Children trusted Michael L. Cranford.
So did their parents and people at the Raymond church where
the former Candia man worked as a youth pastor for the last
three years — despite being a convicted sex offender.
But that trust has been shattered, and now two young men
have broken their silence, claiming the religious leader
molested them when they were 14.
The alleged victims in the case are now 19 and 20. The men
have suffered with the scars of the alleged abuse for years,
police say, and they finally felt it was time to tell their
Child abuse experts say it’s not uncommon for victims to
keep the abuse locked up for years.
“There is a tremendous amount of shame. Kids often feel
they are to blame,” said Dianne Lavoie, director of education
and training at Sexual Assault Support Services in Portsmouth.
“They feel like they must have done something to bring this on
and assume a huge burden.”
Often times, Lavoie said, it is much more difficult for
males to admit that they’ve been molested. “To admit to being
hugely vulnerable is difficult,” she said.
The senior pastor at the New Life Assembly of God church,
Kenneth Bosse, says he counseled the men and urged them to
Cranford, 37, is now charged with molesting one of the
alleged victims between January 1995 and December 1996 and the
other some time between September 1996 and June 1997.
The two alleged victims, who police say are related,
reported the assaults to Raymond and Candia authorities within
the last two weeks. Police say Cranford told them he had
sexual contact with the teenager in the Candia case.
Last week authorities said Cranford told them he planned to
move to Kentucky to join a sex offender treatment program to
help him deal with his “problems.”
While he attended the church when the alleged assaults
happened, Cranford didn’t become a part-time youth pastor
until 1998. He was hired as a full-time youth pastor in
February 2001. The church fired Cranford when the recent sex
According to Lavoie, at least 85 percent of perpetrators
are known to their victims. Police say Cranford lived with the
family of the victim in the Candia case at the time of the
“It’s not the stranger jumping out. That’s far more rare.
They usually have the trust in the child’s family,” Lavoie
Bottled up inside
Often times young sexual abuse victims choose to keep the
abuse bottled up inside because they feel no one will believe
them, Lavoie said. Many pre-adolescent and adolescent children
feel they should have somehow been able to prevent the abuse,
Experts say that sometimes the emotional wounds of sexual
abuse deepen when victims form close partnerships and intimate
relationships. “To become that trusting with somebody brings
this issue back for them,” Lavoie said.
Sometimes male victims struggle with their sexual identity
as well, wondering if the abuse they suffered as a child means
they are gay, Lavoie said.
For professionals who work with victims of sexual abuse,
the job is tough but rewarding.
“We’re really helping kids and empowering them to tell what
has happened to them. I try to look at it positively. We’re
providing them the opportunity to help themselves and keep
them safe,” said Kathryn Adler, executive director of the
Seacoast Child Advocacy Center in Portsmouth.
The center’s goal is to make the experience of reporting
and discussing the abuse as painless as possible for the
victims. The center brings all of the professionals in the
case together — police investigators, prosecutors, and the
child advocacy representatives — so that the victim must only
be interviewed once.
The center, an independent non-profit agency, receives
referrals from prosecutors, police departments, and the
Division of Children, Youth and Families. The center, which
opened in January 2000 and now serves all of Rockingham
County, services children from ages 3 to 18 who were either
sexually or physically abused or a witness to a crime.
Since it opened, the center has handled close to 400 abuse
cases. According to Adler, it is the only center of its kind
in the state.
Adler said that in the last 10 years more attention has
been given to the issue of child sexual abuse, which has
created more opportunities for victims to make disclosures.
“I think every person and every child reacts differently.
For some children they tell right away and they move on. For
other children it’s very difficult to verbalize what’s
happened to them,” Adler said.
Cranford has been in trouble with the law before. He was
registered as a sex offender with the Candia Police Department
since moving to Candia in 1993, police said. In 1991 he was
convicted of sexually assaulting a child while serving as an
associate pastor at a church in Groton, Mass., police said. He
was given a one-year prison sentence that was suspended, paid
a $2,000 fine and was placed on probation for five years.
Cranford was also a Candia firefighter and the chaplain for
the fire department, but he turned in his gear last weekend
While it’s difficult for parents to see all of the warning
signs of child sex abuse, experts say it’s important for
parents to know whom their children are with and who their
friends are. A red flag should be raised if an adult often
wants to spend time alone with a child, showers a child with
gifts or seems to favor one child over another, said Lavoie.
“We tell parents that it’s important to know their child’s
environment, who they are with, where are they going and what
are they doing,” Lavoie said.
Sexual Assault Support Services works with school-age
children beginning in kindergarten, educating them about
SASS offers a 24-hour hotline for abuse victims. The
hotline number is 888-747-7070. Anyone with questions about
the support groups offered by SASS should call 436-4107.