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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Abducted in Plain Sight, a 2017 documentary, is a troubling account of how back in the 1970s, seemingly responsible parents allowed their 12-year-old daughter to be abused and kidnapped while they looked on, oblivious to the threat. The abductor, a neighbor and churchgoer, seduces not just the girl but also the mother and father, spinning a web of lies and deceit, as described by FBI agents, the parents, siblings, and the abuser himself. Expect graphic descriptions of sexual activity, pedophilia, drugging, blackmail, and general mental instability, making this appropriate for older teens and adults only. Language includes "pervert," "penis," and "intercourse." A pedophile drugs a 12-year-old girl with sleeping pills to make her pliant.
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What's the story?
ABDUCTED IN PLAIN SIGHT is Skye Borgman's documentary about a bizarre pedophile and predator who made inroads into the religious Mormon community of Pocatello, Idaho. A churchgoing father of five, Bob "B" Berchtold used charm and lies to insinuate himself into the confidence of the Brobergs, a neighboring Mormon family. By story's end, he has had sex with 12-year-old Broberg daughter Jan, abducted her two times, had an eight-month affair with Jan's mother, Mary Ann, and experienced at least one homosexual encounter with Jan's father, Bob. Even after all these events, the parents -- incredibly -- continue to interact with B. In fact, they make bad decisions every time there's a choice to make. Ashamed of their stupidity, bad judgment, and sexual interactions with B, they drop kidnapping charges against him after the FBI catches him across state lines with Jan. It seems they'd rather keep their adulteries secret from the community than put the guy who molested their daughter behind bars. Jan, in the meantime, has been brainwashed by B, unsurprising since B was able to persuade the adult Mary Ann to become his lover and Bob Broberg to have gay sex. Jan professes love for B, having been convinced by him that she's part alien and that she must have his child by the age of 16 in order to produce a savior who will rescue humankind -- a story not unlike those of Jan's religious upbringing, featuring Jesus and Mother Mary. (Jan recognizes the similarity today as an adult, a fact she now can see practically guaranteed her acceptance of B's incredible tale.) If she doesn't complete the mission, B warns, her sister will be kidnapped and her father will be killed. Not until she turns 16 without having given birth and without resulting calamity does she begin to comprehend that she was duped.
Is it any good?
The story is too strange to seem real, which makes this disturbing documentary wildly watchable, even as it sometimes falters as a piece of filmmaking. Director Skye Borgman chose to present interviews with victim Jan and family, allowing them to tell the story chronologically without explanatory preamble about who the Brobergs are today. This choice contributes to an impression early in Abducted in Plain Sight that the Brobergs, especially Jan's parents, were imbeciles who continued -- against FBI advice -- to play into the hands of a pedophile stalking their daughter, even after he kidnapped her. It's not until the end of the film that we learn that Jan and her mother co-wrote a book about their agonizing experiences and now travel and speak widely about how to protect children from predators. At least by film's end we are finally left with an understanding that the Brobergs, permanently damaged by Berchtold, now recognize how badly they handled the predator and how irresponsible they were about protecting their daughter.
That said, parents will want to think long and hard about how this material might negatively affect any but the oldest and most mature teens in the house. The narrative is eerily reminiscent of the story of Michael Jackson's rapport with the parents of his alleged abuse victims. Jackson was selling his celebrity to the parents. This underscores exactly how skillful Berchtold, with nothing but charm and his wiles to peddle, had to have been.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how parents can protect kids from predators. What are some of the things the Brobergs did wrong with respect to protecting Jan from B?
What were some of the early signs that it wouldn't be safe to allow B to spend time alone with Jan? Why do you think Jan's parents ignored those signs?
What would you do if you knew of an adult trying to get uncomfortably close to a young child?
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