I’ve been on a true crime kick lately and when I stumbled across Netflix’s “Abducted in Plain Sight”, I decided to give it my undivided attention. By its end, I wasn’t entirely sure about how to feel about this true to life story because I was just too shellshocked to understand how all this prolonged abuse could actually happen to actual people, and how the victim Jan Broberg was failed by everyone who was supposed to protect her.
Synopsis: 12-year-old Jan Broberg joins 40-year old neighbor and family friend Robert “B” Berchtold for a seemingly innocent ride at a local stable but he never brings her back. Instead, he whisks her off to Mexico, marries her and alienates her from her family. But this is not the end of the horror. Months after her abduction, Jan again disappears and the second time, she is separated from her family with no one alerting the authorities of what had happened. For several tumultous years, the family is held hostage by the lies perpetrated by a culprit set on “having” their daughter but their decisions further compound the problem.
I was truly aghast at the premise of this story and I was really shocked to learn about how it all went down. How can an adult get away with kidnapping a young girl and spending over the month with her, raping her and keeping her holed up in Mexico? How can this happen without the family ordering a manhunt? How can this one person brainwash a child so absolutely that he gets her to “fall in love” with him? How can Jan’s parents simply leave their daughter’s behavior as is without getting her professional help to open up about what happened to her during the abduction? How could they simply drop the charges against the perpetrator in order to protect the family’s reputation? The worst decision perhaps, was how easily Jan’s parents agreed to drop the charges because they wanted to keep the family’s reputation intact. It was like making a deal with the devil.
As if this wasn’t enough, how can Jan’s mother, Mary Ann, by her own admission engage in an eight month affair with Berchtold, all while suspecting that he molested her daughter and fed her lies to poison her against their family?
I get that Berchtold was a master manipulator. I really do. And I get why the family blames him for everything while they absolve each other from their ridiculous handling of the situation. I get that the family is trying to reconcile with each other and pegging “B” as the villain in the entire scenario, as well they should. But they really should not. They should really accept a good portion of the blame for the abuse that their daughter suffered and only then, perhaps, can they move forward.
The authorities did everything right this time, unlike in some cases where culprits were able to continue with their criminal acts because of the law enforcement’s lapses. This time, they were determined to hold Berchtold accountable from the very beginning, but it was the family that folded. It was the family that caved to his blackmail. It was the family that chose their standing in the community over seeking justice for the abuse she suffered in the hands of Berchtold during the first abduction. It was the family that allowed B to continue to remain a predator instead of putting him behind bars so that he could never victimize anyone again.
I felt bad for Jan. I really did. The fact that she was abducted the first time would have been traumatic in itself but the fact that she was manipulated by an adult and she was not given the proper support to find the justice that she deserved was a worse injustice. How can the family simply keep it under wraps when she disappeared for the second time? How can a family live normally with one of their daughters missing even for one night, not knowing if she was stuck in a ditch somewhere, raped or killed? How can they? Perhaps, there were other factors that came into play but for what information was provided by the documentary, I have no doubt that the family will be criticized severely for their role in this dark tale.
By the time the documentary ended and it was revealed that Jan’s mother wrote a book “Stolen Innocence” about their experience, and have toured the country to share their harrowing experience. My heart went out to Jan when I heard her speak to Berchtold about how she felt about him. Seeing her haunted expression after she talks extensively about her experience, I have no doubt that the experience will continue to haunt her for the rest of her life. I applaud Jan for becoming a motivational speaker and wanting to help other victims like herself and I wish her that after all she has gone through, she would still find peace and live her best life possible. Though the Brobergs did not handle the situation ideally, I do hope they manage to rebuild the relationships that were broken and move on from this dark time in their family’s life. The fact that they came out and truthfully admitted their faults is a positive step to healing although in this age of social media, I’m sure they will be judged harshly by the public.