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Hilltown Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, July 28, 2011

Police arrest second man they say hurt young girl

By Zach Simeone

BERNE — The same 11-year-old girl who police say was nearly raped and murdered by Adam Croote last month at her home in Berne has allegedly been abused by a closer relative as well.

Last week, George Stempel, 30, of 50 Stage Road in Berne, was arrested on three counts of forcible touching, a misdemeanor, because he “fondled the breasts of an 11-year-old female family acquaintance outside of her clothes,” according to the Albany County Sheriff’s Department. “This occurred at least three times over the past month.”

“This had happened prior to the Adam Coote case, and also after the Adam Coote case,” Acting Sheriff Craig Apple said this week.

Croote, now 23, was already on the New York State sex offender registry for being convicted of a second-degree rape in Massachusetts in 2005, when he was 17. The registry says he raped a 25-year-old “non-stranger” without force. Croote was given five years of probation. Croote’s life shows a long history of abuse.

As a child, he had witnessed his father, Michael Croote, shoot and kill his pregnant mother, Wendy Croote. A custody battle between his grandparents ensued. His mother’s mother, Margaret Zibura, and her husband, Frank, took Adam Croote to Kansas; living under assumed names, they raised him as their child.

After three years in Kansas, when Adam Croote was 6, the FBI arrested the Ziburas for custodial interference, and Linda Koerner, his father’s mother, who lived in Westerlo, was given custody.

Croote is a distant relative of the girl he was accused of abusing, and who George Stempel allegedly abused over the past month. The girl’s mother, who is a relative of the murdered Wendy Croote, said her family had just recently gotten acquainted with Adam Croote.

The girl’s parents asked Croote to babysit for her on June 20 when, according to Apple, Croote sexually assaulted her and tried to strangle her before fleeing the scene. (For the full story, go to www.AltamontEnterprise.com and look under Hilltown archives for June 23, 2011.)

Said Apple this week, “I had a very at-length discussion with investigators, because I’m concerned about this child’s future. They said, ‘Craig, she’s a remarkable child.’ She’s strong, and they’re going to make sure that people stay in touch with her, and victim advocates work with her, and she gets whatever counseling is necessary.”

There were no physical signs of abuse this time, but Apple said that Stempel cooperated with the investigation, and admitted to the charges he is facing.

“I guess he may have some sort of learning disability, so he was released under supervisory probation,” Apple said of Stempel. “He will be on supervision of probation until he either does something stupid, or the next court date and they want put him in jail, or maybe they will put him in pending a mental-health evaluation. It really depends on how he behaves.”

The department became aware of the alleged abuse, Apple said, when “the child was at a friend’s house, and one of the girls happened to stumble, and somebody grabbed her, and the girl said something about, ‘Hey, you hit my boob,’ and the 11-year-old said something to the effect of, ‘That’s nothing; [George Stempel] does that to me all the time.’ And a parent heard it and alerted the child’s parents.”

The Enterprise has a policy of not identifying victims of sexual abuse, and so is not reporting Stempel’s relationship to the girl.

The girl’s mother said that the child has been getting counseling.

“It seems to be helping her a great deal,” the mother said Wednesday. “We’re still reeling from the first incident, and having this on top of it does not help. We’re all in counseling because it affects us all. I’m hoping, by him being arrested, and letting him know this is not tolerated, that it won’t happen to somebody else. It’s hard to say what we’ve learned from it, because he’s somebody we trusted.”

This incident has affected the family differently than the Croote case.

“This is obviously different than the other one, where we didn’t know his background, and he was new to the family,” she said, comparing Croote to Stempel, whom she said has  “been around since the day the kids were born.”

She concluded, “There were no red flags.”

Breaking the cycle

Alan Kazdin, a professor of psychology and child psychiatry at Yale University, answered questions this week on sexual abuse, specifically: What sort of a childhood can lead someone to be an abuser when they’re an adult; whether or not being a childhood victim plays a part in becoming an abuser; how abusers choose their victims; and whether or not it’s possible to break the cycle of abuse.

“Here’s all the science can say: Untoward early environments increase the risk for a host of physical and mental health outcomes, and the outcomes are likely to be in the area that there was a problem,” Kazdin told The Enterprise. “So, if one was abused, the risk for later abusing others is increased, but it’s not determined at all, and so many other factors are involved. The public wants to hear a nice, linear line, but the research shows that nothing works like that.”

He made a comparison to cases of cancer.

“You could have heredity, and a bad environment, but you grow up and you’re not the one who gets the cancer — someone else gets the cancer; so, it’s probabilistic,” he said.

Then, turning to Adam Croote’s upbringing, he added, “That environment you’re telling me about is a horrible situation, but could we have predicted these kinds of abuse? No. Nothing is determined so clearly.”

However, studies show that previous victims of abuse are more likely to be abused in the future; this phenomenon is referred to as “poly-victimization,” and does not limit a victim to one type of abuse.

“So, if you’re sexually abused as a child, the chances of your being involved in domestic violence later on are much higher,” Kazdin said. “If you’re exposed to violence between your parents, chances of getting sexually assaulted later in life are much higher.”

But he urges people to avoid the thought that a repeat victim might somehow be “asking for it.”

“It looks like that’s not anywhere near true, but it isn’t quite understood,” he said. “There’s a huge danger that science has moved away from: Society is eager to blame the victim, especially if it’s a woman. Could they have made themselves vulnerable? Yes. Maybe their parents weren’t supervising them well, maybe they were quiet or passive, but they didn’t do anything related at all to sexuality. It’s more contextual than, ‘She was giving cues.’”

The secret to breaking the cycle of abuse, he went on, lies within caring for the victim, and keeping him or her active and connected.

“Sometimes, they’re not monitored well,” he said of young victims. “Make sure they get into very constructive things in life. Make sure they’re in some sort of social networking things — getting them into acting, getting them competency in a musical instrument. Both of those are social, both of those build competencies, and both can be lifelong. So, the idea is to somehow entwine the child in some constructive social networks to build competencies, because they are nice protections against vulnerability.”

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