Abducted In Plain Sight is a 2017 documentary about the kidnapping, brainwashing, and sexual abuse of 12-year old Jan Broberg in 1974. Originally titled Forever’B’, it recently was renamed and added to Netflix. Everyone is talking about it, and rightly so. The story of what Jan Broberg endured is heartbreaking, astonishing, unpredictable, and infuriating – compounded by the fact that it’s not a work of fiction.
I am not going to recap the entire documentary. If you’re reading this, you’ve likely seen it. If you haven’t, it’s available on Netflix. Plus you can find article after article after article discussing it in great length and detail. And this is not even counting reaction videos and loads of memes that are found in the comments of every post I’ve seen made about the movie. But I’ve had a few days since seeing Abducted In Plain Sight, and I do want to share a few thoughts I’ve had, especially now that the shock of some of the more absurd parts of the movie have worn off. And speaking of shock…
Of course we were shocked
I hear a lot of stories from people who have experienced a lot of awful things. When we see a true-crime documentary like this one, we are seeing the precise shot, interview phrasing, camera angles, and storyline as created by the director and participants. It’s likely gone through countless edits and storyboards. They know the story they are telling. The know which details to omit and which ones should hold emphasis. They are working to not only tell a story, but to elicit an emotional reaction to the story they are presenting. And that’s okay. I take no issue with that. But the director knew what she was doing. She knew which parts we’d all be shocked by and told the story the way she did intentionally. I know so many survivors who have endured so many awful experiences who didn’t have cameras and lights to tell their stories. Or who didn’t have a talented director who could help them create storyboards, down to every word. Or who didn’t have a built-in audience of over 118 million Netflix subscribers to hear their story. In this line of work, I’ve been told by survivors over and over again that they didn’t feel like their story was “as bad” as others they were hearing. And to them, sometimes that perception of “not as bad” meant they didn’t feel like they deserved the help or services that are available to them. I’ve even dealt with that line of thinking in dealing with my own story. But survivors who don’t have the cameras, directors and an audience are still worthy of love and support. They still deserve to heal from their story. Their experiences and emotions are real and valid. It’s extremely important to remember that when we are hearing every story – not just the ones that are well-polished, masterfully edited, and artistically presented.
This is a real story
We live in an age of cinematic reboots. Movies that come out are always trying to top their predecessors. Our favorite superheroes are shown on the big screens with action-packed sequences, unexpected deaths and cameos, and stories that are intended to keep us on the edge of our seats. Horror movies are intended to startle more, shock harder, and scare longer. Comedies often push the envelope with what we should and shouldn’t laugh at. Dramas and thrillers are almost expected to have a twist or two along the way with a jaw-dropping ending. We are taught through these movies to expect the unexpected. It’s easy to forget while we are watching a documentary that we aren’t seeing a fictional display. The details that come across as riveting or unimaginable to a viewer are actually a lived experience. I think it’s important to remember that as amusing as some of the memes might be, or as much as love discussing our current favorite documentary, that this is the story of someone’s real, actual-life experience. And even if we don’t know Jan Broberg, we likely do know someone who has experienced something similar. We need to make sure we remember that.
Bob Berchtold was a master manipulator
One of the biggest points of discussion about this documentary is the failing of every single adult involved – namely Jan’s parents. At least half of the “wtf is happening” moments came because of some decision made – or not made – by Bob and Mary Ann Broberg. They are receiving loads of criticism, and I think it’s warranted. As a parent, I simply can’t imagine making many of the choices they did. I’ve read a few reactions that talked about how the 70s were a time when sexual abuse wasn’t as widely talked about, so maybe they didn’t know, didn’t recognize, or simply didn’t expect who or what Bob Berchtold was. I suppose I can understand that point of view to an extent, but even still, there is so much I can’t excuse. With all that said, it’s important to recognize that this wasn’t just a failure on the parents’ part. Bob Berchtold was a master manipulator. Sexual offenders groom children – meaning preparing a child for a meeting with the intention of committing a sexual offense. We know that this can take a very long time. We also know that a person who has this intention is often very well-liked, charismatic, known well, and trusted. Not only do we know that – they know that. And these traits are used to their own advantage. While we can hope that parents who are as seemingly clueless as the Brobergs are rare, the behavior that Berchtold displayed is not. More than 6.6 children suffer some kind of abuse per year, and the perpetrator is someone who is known more than 80% of the time. Let this story serve as a reminder that we – especially parents – need to always maintain a high level of alertness – even around people we know and trust.
Jan Broberg is a force
A year or two ago, I went to my brother’s high school graduation. It was held in a basketball arena with over 10,000 seats. I knew that my dad would be there, and the I was incredibly nervous and anxious that I’d run into him. I am an adult, and I am outspoken when I need to be, and when it comes to social interaction, not much causes me anxiety. But I almost didn’t go. Just like I didn’t go when my other siblings graduated high school. Or college. I wanted to go, but that anxiety got the best of me. I was already impressed by Jan’s ability to sit and tell her story on camera with such strength, vulnerability, and her knack for offering adult insights to what she was experiencing as a child. But then watching her confront Berchtold in court at the end with such eloquent ferocity, such poised anger, took her to a new level. Her voice didn’t even shake. I didn’t experience a tenth of that when I attended my brother’s graduation, yet she sat 4 feet from him and let him know exactly what she thought of him, and exactly what her intentions were. I absolutely commend her. I’d love to know more about her healing journey, because I know it took a lot of work for her to get where she is. Her journey can remind other survivors that they, too, can heal and overcome.
Jan Broberg reminds us what forgiveness really is
When we think of forgiveness, we often think of it as making amends. We think of it as saying “everything’s okay” and that a relationship can go back to how it was. It was such a profound moment I had several years ago when I learned that forgiveness isn’t about saying everything that happened is okay, but instead, saying that we accept that we can’t change the past. Forgiveness doesn’t mean not holding people accountable for their actions. Forgiveness isn’t for them – it’s for us. Learning to forgive, for me, meant that I was able to accept where I have been in order tofocus on where I was headed. It doesn’t mean that I am never angry or hurt, but that I no longer am defined by those traits. I think Jan Broberg summed it up very nicely.
“Forgiveness is a tricky word. In my mind, not forgiving somebody only puts up the jail cell around you. I figured out that I can live with my tragedy in a way that the tragedy doesn’t run me anymore. It’s taken something to get here.” – Jan Broberg