‘I just don’t understand why nothing was done’: Decades after reporting sexual abuse by adoptive father and teacher, woman continues push for justice

SPRING GREEN, Wis. – For decades, Melisa Trejo has repeated allegations that her adoptive father and longtime River Valley School District teacher sexually abused her. In her quiet hometown, she wants someone to listen.

“I just want to tell my story because I want things to change,” Trejo said, adding that she’s spent plenty of time visiting and calling any department that could help her. “I’ll try different numbers, just praying and hoping that it might not fall on deaf ears.”

They say time heals all wounds. Trejo knows time alone won’t bring justice.

“I’m 43. I’ve been investigating this since I was 20 years old,” she said. “For the last 20 years, I have been getting documents together, working my own case.”

Now living in Richland Center, she’s still fighting for the child she was when she said no one else did.

“He confessed to sexual contact with me,” Trejo said. “I just don’t understand why nothing was done.”

Something was done — decades later when charges were filed, but Trejo’s path seeking justice wasn’t an easy one.

‘Twisting the knife’: Allegations not taken seriously

From the outside, her life in Spring Green didn’t look amiss. She was adopted from Colombia along with her sister and brother by a nurse and River Valley School teacher, Michael Hill.

“He seemed like an amazing guy, but us kids knew what happened behind closed doors,” she said. “He was a bully. He would torment us.”

Trejo said she first reported she was sexually abused by her adoptive father to Spring Green Police Department as early as 1989. She said she waited for help to come, but it never did.

“I suspect that Spring Green PD told my parents that I had gone to the police station, because it was really strange,” Trejo said. “They took me to this woman, and we were supposed to start talking about stuff. It was a therapist. As a kid I didn’t know about that stuff.”

Spring Green police said they have no reports on file involving Trejo or Hill except one from 1995, which outlines abuse allegations, including inappropriate touching. In an interview with a detective, Hill admitted his daughter’s leg came in contact with his erect penis for about thirty seconds to a minute. He told the detective at the time that it was poor judgement.

Trejo said her adoptive mother stood by Hill. Afterward, Trejo spent time at Mendota Mental Health for suicidal ideation and threatening her father, though Trejo maintains she only wanted to hurt her father, not herself.

In Sauk County Department of Human Services documents Trejo obtained and shared with News 3 Now, it’s noted that a therapist believed the incident in bed in which Hill got an erection occurred, but said that the child embellished the event. A CPS assessment recommended care plans that would reduce opportunity for her to claim abuse.

Reports show the 1995 police report was not substantiated and was closed by the Sauk County DHS and signed off by the Spring Green Police Chief at the time, Louis Tomaselli, who has since died.

According to the current Spring Green Police chief, Mike Stoddard, no one who worked back then is still working with the department.

Stoddard said he’s worked on revamping the department over his two years there, and any specific policy for handling child sexual assault that existed back then is no longer around now. Currently, he said, child sexual abuse investigations would be handled the same as other investigations, including looking at severity and determining validity.

After being taken to Mendota, Trejo lived in a group home and didn’t return to her Spring Green home.

“I just couldn’t bare the abuse anymore,” she said. “I left my little brother and sister and I ran away and I left them there. I didn’t know what else to do.”

She said as horrible as the abuse was, the aftermath was worse.

“Figuratively speaking, my adoptive father did the initial stab in the gut,” Trejo said. “My mother turned the knife, the Spring Green police turned the knife, DHS turned the knife. It’s that turning of the knife that almost made it unbearable.”

‘It’s a culture where we try to shove things under the table’: Most perpetrators walk free

Most sexual assaults aren’t reported to police. According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), out of 1,000 sexual assaults, 975 perpetrators won’t be incarcerated.

“It’s a culture where we try to shove things under the table,” said Amy Bogost, an attorney working mainly with with victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.

She said all too often people don’t want to believe a terrible truth, especially if a person is well respected in a community. That, and it’s often very difficult for a victim to revisit the specifics of an assault during an investigation.

“DAs, judges, people know so little about what the victim goes through,” Bogost said. “As a culture, we need to start looking into trauma-informed investigations and just believing victims.”

To this day, Bogost said that plays into why cases are rarely reported and charged.

In Trejo’s case, it took decades of perseverance for her words to cut through the silence.

‘Clearly was prosecutable’: Charges come decades later

“That’s really how this all began was Facebook,” Trejo said.

After posts by Trejo describing her experiences with Hill, who was still a teacher in the River Valley District, police ended up revisiting the case in 2020.

Trejo felt it would be a conflict of interest for the department to investigate, so the Sauk County Sheriff’s Office took over.

“The Sauk County Sheriff’s Office takes no position on the original investigation done initially by the Spring Green Police Department in this matter,” a Sauk County detective said in an email. “We were happy to assist in this difficult case.”

According to documents provided to Trejo, the investigation turned up people who claimed they’d been sexually abused by Hill in the past, though never officially reported it. One told investigators she wrote the adoption agency asking them not to put three children in his care.

In a recent interview with Trejo’s adoptive mother, she said she “had never heard everything” but acknowledged there was some sexual abuse. According to the report, Hill’s ex-wife said she didn’t understand the reason for the interview because “that was all discussed several times with different social workers and counselors years before the police report in 1995.” She told News 3 Now she has no comment beyond what she’s told the Sauk County investigator.

Trejo asked a special prosecutor take over the case. The Sauk County District Attorney asked former Marquette County District Attorney Richard Dufour, who issued charges.

“I felt that it clearly was prosecutable or I wouldn’t have issued the charges,” Dufour said.

In May 2021, Hill was charged with three counts of first-degree sexual assault of a child.

Dufour couldn’t speak to why past investigations halted, but said he felt Hill made admissions and that Trejo’s reports were consistent over time.

“Basically, the defendant described very similar conduct,” Dufour said. “He tried to couch it in different terms than the way the victim did. The victim described it as sexual assault. The defendant tried to basically claim the victim was initiating the conduct with him.”

“They blame the child and say the child somehow seduced them, which is the same tactic my father used,” Trejo said. “Children don’t seduce grown men. That’s sick.”

Dufour called Hill’s admitted sexual conduct of about 30 seconds “highly unusual” for an adoptive parent.

In a 2021 telephone call with Hill described in investigation reports, he told the detective that in 1995 he didn’t have an attorney, was emotional and that he said “a lot that he felt may have been misinterpreted and didn’t look good for him.”

Trejo said she’s told Hill died in his sleep in July at age 69 before facing a verdict. He’s therefore presumed innocent by the State.

“I was devastated,” Trejo said. “I just felt sick.”

‘There has to be changes’: Trejo continues search for justice.

“Despite him passing my goal has not changed,” Trejo said. “It’s accountability.”

Hill was on leave following the charges and retired from the River Valley School District in 2021. When asked in October if the district had received any complaints about Hill, the superintendent said he can’t comment on personnel matters.

Since prosecutors can’t proceed with the case, Trejo now has access to all documents involved in the investigation. They include interviews with old friends of Trejo’s which indicate she spoke of sexual abuse to them, and a letter from a former student of Hill’s who wrote to investigators about what she called his “predatory nature and pattern of abuse.”

After all this time, Trejo hopes her words are finally enough to get people to listen – not just to her, but all sexual abuse survivors. She also wants oversight over the system of adoption that brought her here in the first place.

“I want apologies,” Trejo said. “There has to be changes, and I’m not going away.”