It isn’t until A.B. starts thinking about his own two young children that he loses it. His sobs are convulsive before he quickly regains his composure.
A.B. is not a crier.
This is the first time he’s told anyone besides his wife and an attorney about the sexual abuse he said he suffered as a young Custer County High School athlete in Miles City during the 1990s.
“Now that I have kids I’m so scared for them, after all that has happened to me by people I trusted,” he said. “I just want to keep my kids safe.”
He is among at least 18 former Custer County District High School students who have joined in a lawsuit against the school’s longtime athletic trainer James “Doc” Jensen, the Unified School District and any school staff who may have known of Jensen’s alleged abuses and didn't put a stop to them.
Attorneys in the case say the number of victims, given the 78-year-old Jensen’s nearly three-decade tenure at the school, could climb to more than 100 boys.
According to the lawsuit, Jensen enticed the boys into “the program,” a system he promised would enhance their strength, fitness and even sexual prowess by boosting their testosterone levels. To boost those levels, Jensen convinced the boys they needed to be masturbated by him until they ejaculated. Other victims state in the suit that Jensen also performed oral sex on them and penetrated their anuses with his fingers under the guise of stimulating the prostate.
Jensen apparently served as athletic trainer for all boys sports from the early 1970s until his contract wasn't renewed in 1998. He had an office in the boys’ locker room with windows facing the boys’ shower bays where he would often stand watching the boys shower, the suit claims.
A.B. are not his real initials. The Billings Gazette, which has a policy of not naming the victims of sex crimes, interviewed five men who say they were molested by Jensen. The newspaper knows their names and has verified their identities and details of their allegations with their attorneys. For this article, the five men have been given arbitrarily chosen initials. A few other details that could identify the victims, like specific occupations or hometowns, have also been obscured.
A.B. describes Jensen’s long grooming process and repeated sexual abuses as “diabolical.”
“I spent half of my 20s being very self-destructive,” he said. “I felt so much shame and I didn’t even know why. I was well into my 30s before I realized how wrong what he did to me was.”
That self-destructive streak cost him a good relationship, he said. While he got through college successfully, he didn’t do as well as he knew he could have.
“So much bad stuff had been normalized in my life that shouldn’t have been normalized,” he said.
The grooming begins
Jensen allegedly preyed on young athletes who for whatever reason — their smaller size or lack of natural abilities — were underperforming. A.B. was a scrawny 14-year-old who had no business playing football, but he wanted to play and that’s when he says Jensen started grooming him for his “program.”
His first contact with Jensen came during the school-mandated annual physical that all athletes undergo to participate in sports. Jensen performed many of the physicals, although he was not a doctor and was not a licensed athletic trainer, according to the lawsuit filed Friday.
The physical didn’t seem right, A.B. said, with Jensen fondling his genitals and asking inappropriate questions about sex and girls.
“But you had to get through it to play football, and what did I know at that age?” A.B. said. “I thought he was a doctor.”
All of the men who spoke with The Gazette remember those physicals from Jensen and remember being uncomfortable. They also recall being young and not knowing any better. It wasn’t until one of the men got to college and had a physical there to play sports that he realized how wrong Jensen's physicals were.
Jensen often began his grooming when young athletes were most vulnerable, the men said.
Another of his alleged victims is E.F., who now is in law enforcement. In the late 1990s, he was a 15-year-old freshman wrestler with a hard-driving competitive streak. When he lost an out-of-town match against someone he was sure he could pin, he took it especially hard.
“Doc came up to me because he could see I was upset,” E.F. recalled. “He said, 'I know a way that will make you a better athlete.'”
And, that’s when Jensen first pitched his “program,” but only in the vaguest details.
During a later meeting when they were alone together, Jensen explained his program to increase strength, stamina and testosterone levels, and detailed some of his methods.
“He said it involves him, and he didn’t use these words, but essentially he said it involves him giving me a hand job,” E.F. said.
What happened next, E.F. described, was “something like in a horror movie when everything goes silent.”
“I was stunned. I thought, 'No, that’s not right,'” he said. “But, I wanted to get better as an athlete. I wanted to beat everyone, and I thought I could.”
To calm his apprehension, Jensen had him talk to an older athlete who was already in "the program.”
“And that guy told me it’s a natural way to increase testosterone, there’s nothing wrong with it,” E.F. said. “So, I was in.”
That’s how another alleged victim, C.D., recalls his introduction to Jensen and “the program.”
C.D. was also a smaller, awkward athlete — 5 feet 8 inches and 135 pounds — "and I wanted to play football,” he said. “ … We all wanted to be Friday night lights stars on the field. We did what we thought — what we were told — it would take.”
Many of the boys were promised varsity letters by Jensen and help with landing college athletic scholarships if they stuck with "the program" — and kept it secret.
Making it seem normal
Besides wanting to be better athletes, each of the victims who spoke with The Gazette said they continued with "the program,” despite feeling revolted by the methods, mostly because Jensen had a knack for making it seem normal.
“He was everywhere. He was at every game, every scrimmage, every practice, on the sidelines, everywhere,” said A.B. “He was on the bus, traveling with the team. He was always in the locker room. He was just there.”
Other victims remember Jensen giving massages to one athlete while another athlete was in the room. He would tape an athlete’s injured ankle, but have the athlete disrobe to do it. When he massaged athletes in one of his training rooms, he would have them take off a little more clothing with each successive visit.
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“And, he would say stuff to you like, ‘If this makes you uncomfortable, I’ll stop.’ And, he would stop. But, the next time he gave you a massage he would go a little further, and then a little further,” said one victim. “Pretty soon, he’s jerking you off saying this is for your own good. By then, you’re just kind of in shock, I guess, and think he must know what he’s doing.”
Jensen also used a curtain to separate the training rooms he had in both his school office and his home office. The victims thought that was intentional — a subliminal signal that he had nothing to hide.
“If he had locked a door, people would have become suspicious,” one victim said. “He knew exactly what he was doing.”
One of Jensen’s most cunning deceptions, said each of the victims, was using older athletes in “the program” to recruit younger athletes. Many already in the program were convinced their improved athletic performance was the result of Jensen’s secret program. For many years, Custer County District High School was an unstoppable Class A football powerhouse, winning five state championships between 1981 and 1994.
“He brought that up all the time; that was his evidence,” said another victim. “And we believed it, and we wanted others in the program so we could be on winning teams, too.”
Jensen's tactic of using older athletes to recruit younger ones into the program is one of victim G.H.’s greatest sources of guilt. He recruited his little brother into the program. When he learned recently from his brother that he too was molested, G.H. said he was “devastated.”
“(The abuse) was even worse for him than it was for me, and I invited him into it. You can’t imagine how that makes me feel now,” G.H. said, collapsing into sobs.
Doc’s home office
According to the victims, and the lawsuit, Jensen kept an office in his home, even after moving from one house to another in Miles City. It was in that home office that much of the abuse occurred, under the guise of training.
“It was like a clubhouse,” said C.D. “He had every video game system you could get at that time.”
The “training room” was off to the side of the living room, separated by a curtain.
“There were always other kids their waiting their turn,” said C.D.
There was also alcohol and pornography at Jensen’s house, the victims said.
“The first time I ever got drunk was in that house. I was 15,” said E.F.
“We were allowed to drink as much as we wanted,” said another victim.
The pornography was presented to the boys with a medical excuse: “Oh, you’ll need this in order to ejaculate properly, to have your semen build the right kind of testosterone,” said a victim. “He would tell us the pornography is not a sex thing, but something to be used for the medical procedure.”
Who else knew about Jensen?
The victims in the lawsuit say they not only feel betrayed by Jensen, but also by school staff and other community members who may have suspected or been told about Jensen’s abuse but failed to stop him.
“Coaching staff knew that Jensen was inappropriately touching students,” the suit alleges.
In fact, one victim said a member of the football coaching staff made multiple jokes regarding Jensen’s “special massages.”
Another victim in Jensen’s program, I.J., was so bothered by what he was coming to realize was sexual abuse that without telling his parents he made an appointment with his family doctor. He said he described Jensen’s program and treatments to the doctor.
“The doctor looked at me and said, ‘I understand. I’ll take care of it,'” I.J. told The Gazette. “He said that program is not legit. Don’t go back there.”
I.J. doesn't know whether the doctor informed any school or law enforcement officials. Jensen, however, remained on staff at the high school for several more years.
“I’m mad as hell now," said E.F. "There is no possible way they (other school staff) didn’t know something about what was happening to us. There were so many people involved.”
Another victim, A.B., said, “It goes way beyond they could have saved us. They facilitated this. They helped him do this. They called him 'Doc.' They sent us over there. They encouraged us.”
When school officials eventually declined to renew Jensen’s trainer contract in 1998, they did so without telling anyone the reasons for his termination, according to the suit.
The district made no attempt to contact any of the victims of “the program” or their families regarding the alleged sexual abuse, the lawsuit states.
“What the school put on these kids, to know the line between what is appropriate medical care and what isn’t is so egregious, so vile and so irresponsible,” said John Heenan, the Billings attorney who is lead council on the lawsuit.
It left the victims floundering on their own to rescue themselves, he said.
If someone breaks into your home and holds a gun to your head and forces you into a sex act, “everyone knows what that means," Heenan added. "The victim knows, everyone who hears about it knows." In that case, the perpetrators may be convicted and go to prison, giving the victim some closure. There are also state funds available to victims to help them get counseling.
“But this, with so many layers, with victims so young, and this being so deceptive that some of them didn’t realize how long it would hurt them. This is just as bad (as being assaulted at gunpoint), or at least it’s a different kind of just as bad,” Heenan said.
Why victims came forward now
The victims The Gazette spoke with want two things: They want Jensen to die in prison, and they want school districts across the state and legislators to change laws and policies to protect children from predators better.
“I’m in law enforcement,” said E.F. “I’d be a hypocrite if I didn’t stop people from doing this to other people.”
Another victim, G.H., said he’s been calling dozens of other classmates to see if they suffered similar abuse from Jensen and invited them to join in the lawsuit.
“It’s something I have to do as a human being to do right by my soul,” he said.