Teen Victim Later Succumbed to Cycle of Abuse
Peter Keaton Tried to Help Other Victims, but Then Became a Child Sexual Abuser Himself
By Gregory D. Kesich
Portland Press Herald (Maine)
February 17, 2002
When the Rev. John Audibert told his congregation last Sunday that he once had a sexual relationship with a teen-age boy, the man he called "the victim" was not in the church.
Peter Keaton, 43, was in prison, serving a four-year sentence for sexually molesting a child. One reason he received that relatively long sentence is that the 10-year-old child he molested later violated a 3-year-old, acting out the "game" he had learned from Keaton.
Last Sunday in Madawaska, the Rev. Audibert told his congregation that he has grown since his involvement with the victim he did not name.
"Having been tested, I am a better and stronger person and priest," he said. "Thank you for your kindness, and again I ask that you keep the victim and myself in prayer."
"I promise before you and before God and affirm that there have been no other victims," Audibert told the congregation.
People who know Keaton's story say the priest is wrong about Keaton being the only victim. Keaton is among the estimated one in three male victims of child sexual assault who later molest someone else. So is the child Keaton molested.
"It's just so sad," said Larry Gray of Portland. "He was just not able to break the cycle, and that is so tragic."
Seven years ago, when Gray finally found the courage to tell anyone who would listen that decades before he had been sexually abused by a Catholic priest, he got a call from a stranger - Peter Keaton.
It was the kind of thing Keaton would do. Although he made his living cutting hair and waiting tables, his passion was helping people like himself, who had survived sexual abuse. Gray said Keaton offered his support and told him about a group he was leading for adult abuse survivors. Keaton encouraged Gray to get involved with others who had been living with the same problems.
Gray wasn't the only one he tried to help. During those years, Keaton volunteered at a Farmington-area rape crisis shelter and organized weekend retreats that helped survivors work through their pain.
"He was doing some good stuff for us, he was a real friend of this organization," said Janine Winn, the executive director of Sexual Assault Victims Emergency Services. "He knew about the risks, and that's what makes this so heartbreaking. It's not as if he didn't know better, because he did."
Keaton made his own announcement in 1993. He filed a complaint with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland against Audibert. He told how as a middle child in a large family with little money, the priest had made him feel special, buying him nice clothes and taking him out for restaurant meals and even a vacation in Florida. He spoke out publicly as well, talking with reporters about the abuse he suffered from Audibert.
The church paid an undisclosed settlement, and Audibert resigned his post as a parish priest in Lewiston. After a stay in a residential treatment center, he returned to the active ministry in 1997, first in Whitefield and later in Madawaska. Keaton told friends that he was disappointed by the church's easy treatment of the priest.
In the mid-1990's, Keaton moved to Ellsworth, where he continued his volunteer work with a local rape crisis center, part of Downeast Health Services.
Executive Director Vivian Ritchie said she hired him regularly to facilitate support groups and run school programs where he talked with teen-age boys about date rape and their sexual responsibilities. It was her concern over Keaton's own behavior that led Ritchie to stop hiring him.
"He would say things that were inappropriate, using four-letter words when he was talking with students at the high school," Ritchie said. "Peter had a sense of outrageousness, and he didn't have good boundaries."
A lack of the ability to know the difference between sexual behavior that is right and wrong can occur among some people who were abused as children, Ritchie said. A child who has been violated before he knows that the treatment is wrong can grow into an adult who, on some level, feels that being violated is normal, she said. "Without good boundaries, many people regress into these behaviors when life isn't going well and they seek out what they had in childhood," Ritchie said.
She was not surprised to hear that Keaton had confessed to breaking his boundaries and violating a child. But even now, she doesn't believe that he was insincere in his desire to help other victims.
"I think Peter was a man of conscience," she said. "I believe he was genuinely interested in helping people like himself get to a better place. But he couldn't put this behind him."
In the months before his arrest, Keaton's struggles were not apparent to everyone. He worked as a substitute teacher in an Ellsworth elementary school. That work turned into a full-time job as a teachers' aide in the special education program.
"Peter was a very personable guy," said principal Carl Lusby. "He was very easy to get along with, very humorous. We never would have had any suspicion that he could be involved with anything like this."
But in May 1999, a 10-year-old was found performing a sex act on a 3-year-old at a day care center in Ellsworth, said Patrick Larson, who prosecuted Keaton. While investigators began preparing a case, Keaton turned himself in to the Ellsworth police. After they hastily read him his rights, Keaton made a full confession without the help of a lawyer. Then he called Lusby to tell him he wouldn't be coming in to work.
"He called me from the county jail, and he told me what he was there for," Lusby recalled. "I just said, 'God bless you Peter, good luck.' That was the last time I talked with him."
After Keaton's arrest, Lusby said children, parents and staff were interviewed extensively. No evidence was ever found to suggest that Keaton had abused his position to take advantage of schoolchildren. He was considered a model employee.
Winn, who was Keaton's colleague from the rape crisis center, keeps a newspaper clipping by her desk that describes Keaton's sentencing in November 1999. The story tells how Keaton did not ask for mercy and pleaded for treatment.
"I want help," he is quoted as saying. "I don't want to be like this anymore."
Keaton received a 12-year sentence, with all but four years suspended, followed by a lengthy term of probation. It is far less than the 20-year maximum sentence, but is considered to be a severe punishment in child rape cases, in which prosecutors routinely plea bargain with perpetrators to spare child-victims the rigors of a trial.
Why does Winn, who once considered herself Keaton's friend, keep the clipping?
"Because I am still angry," she said. "He had all the knowledge he needed to know that he should not go out and molest kids, and he did it anyway. I would not want to be Peter's friend any more."
People who knew Keaton before have no easy answers for why he was not able to get the help he needed to end the cycle of abuse.
"The bottom line is, Peter had a responsibility to his family and he blew it," Winn said. "It was a tremendous betrayal, to those boys, to their families, to people at two rape crisis centers. It basically just breaks my heart."
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