Exploiting the Vulnerable Part 1

BANGOR, Maine (WABI) - After delving further into court documents, a timeline has come to light in the case against a Lincoln man accused of impregnating a young relative.

37-year-old Paul Fiske was arrested in August and charged with gross sexual assault after authorities say he had a sexual relationship with the now 15-year-old.

The District Attorney's office says more cases of what they call "grooming" are coming to light.

According to DHHS, 14 foster children have been placed in the care of Paul Fiske and his wife since October 2015.

The alleged victim in this case came into their care when she was 11 and just before she turned 13, the couple adopted her.

Just a few months later, Fiske allegedly began his illicit relationship with his adopted daughter who when questioned by police, adamantly denied the abuse.

The District Attorney's office says this is not uncommon of grooming victims.

Deputy District Attorney Devon DeMarco says, "Grooming behaviors, that term refers to things that offenders will do to their victims to make their victims feel more comfortable and create that type of relationship, which we know as non-offenders is an inappropriate relationship."

Victim advocates say perpetrators of abuse and violence tend to look for those they can manipulate, especially children and youth.

Casey Faulkingham, Community Response Team Leader for Partners for Peace says, "Not only do perpetrators seek out vulnerable populations, but when a perpetrator finds someone who may be in a desperate situation, they will exploit that situation and try to seek additional vulnerabilities in that individual by gaining their trust over time, by isolating them from other people who may be helpful and safe and really by manipulating someone into entering some sort of a relationship before they even really know it. This is something that happens over the course of a long period of time."

Experts say it's those closest to the child that tend to take advantage.

DeMarco says, "People never want to think about somebody in their family or somebody in their close circle of their friends offending against a child, but the fact is that it's the people that have access to that child who have the opportunity to offend."

Carlene Engstrom, Victim/Witness Advocate says, "It may start at a small level, and then it just escalates to a point where the child has developed a trust, feels comfortable, not knowing what the background of the child has already been through, and then it will escalate into a relationship that shouldn't be occurring."

DeMarco says, "We might see things like a stepparent buying a young child underwear or a nightgown. Something that could be normal behavior, but when we see a pattern of it, and when we see it coupled with some other behaviors, we start to consider it a red flag."

Engstrom says, "They're so young that they don't understand what is happening to them is not normal until maybe years later."

Children aren't the only victims of these abusive tactics.

DeMarco says, "Grooming behaviors can also happen to adult victims. Adults who may be very vulnerable, so for instance, somebody who may be experiencing homelessness or drug addiction, there may be an offender who reaches out to them and provides things like gifts or housing and really takes advantage of their vulnerability in exchange over time for an inappropriate relationship."

Faulkingham says, "We're becoming more aware of issues like this in our community, and we are not afraid to shed light on them. I think we would be fools to think these kinds of things haven't been happening for a long time. I think they certainly have, but we are more willing to really step in and help now and have a call to action for our community to be helpful to vulnerable populations.

Experts say anyone who is concerned should reach out to advocacy organizations in their region for appropriate resources and a sounding board.

Anyone who has been victimized by domestic violence, sexual violence, sex trafficking, abuse, or violence can reach out to Partners for Peace at 1-800-863-9909 or Rape Response Services at 1-800-871-7741.

Those are both confidential helplines.

Thursday night in Part two of this special report, Emily Tadlock sat down with the Maine Department of Health and Human Services to talk about how situations such as the Fiske case are handled.