the covert warning signs and then look for them. After that, “Trust your gut,” she says. “If you notice a child’s behavior changing around a certain person – even if it’s a family member or someone you love and trust – raise your antenna. Pay attention, and if you notice any signs of inappropriate conduct, take action.”

She advises reporting concerns to police, the child’s school counselor, anyone who can intervene on the child’s behalf. “Instead of ignoring it or making an excuse,” she says, “get outside your comfort zone if you think this child could be helped. It could be the one difference that child needs to be saved from a predator.”

The NCMEC selected Broberg for the Hope Award because of the impactful work she – a survivor – is doing. The organization understands well the dedication and extraordinary tenacity it takes for a victim to become a bold, outspoken advocate who is willing to be vulnerable again in order to protect others from the trauma they endured.  

And outspoken survivors are needed. According to the FBI, in 2018 there were 424,066 National Crime Information Center (NCIC) entries for missing children. In 2018 alone, the NCMEC Cyber Tipline* received more than 18.4 million reports. Additionally, there were more than 1,600 attempted abductions in 2018. Hearing others’ survivor stories gives victims hope.

Jan’s sister Susan, who is featured in the documentary, says Jan is her inspiration. “She finds the good in life and in people. Her commitment to helping end the silence [surrounding] abuse and to educate people about grooming and other methods predators use has already touched millions of lives. She is the voice of courage and strength for many who are still in the shadows, lost in guilt or shame, and those who are finding their own way to end the silence. Jan is truly a force to be reckoned with. I am so incredibly proud of her and the work she is doing.”

With her mother as her special guest for the evening, Jan gave her acceptance speech to an audience that gave her three standing ovations. In it she said, “For 26 years I have been sharing my story, encouraged by that intangible voice stirring up feelings to talk openly about what happened… to share from my heart. Whether talking to a book club of 12 or to 1200 teachers, counselors or mental health care professionals, I knew somehow, telling my story could help. And that is the reason I began sharing it.”

She went on to thank the many who supported her: “First and foremost are my two heroes: my incredibly brave parents. They survived a parent’s worst nightmare and personal embarrassment… sharing everything with the world in hopes that it would help someone. I honor them. I honor my sisters, Karen and Susan, and my son Austen for their endless support.”

Broberg also thanked family and friends “who have cast a wide net of support and love. This kind of love transcends all barriers and heals broken hearts.” She ended by saying, “My prayer is for all – but especially for the two billion-plus children in the world – to experience the great balm of unconditional love – somehow, somewhere, some way.”

*Cyber Tipline is a national mechanism for the public and electronic service providers to report instances of suspected child sexual exploitation.

 About “Abducted In Plain Sight”

In this true crime documentary by filmmaker Skye Borgan, a family falls prey to the manipulative charms of a neighbor, who abducts their adolescent daughter. Twice. The twisting, turning, stranger-than-fiction true story of the Brobergs, a naive, church-going Idaho family that fell under the spell of a socio-pathic neighbor with designs on their 12-year-old daughter is riveting.

Watch “Abducted in Plain Sight” now: