Child abuse expert highlights grooming of sexual abuse victims

OKLAHOMA CITY - Hundreds of thousands of children are abused or mistreated in the United States each year, and tens of thousands of those children are also victims of sexual abuse. And those cases are the ones law enforcement knows about.

In Oklahoma, there are numerous stories of children being sexually abused or preyed upon: from teachers, family members, to even elected officials. And a recent case highlights how child abuse experts say abuse often starts: by grooming of the victims.

This past weekend, a 70-year-old Oklahoma City man was arrested at a northeast side movie theater on a complaint of lewd acts with a child. The man, Dwight Sulc, is accused of groping a teen girl who he had hired, along with her sister and their mother, to clean two properties he owns.

Police reports said Sulc "kept asking if the girls could stay the night with him at his house." They never did, but according to police, he would bring them to the movies. It was this past weekend the two sisters went to the movie theater with him.

"While they're sitting in the movie theatre, he reached over, groped her, touched her inappropriately. She told him to stop," said MSgt. Gary Knight. "Police ended up being notified."

News 4 made multiple attempts to reach Sulc by phone and at his home, but never got a response.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, in 2016, more than 671,000 children suffered abuse in the United States. Of those, more than 57,300 were victims of sex abuse. According to statistics from the U.S. Department of Justice, 93 percent of child sex abuse victims knew the perpetrator, often a family member or acquaintance.

"Grooming is incredibly common in the world of child abuse. But there are signs and symptoms that even that is going on," said Stacy McNeiland, CEO of The Care Center, an Oklahoma City-based child advocacy non-profit.

"Have your alerts on for both situations," McNeiland said. "If you’re a parent or caregiver, and you notice a teacher or anyone is paying special attention to your child, sending home gifts, always sitting in their lap in their classroom. I would have a red flag."

Precautions should also be paid to what types of technology children are using, especially internet connected devices, like cell phones and tablets.

McNeiland said secrecy is the enemy when it comes to technology.

"Shouldn’t happen in a room, or behind closed doors. It should happen out in the family room and parents need to be actively engaged in what happens on that device."