Local non-profit fights child abuse by teaching law enforcement about how victims are ‘groomed’

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Matt and Lynne Morgan | buildinghopetoday.org

IDAHO FALLS — A local non-profit is teaching law enforcement about “grooming” in order to more effectively fight child abuse.

Grooming is a tactic used by child sex abusers to control their victims and keep themselves safe, often over long periods of time. Local business owner Matt Morgan was a victim of sexual abuse as a child. Now his foundation, Building Hope Today, is going to the Crimes Against Children Conference to teach thousands how to use their methods to successfully prosecute child sex abusers.

“We’ll ask people, law enforcement or the communities and we’ll say ‘do you know what grooming is?’ and everyone will say ‘yeah I know what grooming is,’ then we’ll be like, ‘could you identify it if you saw it?'” Building Hope Today Chief Operating Officer Alethea Cox told EastIdahoNews.com. “That’s when it gets somber.”

Morgan and Building Hope Today focused their efforts on educating law enforcement and families about grooming after Morgan won a civil suit against his abuser by showing the jury how he had been groomed for abuse.

Bonneville County Prosecuting Attorney Daniel Clark, who is a Building Hope Today’s board member, said Morgan’s case against his abuser was the first of it’s kind.

“The original thought was to sue (the abuser) for molesting (Morgan) as a child,” Clark said. “The problem is (Morgan) wasn’t allowed to do that. The statute of limitations had run out.”

Morgan’s attorneys decided to try something different and civilly sued the abuser for fraud based on the fact the individual had groomed Morgan for years. Morgan won the suit setting a precedent that can be used all over the country to successfully prosecute child sex abuse cases.

Clark said he prosecuted a case with the help of Thomas Tueller from Tueller Counseling. He said Tueller helped him understand exactly what grooming was and Clark was able to build a case off of grooming evidence.

RELATED: EAST IDAHO NEWSMAKERS: Sexual abuse survivor Matt Morgan

“So I took Matt’s civil concept that he did — first we’ve ever seen in the country,” Clark explained. “I then used it in a criminal case and we got a conviction.”

Since then, Building Hope Today has developed three sets of educational materials for victims, families and law enforcement. The Victim Track is designed to help victims heal. The Family Track teaches families the signs of grooming and how to protect children. Finally, the Legal Track shows those involved with the legal system how to successfully prosecute child sex abuse cases using grooming evidence.

“We have got to get better at successfully prosecuting child sex abuse cases,” Clark said. “Using the efforts of Building Hope Today will do that.”

Now, Building Hope Today is going to the largest conference on child abuse in the country.

The Dallas Crimes Against Children Conference has been going on for 30 years and last year boasted over 4,000 attendees. Attendees include government and nonprofit agencies such as law enforcement, prosecution, child protective services, social work, children’s advocacy, therapy, probation, parole and medical professionals who seek to protect and help children.

“Tom Tueller is going to present twice on what grooming is and the steps of grooming,” Clark said about what Building Hope Today is doing at the conference. “Tom and I are going to tell our story about the (Jeffrey) Dunn case. On how we specifically used grooming to corroborate the victim’s disclosure in a criminal case.”

Clark said he and one of Building Hope Today’s national directors, Liz Bingham from Atlanta, Georgia are going to present on how to implement grooming into child sex abuse investigations and prosecutions.

“It’s definitely going to be a fun opportunity for Building Hope Today and our community to really go in and help these different agencies,” Cox said.

Anyone who would like to get involved by downloading Building Hope Today’s free Family Pack or would like to donate can do so at Building Hope Today’s website buildinghopetoday.org.

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