July 30, 2012 at 1:00 am

Sex abuse victim seeks closure

Going public, he hopes others will pursue justice

I went from being a victim to victor, Ken Stockton says. (John T. Greilick / The Detroit News)

Years slipped by before Ken Stockton was ready to heal from the sexual abuse he endured when he was a young boy.

Stockton was 11 and playing on a Little League team when he met a coach who Stockton says inflicted sexual and physical abuse on him hundreds of times over a four-year period.

Nearly four decades later, when he was 55, Stockton sought counseling, told friends and family what happened, and took steps to hold his perpetrator accountable.

But pursing criminal penalties was not an option since the statute of limitations had expired.

That didn't stop Stockton, who has lived in Ann Arbor since 1976. He was able to get an apology, $100,000 and an agreement to counseling from the man who he said abused him while Stockton was growing up in Trenton, N.J.

Stockton did this through mediation — a rare move for a sex abuse survivor but a growing alternative to resolving civil conflicts outside the courtroom in injury cases, contract violations, divorce and more. Experts say it is a path for some victims to find closure, especially if the door to criminal repercussions is no longer open.

Now 63, Stockton said being able to make the man who abused him share some of the burden of their past was the most important step in his journey.

"I went from being a victim to victor," said Stockton. "Had the circumstances been different he (may have) been in jail. I wanted to hear from him that he was remorseful and sorry."

Although the men reached an agreement eight years ago, Stockton broke a confidentiality clause earlier this year by speaking to a major newspaper in Pennsylvania, not far from where the abuse occurred.

Stockton also reached out to The Detroit News during the recent trial of Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky, whom a jury found guilty of 45 counts related to the sexual abuse of 10 young boys over a 15-year period. Last week, the NCAA fined the university $60 million for covering up the allegations and removed the campus statue of Penn State football coach Joe Paterno, among other punishments

Stockton said he broke his confidentiality clause because he didn't want to protect his assailant any longer. He also hopes he can inspire others to find justice.

"It's more important for me to tell my story and maybe bring some benefit to other survivors than to, in effect, be subject to a gag order," Stockton said.

When reached by telephone, Fred Wombwell, whom Stockton points to as his abuser, said he thought that this was resolved. He directed questions to his attorney, who could not be reached.

"The mediation didn't really work out," Wombwell said. "We thought we resolved this before, but we didn't. … We came to an agreement that he broke. We signed off on it, both of us, and then he decided to go public with it."

Wombwell is not sure what Stockton is trying to do.

"This is something that is 50 years old," Wombwell said. "And it has been a tough hardship on myself and my wife. … He's done a job on my life by bringing this out and making it hard for me to talk to people a lot of times."

Stockton was 11 when he started to play on a Little League team and met Wombwell, then 24. The coach spent a lot of time with him outside of the games, Stockton said. Wombwell took Stockton to lunch and dinner, gave him private baseball practices and took him bowling, miniature golfing and to sporting events.

Soon after meeting, Stockton said, Wombwell began to sexually abuse him. The incidents started with touching but then escalated to episodes that included penetration and more, he said.

Wombwell declined to answer specific questions, but he spoke extensively in a previously published news article in The Philadelphia Enquirer. In that report, Wombwell said that he "did something terrible" but attributed his behavior to immaturity during "a different time."

According to Stockton, Wombwell gave him alcohol, showed him porn and sometimes he physically abused him: He chased Stockton with a baseball bat, put him in headlocks, slapped and punched him.

Stockton said he felt shame, fear and anxiety. He even had some suicidal thoughts but feels fortunate he did not act on them.

It wasn't until he had married and raised a family that he decided to confront a past that caused him so much pain.

Stockton looked on the Internet. He found Wombwell, where he lived, worked, what his wife did, the value of their home and so much more. Then he found information that alarmed him: Wombwell's father had died when he was 65. At the time, Wombwell was 68.

"Part of your life span is determined by genetics," Stockton said. "I thought to myself: If I am going to confront this monster, I have to do it now."

He spoke with several attorneys, but many wouldn't take his case because the clock had run out on pursuing criminal penalties. Stockton eventually hired Kurt Berggren, a friend and retired Ann Arbor lawyer.

Berggren sent a letter to Wombwell, but Stockton also wrote a personal letter.

"By my reckoning, you are now 68 years old," Stockton wrote in 2003. "There is time left for you to account for your actions, make peace with yourself and your victims and seek remedies, forgiveness and healing."

Stockton felt that Wombwell was dragging his feet. He sent more letters outlining how he would publicly expose him, including a flier that he created.

Wombwell offered him $15,000 and $25,000 for him to go away, Stockton said. He rejected both. Eventually they agreed to mediation.Martin Reisig, law professor specializing in mediation at University of Detroit-Mercy Law School, has never heard of such a case involving a sex abuse victim, but he said it makes sense.

"You've got someone who's very wounded and wants a chance to let someone how hurt they are and wants some closure," he said.

Stockton hopes by sharing his story, it will help others.

"Confronting the perpetrator did more for me than any minute I was in therapy," said Stockton. "It felt really good … to hold him accountable."

kkozlowski@detnews.com

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