The much-talked about documentary Abducted in Plain Sight tells the story of Jan Broberg, a survivor of years of grooming and abuse by a trusted family friend when she was a child in the 1970s. The story is jaw-dropping on so many levels. Not only did Bob “B” Berchtold manage to abduct her twice—the first time when she was only 12—and repeatedly rape her. But the behavior of her parents, who were each manipulated into sexual encounters with Berchtold themselves, seems inexplicable—since they continued to allow him access to their daughter after the initial kidnapping, even letting him share her bed. The story even contains elements of—no joke—brainwashing and aliens: Through audio recordings, Berchtold tricked Broberg into thinking that aliens were in control of Earth, and they wanted her to have a baby with him to save the world.
While Broberg’s parents became the target of internet razzing and insulting memes, Jan insists they were groomed and manipulated by Berchtold as much as she was. She’s also an outspoken advocate for ending the culture of silence (#EndTheSilence) around child sex abuse. She spoke with A&E Real Crime about her “amazing” parents, how Berchtold so successfully groomed her family before the first kidnapping and whether he might have other victims.
What’s it like being the subject of such a talked-about documentary?
It’s an opportunity to start a conversation that is long overdue and to empower people to tell their stories because the epidemic of child sex abuse is huge.
It’s hard to understand how you didn’t realize you were being abused at the time.
Well, no, I thought I had the alien mission to accomplish! I laugh about it now, but as a 12-year-old who had been to a number of science-fiction movies with [the Berchtolds]… And there were a lot of articles in the newspapers that had UFO sightings on the front page. It was the ’70s!
People ask me, how long did it take you to believe you’d been kidnapped by aliens? I’m like, five seconds. Because for two and a half years [Berchtold would] bring over the newspaper and say, ‘Look, there’s another UFO sighting.’
Do you think he was preparing you for this story?
Absolutely. Everything was preparation, planting a seed. There are basically six steps that a person has to do over time if you’re going to have the kind of influence that he did over not only my parents and my family, but our entire neighborhood.
What are those six steps?
First, identify a target. I believe as soon as he met our family, he was like, she’s got that happy people-pleaser personality.
The second is to gain trust with the people around the child so that they would never suspect you. So that’s what happened with my parents and the community and [our] congregation.
Then, separate the people. So now it’s [him thinking], I have a special relationship with Jan’s dad, with Jan’s mom, with the other two sisters. And everybody’s confiding in me individually.
Now he’s going to manipulate and find a weakness that [he] might be able to use, blackmail them later. My mom [Mary Ann], for example, maybe she said something to [Berchtold] or his wife about being unsatisfied with her sex life or her relationship with my father. He figures out he could exploit that.
And that’s exactly what he did—with blackmail, right?
Yes, but that was never actually used against my mother, but it was with my dad—the two masturbation experiences that my dad had with Berchtold.
His attorney called my parents after the first kidnapping and said, ‘We could make this go away, just settle outside of court. Your daughter won’t have to go through testifying.’ Of course, I’m not telling anybody anything ‘cause I think I’m going to be vaporized [by the aliens]!
His attorney said—which is not in the documentary—we’re building a case to have your children taken away. You sign these affidavits, and we won’t pursue [it] or make public the incidents between Bob and Berchtold.
Remember, this is between the two kidnappings—they never knew there’d be a second one! They couldn’t possibly anticipate. And he’s not in jail; he’s back at church. They’re our neighbors. We’re still friends with the kids.
We had some wonderful times with [the Berchtolds]. That’s what makes it so insidious, because this was our best friend; he was like my second father.
As an adult I’ve had more grief. I’ve had moments [where I thought] how does someone act like they love you and then strap you to the bed of a motor home and brainwash you and sexually assault you repeatedly? It’s really hit me as I’ve gotten older.
But it doesn’t negate the positive experiences you had with them?
No, it doesn’t. Great memories are still there. I say I had 12 perfect childhood years before I woke up in the back of the motor home. Because we were so open and so loving, he took advantage. And that’s part of that grooming process. Once you’ve [gotten the victim isolated from their family] you fill their needs.
What was your need?
I was just a people-pleaser and I wanted adults to like me.
The next step with grooming is to hone your story. Berchtold said he was trying to overcome depression. He told my dad that he had an aunt that [sexually] abused him.
So that’s the next step—build empathy for his story, made-up or real. Now [the victim is] trying to help somebody they already love and trust.
And that’s how grooming happens. When people saw the documentary, they were pointing fingers at my parents—[saying] they were so stupid and they’re idiots. If you think that, then you’re not going to see it in yourself, because you don’t think you’re stupid or an idiot. But I’m telling you, right now, a child is being abused by someone you know and you just don’t know it yet—wait 10 years and then watch the documentary again and go, holy crap. Every piece of that grooming is true.
It must have taken so much for your parents to come forward, especially your dad.
Yes, it was really hard for him. My parents were so amazing. I’d call them, like, why didn’t you see it? They would just listen and acknowledge everything I said and say, ‘We’re so sorry we didn’t see it. We were so blind and we just can’t forgive ourselves.’ And then I was like, oh no, don’t hang onto that! My first 12 years saved my life.
Everybody’s going to have 10 percent of experiences in life that are very dark, painful and traumatic. I knew I didn’t want to live with that trauma every day of my life. It was in my way. I made a very conscious decision: Can I let it go? And step into what I call the 90 percent—the rest of your life.
You can’t do it on your own, necessarily. For me, it was conversations with my parents. It was counselors, self-help books, workshops. I needed and continue to seek out things to make sure that I really can live in the 90 percent where there is hope.
Berchtold committed suicide in 2005, after spending very little time in prison. Have you forgiven him?
Forgiveness doesn’t mean that you don’t want to put the person in jail. You absolutely have to do that because you’re protecting others. The forgiveness is that you don’t have to be imprisoned by that experience. You can let it go.
Has your relationship with your faith changed through this experience?
Yes, because some of the things that were manipulated by Berchtold. It’s called inculcation, it’s a brainwashing term. You take some new idea and you encase it in stuff that’s familiar, so it’s plausible. That’s what he did with the Joseph/Mary/Jesus story. I grew up believing this story about how Joseph isn’t really Jesus’ dad because Mary was fathered by uh, a, God—
An otherworldly being?
Yes! Otherworldly. Exactly. It’s a grooming thing that he used with what the alien voices were saying. [He’s saying] you’re this special child, and your dad is a good man; he’s like Joseph; he’s your caretaker. So they’re validating my dad, and mother, whose name happens to be Mary! She was fathered by a being from our planet. So [he’s saying I’m] half alien and half human, and now I have to have the child that will save our dying planet. When you piece that together over hours of that message coming through, it’s a plausible thing; it didn’t contradict [my faith].
So he was able to leverage your faith against you?
Yes, exactly. Because of that, as an adult, I have what I call a ‘cautious’ relationship with faith.
Do you know of more victims of Berchtold?
Before my second kidnapping, he’d targeted his next victim. She’s only one out of the seven girls that I know of.
He was convicted of rape of a child and sentenced to 10 years, but spent less than one year in jail. And I know the two little girls after her. And he was playing Santa Claus in the community center every year!
That is so horrifying, that there could be more.
I’m positive there are. I just got an email from a woman who said, I lived by them and I babysat for them and something happened.
I said to [an abuse survivor] the other day, ‘You are the strongest person in that family, and sometimes you have to burn something to the ground in order for the Phoenix to rise, for the abuse to stop, for something new to be created. You are creating a brand new family system that is going to be free from that abuse.’