Girl's testimony presented during first day of Carthage man's sexual abuse trial

Apr. 22—An 18-year-old woman testified Monday that when she was 7 years old, Aarron Bittick sexually abused her for the first time.

He asked if she'd like to form "a special bond" with him. Too young at the time to know what he had in mind, she felt "ecstatic" about the prospect, the woman testified during the first day of the 38-year-old Carthage man's trial in Jasper County Circuit Court on charges of statutory rape and statutory sodomy.

Bittick then had her disrobe down to her underwear and began touching her and instructing her in sexual behavior, she told the court.

"He was coaching me through it," she said.

Afterward, he asked her what she would like to call what they had done, and it was decided they would refer to it as "naughty time," she said.

"Naughty time" became a regular activity with Bittick, she said. At first, the abuse took place about two to three times per month, but ever more frequently over time, she told the court. And it eventually progressed to rape and various forms of sodomy when she was between 9 and 10 years old.

She said Bittick kept telling her what they were doing was normal between men and young girls but warned her nonetheless not to tell anyone about it, or he would have to harm them.

She didn't tell anyone for the better part of six years, enduring sexual abuse often quite painful to her, she said. Along the way, he would use guilt or pornography to coax her into what he wanted, including acts of bondage, choking and slapping.

She enjoyed going to church when she was young, so he began attending the church as well and grew decidedly more strict in his treatment of her. She said she sorely wanted control over "my style, my body, my hair," but Bittick would not allow that.

The woman testified that while he insisted that she wear modest, long dresses to church and school, when he would take her with him to his friends' parties, he liked having her dress much more scantily.

He liked her to walk around the house braless and more than once threatened to burn all her bras, she said. He also became obsessed with keeping her weight down and would force prolonged exercise on her that he liked to refer to as "Bittick boot camp."

The woman appeared disgusted with the defendant — turning to look directly at him and using a more sarcastic tone — when she described his behavior. She finally began standing up to him at the age of 13 and refusing to engage in the sex acts he wanted, she said.

She had developed an interest in a boy her age and wanted to spend time with him, but the defendant did not like that and threatened her with more controlling behavior after he spotted her sitting next to the boy in some stands at a school event when she had turned 14.

Some rather cryptic comments she made about Bittick to the boy on that occasion led to her disclosure of the abuse. The boy told a school instructor, the principal was notified, police were called and she was interviewed at the Children's Center in Joplin.

Defense attorney Tracey Martin told jurors during opening statements that her client had become stricter with the girl once he began going to church and that her desire to date boys was an issue for him. Martin said the teen was being kept from seeing a boy she wanted to date and accusing her client of abuse became a means by which she could escape his control.

On cross-examination Martin asked the woman how it was that the account she gave of the abuse, first to police and at the Children's Center, later during a pretrial deposition and finally in court on Monday, kept getting more and more detailed.

The woman responded that she has been going through counseling that has given her coping skills that help both "to put things out of my mind and to recall them."

Martin asked about an allegation she had made during the interview at the Children's Center regarding sexual abuse at the hands of another man, and the woman acknowledged that she had been lying about that.

The alleged victim and her school principal were the lone witnesses called by the state the first day of the trial, which is set to resume at 9 a.m. Tuesday.

Just the facts A panel of nine women and five men were seated Monday as the jury for the trial of Aarron Bittick on allegations he sexually abused an underage girl for six years. Two of those chosen are designated alternates.

Jeff Lehr is a reporter for The Joplin Globe.