IONIA, Mich. (WOOD) — A detective working a disturbing child sexual abuse case hopes sharing early red flags will help other potential victims.
“These predators, they’re just everyday people,” said Detective Sgt. Phil Hesche of the Ionia County Sheriff’s Office.
“One of the fallacies that’s out there is ‘stranger danger,’ you know, ‘don’t get in cars with strangers,’” he continued. “But the fact of the matter is more than 97% of child sexual assault victims know the perpetrator.”
The suspect in the case Hesche is investigating was a trusted acquaintance who had known the alleged victim and her family for years. We’re not identifying the exact connection in order to shield the girl’s identity.
Troy Allen Hopkins, 44, of Ionia, is charged with sexually assaulting the girl, who was 12 at the time, over several months beginning in September 2018.
Hesche said Hopkins began grooming the girl last summer, trading thousands of messages with her and giving her gifts to draw her in — common tactics for child predators.
“Over time, they manage to take advantage of the situation to make these children become more pliable to what it is they want,” Hesche explained. “So it’s bringing down their barriers a little at a time over a period of time.”
Hesche said the girl’s parent had no idea what was occurring in part because many of Hopkins’ communications with the girl occurred inside a gaming app called Trivia Crack.
“When you’re playing this game with another person or persons, it looks like just a trivia game,” Hesche said. “However, inside of that application is an entire messaging component that most parents would never even realize was there.”
Hesche said there was a warning sign: Hopkins would often offer to drive the girl to and from school and sporting events.
“Any time that the person you’re letting your child spend time with is seeking to find ways to have time alone with that child, that’s a red flag,” Hesche said.
Hopkins is well known in Ionia, having served as a corrections officer for 15 years at the jail and later working for the Department of Natural Resources. The DNR said Hopkins is on unpaid leave pending the outcome of the criminal investigation.
Hopkins was arrested in March, but Hesche said the case has been slowed in part because Hopkins is incarcerated in Montcalm County, a safety precaution since he used to work at the Ionia County Jail.
Hopkins, who has also changed defense attorneys, is behind bars without bond, facing charges of first-degree criminal sexual conduct, possession of child porn and using a computer to commit a crime. The CSC charge carries a minimum 25-year prison sentence. The court file indicates plea are negotiations underway.
Hesche urges you to install parental controls on your children’s electronic devices that allow you to monitor their online activities as much as possible.
But just as importantly, he advises you to talk to your children early and often about safe boundaries with other adults and what to do if someone tries to cross them:
“It’s OK to have those blunt conversations with them about, ‘This is what’s OK with an adult and this is what’s not OK, and if you have questions come to me as your parents.’”