3 things to know when watching the Abducted in Plain Sight documentary


Abducted in Plain Sight is one of the most difficult to watch documentaries. Here are three things you need to know about the context of the documentary.

Warning: Some of the content in this article could be difficult or disturbing for readers.

While the Ted Bundy documentary on Netflix has gotten a lot of attention, another documentary just as shocking has also been making headlines. Abducted in Plain Sight tells the story of Jan Broberg, a 12-year-old girl in Idaho, who was abducted by a trusted family friend, Bob Berchtold, 40, in 1974. This documentary was actually released in 2017 under the name Forever B, but with the name change and renewed interest in true crime, it has recently come to public attention.

What makes the documentary so shocking and difficult to watch is seeing how Berchtold manipulated her entire family, especially her parents. Even after being abducted and taken to Mexico, upon Jan’s return to her home, her parents never pressed charges and even allowed her to spend alone time with him again.

While Jan Broberg herself defends her parents, many people have a lot of questions about how her family and her community could have allowed this abduction to happen.

As many have pointed out, the documentary seems to leave a lot of context out. According to a review from The Atlantic, “Part of the problem is that Abducted in Plain Sight… is focused entirely on telling a story rather than illuminating it. It unpacks too many bizarre events in a short time frame to allow for much additional analysis.”

If you’re still struggling to understand this documentary and need some more context for the events that occurred, this article is here to help you out. As some people have pointed out, the documentary doesn’t really go into many details on the background of the Broberg family’s community and faith tradition. The family lived in a town of fewer than 50,000 people in a conservative state with a majority Mormon population and were also members of the Mormon faith.

To give some background, I was raised in a Mormon (officially The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) family and grew up in the town, Idaho Falls, Idaho, which is 45 minutes away from Jan Broberg’s town of Pocatello, Idaho. While I grew up in a different generation than Jan Broberg, my parents were also from the area and grew up as Mormons during that time period.

This piece doesn’t look to put any blame on the religion, as abusive people can come from any faith. However, understanding the community and the Mormon religion can give some insight into why the events of this case transpired as they did.

The Mormon faith believes that worthy men can be given a God-given power known as the priesthood

The priesthood is known as “the power and authority of God,” and Mormons believe this is how God created the Earth and continues to govern the Earth. Mormon men can receive this priesthood, or power of God, if they are worthy and follow the teachings of the Mormon church.

The main functions of having this priesthood are that worthy Mormon men are able to give blessings. They can perform these blessings (which are basically prayers) as a way to ask God to help heal people, give them guidance, and more. Mormon men are also the only people who can hold the highest levels of authority and leadership in the Latter-Day Saints church. They lead the congregations and hold higher levels of leadership for the church as a whole. The Mormon prophet, or president, is the leader of the entire church and is always a man. Mormon women are not able to have this priesthood.

The Mormon church also holds what some would call outdated views on gender roles. To simplify, it teaches that men are meant to preside over and protect their families, and women are mainly meant to nurture their families and children.

This background is important because it illuminates the social elements of the Mormon community, especially back in the ’70s when the Mormon church was more conservative than it is now. It’s easy to see how Jan and her family would trust a man in their “ward” (the Mormon word for “congregation”) who was a worthy priesthood holder. Jan, and even her family to some extent, saw Berchtold as a man who was good and righteous. And, since Jan was used to having religious men be leaders in all church functions, it’s also sensible to see how she would have trusted him and what he told her.

Mormons believe in a doctrine called continuing revelation

For viewers watching and wondering how Berchtold was able to convince Jan Broberg that aliens were giving them instructions, it’s important to note first of all that it’s never a child’s fault when an adult in power manipulates them. You can’t underestimate these types of abusers and how they manipulate and groom children to believe and trust them.

Two, some context on a Mormon belief is helpful to understanding. Jan’s religious background is one that believes in what is called “continuing revelation.” Continuing revelation is a Mormon belief that God gives guidance to all people who are members of the Mormon faith. Also, this teaching states that prophets and other religious leaders in their church can receive new scriptures and revelations for the entire Mormon church.

When someone grows up believing that God can reveal new information, it’s easy to see how a child could think that this alien story is sensible. While Berchtold wasn’t a leader of the Mormon faith, it’s understandable how in Jan’s eyes as someone so young and groomed by Berchtold over years, that she could view him as a prophet-like figure who would tell her information she could believe. Even if the alien stories were very different than Mormon teachings, with her religious background, receiving revelations likely didn’t seem as out of the ordinary as they might to some people.

The Mormon church has had a lot of issues with the LGBTQ community

One of the more surprising and shocking moments of the documentary is when Berchtold (commonly referred to as “B” in the documentary) convinces Jan Broberg’s father, Bob, to perform a sexual act on him. This isn’t to speculate on either man’s sexuality at all. The shocking fact is that Berchtold was able to seduce both of Jan’s parents. Later on in the documentary, Berchtold and Mary Ann Broberg, Jan’s mother, have an affair.

While the documentary does touch on this lightly, it’s important to note that there was likely an element of fear and shame that kept the parents from wanting to reveal the entire story to law enforcement and their community.

Across the board, the ’70s were a different time. In smaller, conservative communities, things like adultery and homosexuality were typically viewed with disgust and judgment. While it’s hard to respect the parents for trying to salvage their own reputations given what happened to their daughter, their community likely made it difficult to be open about everything that had happened.

The LDS church is known to outsiders for being proponents of traditional marriage. It was a big player in the fight to pass Prop 8 in California back in 2008. And, even today, the Mormon church doctrine still states that marriage should only be between a man and a woman.

While the LDS church no longer believes that being LGBTQ itself is sinful, it does have policies that make being in a same-sex relationship or marriage grounds for discipline and excommunication. As someone who is queer and used to be Mormon, I can say that, in general, being an LGBTQ person in strong Mormon communities is still difficult even 40 years after this story occurred.

Understanding the religious community and the attitudes at play does at least give some information about why the parents did what they did and how Berchtold was able to manipulate them into silence.

This documentary is difficult to watch and just as difficult to talk about. While getting some analysis and context is helpful, the biggest takeaway from this story should be that predators are manipulative people who often groom their victims and their families. The children who are victims are not culpable or responsible for anything that happens to them. Abducted in Plain Sight is also a good reminder for all of us to know the warning signs, so we can look out for children in our lives.

If you or someone you know is or has been the victim of sexual assault, please know you can go to RAINN.org or call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 for support.