Review – Stolen Innocence: The Jan Broberg Story (Authored by Jan’s mom, Mary Ann Broberg), Pocatello, Id.: 16th Place Publishing (2003)
By Ken K. Gourdin
I recently read Stolen Innocence (after stealing it from my aunt, whom we were visiting in another part of the state). “So,” my reader asks, “what you’re saying is that you stole ‘Stolen Innocence.’ Do I have that right?” Yep. That’s about the size of it.
But in my defense, while my conduct technically may have met some of the elements of the crime of theft, it’s Mary Ann Broberg’s fault. In an act of extraordinary courage, she and her daughter have crafted an account that’s page-turning and suspenseful—yet brutally honest and heartrending at the same time.
As I read, I found myself saying inwardly such things as, “Don’t trust him!” “Why are you giving him the benefit of the doubt?” And “Don’t wait: Call the police—now!” While today the list of “Do’s-and-Don’ts” in (possible) child kidnapping cases is so well known as to be axiomatic, it does us well to step back and to realize that such wasn’t always the case. We’ve only reached this point because of the high price paid by families such as the Brobergs—who learned those lessons the hard way, firsthand.
The methods used by the predator in this case call to mind the techniques employed by fraudsters who engage in affinity fraud: before perpetrating his string of awful deeds, he first gained the trust of Jan and her family, based, in this case, primarily on a common church association—but instead of defrauding them of mere money or other assets, he violated the trust of Jan’s family and stole (as the title indicates) Jan’s innocence.
In addition to overt methods of control, the predator in this case also employs more subtle methods involving subterfuge to maintain Jan’s dependence upon him. While these methods are never fully and explicitly spelled out in the book, it is strongly implied that they involve such things as burglary and the use of audio equipment. Combined with the predator’s surreptitious administration of drugs to Jan, a tactic which he intended to blur the line between reality and his demented perversion of it, he overcomes Jan’s will not with brute physical force (though he is not above issuing vague threats of resorting to physical tactics when he deems it necessary) but rather by sowing confusion and doubt in her young, impressionable mind.
Jan’s predator, however, doesn’t stop there. More than simply taking advantage of Jan’s trust (not to mention that of her family); more than blurring the line between reality and perversion; more than sowing confusion and doubt in her mind; he cements his control by attributing the need for these actions, not to any motivation originating with him, but rather to an amorphous, ill-defined, third party—whose presence emanates from the surreptitiously installed and activated audio equipment.
If all of this weren’t enough, however, the predator cements his control of Jan by including, in the script of his demented perversion, threats (again, not from himself) but rather from the amorphous, ill-defined—yet subtly malicious—third party) of harm, not only to Jan and not only to her family, but also to himself if Jan fails to cooperate.
The more we’ve learned about the human psyche in the last hundred years or so, the more we’ve realized we don’t know. As Jan’s story proves, the mind and soul are capable of an often-surprising amount of resiliency and regeneration even after having endured trauma to an extent and of a nature that is scarcely fathomable to most of us.
Jan’s story illustrates the difficulty of walking a line between holding those who prey on others accountable for their predatory conduct while at the same time attempting to determine how much that predatory conduct (as reprehensible as such conduct might be) is driven by illness which overcomes the predator’s will, and how much of it he remains accountable for.
While much mental illness is of such a nature that it can remove from one who has it the ability to distinguish between right and wrong and to conduct himself appropriately, not all such illness is of such a nature. Many people, although they are mentally ill, know perfectly well the difference between right and wrong and are capable, if they choose to do so, of conducting themselves appropriately: they simply don’t care enough about harm to victims, societal disapproval, possible criminal sanction, and other adverse consequences to do so.
Perhaps Jan’s predator’s most insidious act—which, in some ways, was more insidious than anything he actually did to her—was to convince those responsible for assessing and treating his mental state that he belonged in the first category described above rather than in the second. But even if that were so, such an inquiry asks (and answers) the wrong question. Rather than focusing on potential (perhaps unfair) consequences to the predator if we were to lock him up, perhaps we should focus, instead, on the reasonable likelihood that unfair (indeed, unspeakable) consequences could result both to present and to potential victims if we don’t lock him up—probably for life.
Even if it wouldn’t be “fair” to put Jan Broberg’s predator in the second category described above rather than the first, what he did to Jan Broberg isn’t “fair.” As most of us learn very early on (except those of us who think we’re above all the rules that otherwise would prevent us from preying on others) life isn’t fair. I would rather run the risk of being “unfair” to her erstwhile predator than of being unfair (to put it mildly!) to her and to her predator’s potential future victims.