John Keller will tell you that you can overcome the anger when your child is sexually abused by someone you trusted. It's not easy, but it's possible.

What you will never get over is the sorrow that "such a horrible thing could happen to wonderful children."And seven years after his children were assaulted by their trusted baby sitter, Mark, John is still struggling with feelings of guilt. Not only did he fail to protect his children, he says, but he and his wife, Susan, actually picked the aggressor and paid him for his time.

It's a process that C.Y. Roby, director of the Intermountain Specialised Abuse Treatment (ISAT) center, where the Keller family is receiving therapy, calls "magical thinking."

"I should have known. Well, hindsight is always 20/20. The easiest way for parents to feel they protected the child is to deny the problem. It's common: `If he's not having problems, then I didn't fail to protect him,' " Roby said.

The reality of what happened to their children nearly dealt a deathblow to John's and Susan's self-esteem. They were working hard to make ends meet. They had two children in long-term therapy. Worst of all, they hadn't believed Theresa when, at age 10, she said she was raped.

What really bothered John, though, was that Clinton hadn't been able to tell him that he had been abused, too. It took almost four years for Clinton to speak out.

Clinton admits now that he blamed his parents - for working, for choosing Mark, for not knowing what happened without being told. And once they told Theresa they didn't believe her, he wasn't about to open his mouth.

He might not have told them first anyway, according to Roby. Children seldom go directly to their parents with stories of abuse. And the reasons are complex.

"Really, really young kids don't struggle with sex abuse. They don't know it's wrong so it doesn't always have long-term effects. Older children - late adolescents - don't struggle so much because they have been confronting sexual issues. They place the blame where it belongs.

"It's big trouble for kids 8 to about 14 years or so. They feel responsible. We teach children that when negative things happen, they're usually at fault. They made a mistake. When a child knocks over a glass of milk, we don't blame atmospheric conditions. We say, `Look what you did.' They're responsible, good or bad.

"So very few of the kids we see go to the parents first. Parents are a source of love and affection, but they are also the source of punishment and corrections. They're good for hugs when things are going well. But then, my kids are never grounded by anyone but me or my wife. They tell their friends at school, then the teacher. And the parent feels betrayed. `Why didn't you come to me?' What the child hears from that is, `You screwed up again, kid.' We need to teach children to tell anyone they trust and then be glad when they do."

Mark had also spent a great deal of time - between flying fists and molestation - hammering home the message that what he did to Clinton was Clinton's fault. To this day, the boy has to consciously reject the responsibility he had been programmed to accept.

By late 1993, one facet was dominating the Kellers' lives - their therapy schedules.

Theresa and Clinton went once a week to individual treatment, with one or both parents outside in case they were needed. The parents also had their own individual therapy schedules. Occasionally, two or more family members went in together.

During one such session, Theresa was able to confront her father about not believing her and not calling the police. Getting it out in the open helped both of them. He admitted he made a mistake, and their relationship is healing.

Susan and John had to focus, in part, on their relationship with each other, which had been severely tested by what happened. It's particularly important, according to ISAT clinical director Brent Wainwright, because the children are growing up fast. They won't live at home for too many more years, and then Susan and John will be alone together.

Theresa got into treatment sooner than the others and no longer requires weekly sessions, although she can get crisis counseling anytime she needs it. Next Susan, then John, was able to drop the weekly sessions.

The road will be much longer for Clinton. Although he hasn't had nightmares or sucked his thumb in more than a year, he is still plagued by self-doubt.

"With Clinton," Wainwright said, "we're working on placing what happened properly in the big picture so he can move forward. We're working on self-esteem and boundaries. He was isolated at school, so we've been working on making friends and getting better grades."

They're also working on setting proper behavioral boundaries. Clinton has had to relearn appropriate ways to express affection. He tends to be aggressive physically, Susan says. "He thinks punching is a way to show affection."

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Above all, the therapists and parents hope that he will be able to escape the cycle of victim-turned-perpetrator. Children who are abused and eroticized when they are very young, without treatment, may turn into perpetrators themselves.

"If you were robbed or mugged, you wouldn't turn around and become a mugger," Roby said. "But children who have been eroticized sometimes act out with other kids."

It's hard to predict how any sexual abuse victim will react. Counselors try to prepare parents like Susan and John for the possibilities. Some become provocative sexually, Roby said. Others become very cold and totally shut off any sexual nature. Neither response is healthy. And many of the issues don't come up for years.

"Susan and John have to realize this isn't the end of it for them. A lot is still in front of them. When a child is 9, there's no point in talking to them about issues they will face later, like dating. Things always come up."

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