On the evening of the arrest, shocked and tearful parents, grandparents, and teachers filled the school gym. Shawn Scholten, a mental health counselor at the Creative Living Center, a nearby counseling agency, spoke about trauma, grief, loss, and how parents could help their children. Scholten’s college-aged daughter had been in Van Dam’s class years before, though not a victim. In 30 years of counseling, Scholten had never seen such a somber crowd. She explained that the children were not the only victims: “secondary victims” included school staff, church members, and family and friends of the abused who now feared for their children’s safety and wondered whom they could trust.
The Mercy Child Advocacy Center (MCAC) in Sioux City, about 45 miles from Sioux Center, became a stop for primary victims to talk—and police to hear. Children used paper and crayons while forensic interviewers asked them questions. Investigators in a separate room watched a live-stream video feed and used a two-way radio to communicate with the interviewer.
Sexual abuse situations are isolating, so talking through the abuse helps kids heal and realize they are not alone, said MCAC manager Amy Scarmon. MCAC typically saw victims only once. She said rehashing experiences more than that may not be helpful.
‘This hurt was all here before—now we just know about it. We’re actually closer to healing today than we were … when we didn’t know this was happening.’ —Aaron Baart
Some wondered how Van Dam hid the abuse for so long. One father, Jason Lief, recalled that three years earlier his son refused to play basketball: Van Dam was the basketball coach. But Van Dam had a squeaky clean record—he is married with two young children and started teaching at SCCS after graduating from Dordt in 2004. In 2014 Dordt awarded him a Master in Education degree. His thesis argued that character development is crucial: “Teachers need to create classroom environments that allow values to be modeled, and classroom environments where the students feel safe to model the values.”
One father, Paul Dezeeuw, has lived in Sioux Center for half a century and has worked at Sioux Center’s Co-op Gas and Oil for 21 years. He said, “Who’s going to want to … tell their mom and dad, ‘Teacher’s touching me?’ You’d be scared to death to say something. I mean, I would be.”
Two days after Van Dam’s arrest, the school posted a video of young SCCS students in colorful T-shirts singing in the gym. “In the good things and in the hardest parts,” the kids belted, “I believe, and I will follow You!” The caption praised God for “working mightily” at the school and for His faithfulness.
Churches organized meetings to help the community grieve. One weekend at the First Reformed Church, attendees gathered an hour before their Sunday service to pray. Faith Christian Reformed Church families prepared and brought meals to Mrs. Van Dam, and women from the church visited her.