Debra Johnson was so dismayed 11 years ago at the portrayal of Ellie Nesler as a folk hero, she was moved to write a letter.
"I don't believe it is ever in the child's best interest that a parent act out feelings of rage and guilt rather than work through their feelings appropriately," Johnson wrote in the April 11, 1993, Modesto Bee.
"My heart goes out to the child of Ellie Nesler, who not only has to deal with having been molested but with worrying about what might happen to his mother."
Wednesday, Johnson -- coordinator of Stanislaus County's child sexual abuse treatment services -- read that letter for the first time since it was published.
She said she wasn't trying to be clairvoyant 11 years ago. She just wanted somebody to speak out for "the child."
William Nesler, Johnson says, never had a chance.
Nesler was 11 when his mother shot and killer Daniel Driver in a Jamestown courtroom. Driver had been accused of molesting four boys at a church camp.
Willy Nesler, who was then 6, was one of the alleged victims. Ellie Nesler subsequently was sentenced to 10 years at the Central California Women's Facility in Chowchilla.
Fifteen months later, William Nesler ran away from his aunt's home for six days, and later spent three years in juvenile detention camps for various offenses. Since becoming an adult, he has been arrested 18 times in Tuolumne County.
Now, at 23, he's wanted for investigation of murder.
"He's been molested, and then because of an act of violence by his parent, he loses that parent," Johnson said Wednesday. "What chance did he have to not feel guilty about himself?"
Studies conducted over the past 20 years support Johnson's statements that abused children are more likely to lead troubled adult lives. But the studies fall short of concluding that molested children are doomed to deviant or criminal lives.
A 1986 study of male adolescent sexual-abuse survivors published in the Psychological Bulletin indicated that more than 80 percent had histories of substance abuse, 50 percent had suicidal thoughts, 23 percent attempted suicide and almost 70 percent received psychological treatment.
Survivors also are more prone to adult criminal behavior, according to two studies published by the National Institute of Justice.
A 2001 study showed that children abused and-or neglected are 28 percent more likely to display criminal behavior as adults and 30 percent more likely to be involved in violent crime.
However, the 1995 NIJ study stressed that such behavior is not inevitable, saying that "the majority of the sexually abused children in this study do not have an official criminal history as adults."
"You can't just blanket say that because he was abused, he's going to have problems," Tuolumne County sheriff's Sgt. Roger Dittberner said. "Some kids straighten out. You're responsible for your own actions."
Before opening a private practice in Modesto, psychologist Elizabeth Swearingen was a caseworker at a Veterans Affairs hospital, where she saw the long-term impact of child abuse.
"There is a sense of helplessness, of not being able to be protected by the people around them," Swearingen said. "Adults, if something isn't done, can end up with the same feelings they had as a child -- feelings that can carry over through most of their adult lives."
Roger Lum is director of the Bay Area Academy, a group of psychologists and social workers that provides educational services to enhance social service programs.
He sees those kinds of cases often -- too often, he believes, for the public to ignore the problem.
"If nothing else, this will raise the awareness of this problem," Lum said. "What do we, as a system, learn from this and what do we do as a society to address this?
"The broader impact will be how mental health programs will be funded in the future. Children's mental health programs have suffered financially, and we need to raise the awareness and support of such services."
Such support, Lum said, would make available the psychological support not easily accessed when Nesler needed it -- about the time Johnson was moved to write a letter.
"I remember that so many people in this area said they were pleased with what Ellie did," Johnson said. "I sat there and thought about how we needed to think about what was in the best interest of the child.
"This kid must be incredibly full of rage, with no place to put it. He was taught very early that violence was the proper way to deal with his feelings."
Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached at 578-2300 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.