Man, 59, pleads guilty to abuse dating to 1970s

In court, victim tells judge of years of pain, depression

Howard County

September 22, 2004|By Lisa Goldberg | Lisa Goldberg,SUN STAFF

Kate Knauer's voice shook yesterday as she described to a judge the emotional pain caused by sexual abuse she suffered more than 25 years ago - and explained why she chose to come forward now to seek justice.

For years, she said, she lived with shame, depression and self-hate. The sexual abuse she was subjected to by Philip Bender in the 1970s - when, as a teenager, she was the baby sitter for his daughters - destroyed her self-respect and ability to trust others, she said.

But yesterday, by going public with her past, she said she gained a "certain peace." Bender, 59, pleaded guilty to one count of child abuse in return for prosecutors' recommendation for probation before judgment.

The sentence, which Howard Circuit Judge Diane O. Leasure agreed to, includes no jail time and will keep the felony conviction off his record if he completes four years of probation.

"By finding the strength and courage to come forward, to expose this man for who he really is, I hope to regain some of what he robbed from me," Knauer, a 44-year-old homemaker from Catonsville, told Leasure.

"Although there will never be closure, I will take away from this a certain peace in knowing that I finally did all that I could to bring this man to justice and to publicly acknowledge, as he once described it, `our little secret,'" she said.

The Sun does not generally identify victims of sexual abuse, but Knauer agreed to the use of her name, saying she hoped her story would encourage other victims of abuse to come forward.

Knauer's decision to approach police with her story - which, she said, was triggered by the fact that her elder daughter is a teenager - led to the arrest this year of Bender, a Columbia resident with a master's degree in electrical engineering.

Knauer told authorities that the abuse started with "sexual overtures" and kissing before escalating, Howard County Assistant State's Attorney Lisa Broten told the judge.

Knauer described one incident in a park near Howard High School and another in what was then Bender's Columbia home on White Mane, Broten said. She said she was afraid to report the abuse when it happened because she grew up in a strict Catholic home and was afraid of what her parents would do.

Last September, police asked her to call Bender, and they recorded the conversation. He admitted to the sexual contact and said he regretted that it had "repercussions" on her life, according to a transcript of the conversation.

In a later police interview, he said he realized the sexual relationship, which he said was short, was "inappropriate," Broten said.

In court yesterday, Bender said there were many things in the prosecutors' case that he disagreed with, but he said he regrets "all the pain that's been caused."

There have been no similar reports about Bender, who works as a consultant and is active in his synagogue, said his attorney, Joseph Murtha.

Since Knauer came forward, Bender, who lives in the 7400 block of Weather Worn Way in Columbia, has separated from his wife. The charges also caused a rift between Bender and his children, Murtha told Leasure.

"There's an emotional and physical and community and personal price that Mr. Bender will pay," Murtha said.

Later, Knauer said she wasn't troubled that Bender received probation before judgment. Yesterday's hearing gave her what she wanted most - the chance to confront Bender and to make sure others knew what had happened to her.

"He needed to see the sadness," she said.

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