TOLEDO, Ohio — Only about one-third of child sexual abuse cases are identified, and even fewer are reported, according to Darkness to Light, a non-profit organization that works to end child sexual abuse.
Maumee foster father Jeremy Chesser was arrested Wednesday and charged with receiving and distributing child pornography. According to a criminal complaint filed against him in federal court, he admitted to sexually abusing children he fostered.
WTOL 11 wanted to get a better understanding of the signs of children being sexually abused, so we reached out to Christie Jenkins, the CEO of the Family and Child Abuse Prevention Center.
Chesser told authorities that he had been “chatting with others on the internet, viewing, at times distributing child pornography for more than 10 years,” according to the criminal complaint. He also told authorities that he had engaged in sexual acts with children while his wife was in the home, unaware of what was happening.
“If someone is getting away with this for a decade, it tells me they’re very good at what they’re doing,” Jenkins said.
Jenkins said a reason Chesser was able to commit the alleged crimes for so long was because of his image. He told an undercover FBI agent posing as another parent on a messaging app that he “saves lives” for his job, referencing his employment as a firefighter and paramedic for the Springfield Township Fire Department. He was placed on unpaid administrative leave from the department after his arrest.
Jenkins said that since Chesser, in the public eye, was a firefighter and advocate of foster parenting, a person’s natural bias would lead them to view him as a trustworthy person.
“When you have a pillar of the community, you kind of think, ‘Oh, they’re vetted’,” Jenkins said. “They have to have background checks. They have to go through all the hoops and all the things. So, your guard is really down.”
An FBI analysis of Chesser’s cellphone revealed “hundreds, if not 1,000 illegal images of what appeared to be child pornography.”
“Plenty of people who suffer from mental health concerns, have mental illness, who would never, ever perp on a child, ever,” Jenkins said.
WTOL 11 previously interviewed the Chesser family in May as part of a story during National Foster Care Month. The story was aimed at increasing the number of foster families in Lucas County, and Lucas County Children Services directed WTOL to the Chessers as a model foster family.
LCCS has monthly checks to ensure children are safe in the homes they are placed in.
“We’re routinely in the home assessing safety and meeting with the children alone and away from the foster parents,” said Katie Bertsch, the assistant manager of the placements department for LCCS.
Jenkins stressed the importance of reporting sexual abuse.
A neighbor of the Chessers said she alerted Lucas County Children Services about six months ago to suspect behavior she witnessed by Chesser toward one of his children when they were outside.
“They were kind of horsing around with each other and then all of the sudden, out of the blue, he just patted her on the behind, grabbed her and leaned over and kissed her on the lips,” the neighbor, who asked to remain anonymous, said. “I thought that was very inappropriate and that’s what made me call LCCS.”
The neighbor said she never heard back from LCCS and the children remained in the home. An LCCS spokesperson told WTOL that the agency does not have a record of a report from the neighbor.
She said she wasn’t surprised when the FBI showed up at Chesser’s home to conduct a search warrant.
She said she called LCCS again to reiterate her report of the suspect behavior she had seen after seeing authorities at Chesser’s home and the subsequent reports of his arrest. She said LCCS then called her again on Thursday. The LCCS spokesperson declined to comment on whether the agency reached out to the neighbor.
Jenkins said reporting signs of possible sexual is important regardless of the outcome of the report.
“You might call one time and not see anything happen. But then continue to call, continue to show up for these kids because they don’t have a choice or a voice,” Jenkins said.