Inviting Sex Offenders Home: When Mom's Relationship Puts Children at Risk

Three Midwest children disappear after their moms associated with sex offenders.

ByABC News
June 23, 2009, 11:18 AM

June 24, 2009— -- Losing a child to a sex offender is a mother's nightmare. But what if that mother is the one who brought the sex offender into her home?

In the cases of at least three Midwestern children reported missing this year, police have discovered that their mothers had relationships with known sex offenders.

One little boy was found safe in a motel. One little girl was found buried in a riverside grave. And the third -- 3-year-old Haylee Donathan --was found Tuesday thousands of miles away from her home.

Federal authorities hunting Haylee's abductors knew who they are looking for -- her mother Candace Watson, 24, and Robbi Potter, 27, a convicted sex offender she is accused of helping escape from a post-prison halfway house in Mansfield, Ohio, May 28.

Police say the two disappeared with Haylee from Watson's Crestline, Ohio, home May 31, days after Watson, her brother, Haylee's biological father and his girlfriend allegedly helped Potter leave the halfway house he'd been staying at since being released from prison three days earlier.

Cyle Watson, along with James Donathan and his girlfriend Nicole Kirkpatrick have all been arrested and charged with complicity to escape, the same charge Watson is facing.

But authorities were most concerned with apprehending Potter and getting Haylee home safe to her grandmother who had been awarded emergency custody in the little girl's absence.

Assistant Chief Deputy U.S. Marshal Andrew Deserto told that all three were picked up just outside San Diego after someone recognized them from a billboard the U.S. Marshals had placed in several states.

Both Watson and Potter have been arrested and are being held in California. Haylee appeared to authorities to be unharmed saved for a case of what looked to be chicken pox. She is currently in state custody, also in California.

They had apparently been staying at a Christian ranch for about a week, Deserto said, adding that Watson could face federal charges for aiding a fugitive.

Potter had two warrants out for his arrest, one for a federal probation violation stemming from a bank robbery conviction and the other a state probation violation related to his sex offender status.

Ken Lanning, a consultant and former FBI agent who spent two decades studying the sexual victimization of children, said that, in general, the first hurdle for pedophiles on the prowl is access to children. One of the most common ways to get that, outside of abusing a family member, is to latch on to a woman with children, often in a romantic relationship.

And while mothers of the abused children run the gamut from being knowingly involved with the abuse to being completely fooled, Lanning said, most fall into the category that is hardest for police to deal with -- "mom should have known."

Lanning said that while some would consider a mother's attention to a sex offender crime enough, some women don't just turn a blind eye to abuse. They participate.

Lanning added he's heard of some women who actually consent to the predator having sex with their children, with the stipulation that the predator has sex with them first.

Those are the cases that are easy to prosecute, he said. Most of the others fall into a grey area with authorities unable to prove how much about the sex offender the mother knew and whether or not she knowingly put her children at risk.

Lanning said he couldn't comment specifically on Haylee Donathan's disappearance, but he said women who choose to stick by sexual predators, even at the risk of their own children, have succumbed to the offenders' ability to prey on their vulnerabilities.

"Adult human beings tend to believe what they want or need to believe," he said. "Someone to tell her she's pretty, someone to support her.

"The more desperate she is and the greater the need, the more vulnerable she becomes to this," Lanning said.