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A male caregiver who worked the overnight shift at a Sauk Rapids group home has been charged with sexually assaulting two female residents who were unable to report the assaults because of their disabilities.

Police believe the abuse occurred over an extended period of time last year, and that the two women, both 20, could have been victimized "as many as 300 times," according to a state investigation issued last week by the Minnesota Department of Human Services.

Patrick Arthur Jansen, 58, told police that the sexual contact was done "to make them happy" and "enrich their lives."

Benton County Attorney Philip Miller called the incidents "horrific" and said even the investigating officers were upset.

"It's deeply troubling because of the vulnerability of the victims," Miller said.

The two victims are diagnosed with autism and were not able to report the abuse because they have limited verbal skills and were not able to defend themselves, according to the state report. The women were residents at a four-person group home operated by Dungarvin in Sauk Rapids and are not identified in the reports.

More than 14,000 Minnesotans live in such group homes, where they are particularly vulnerable to neglect and abuse, according to a 2015 Star Tribune investigation. Many of these homes are in remote rural settings, placing residents hours away from relatives and friends who might assist with their care and check on their well-being.

Jansen has been charged with two counts of criminal sexual conduct, both felonies, and is being held at the Benton County jail in Foley. He is scheduled to make his first appearance in court Tuesday.

A spokeswoman for Dungarvin, a Mendota Heights company that provides housing and other supports to people with disabilities in 14 states, declined to comment on specifics of the case, citing privacy concerns.

In November, staff at the Dungarvin home noticed that one of the two victims was behaving abnormally, according to the state report. The woman, who had no previous history of destructive behavior, ripped up two of her pajama pants and stopped organizing her toys as she had previously done, group home staff told state investigators.

Weeks later, a staff member entered the home at night to retrieve a phone and discovered Jansen sitting on a mattress in the living room with the second victim. Later, Jansen boasted that he planned to take one of the two women on a trip with him to Mexico.

Concerned by the strange conduct, the staff member spied on Jansen one night through the group home's bedroom windows. He spotted Jansen touching one of the women inappropriately and immediately called 911 from his cellphone while standing outside the home.

When officers from the Sauk Rapids Police Department arrived near midnight, they found the victim touching Jansen's upper thigh and feeding him ice cream with a spoon while sitting with him on a mattress. He was immediately arrested.

Jansen admitted to police that his relationship with the two women "had been getting progressively more intimate" over time, according to the criminal complaint. He told police, "It was only meant to make them happy, enrich their lives too. ... How would you feel if you couldn't experience love or romance your whole life?" Jansen ultimately admitted having sexual contact, including digital penetration and oral sex, with both women on multiple occasions, according to the criminal complaint.

State investigators found the facility was single-staffed during the overnight hours, which meant that Jansen was the sole employee in the home between 10 p.m. and 8 a.m. As part of his job, Jansen slept on a mattress on the living room floor down the hallway from the two women's bedrooms.

DHS has disqualified Jansen from providing direct care under state-licensed programs. The home completed an internal review and determined that its policies and procedures were not followed.

Nationally, the rate of serious violent crime, including rape, robbery and aggravated assault, for people with disabilities is more than three times the rate for those without disabilities. One in 5 violent crime victims with disabilities believed they were targeted due to their disability, according to a report last year from the U.S. Department of Justice.

Nancy Fitzsimons, a professor at Minnesota State University, Mankato, and chairwoman of a state committee on abuse of vulnerable adults, said the Sauk Rapids case illuminates the need for greater public awareness of violence against people with disabilities. Group home residents, she said, should receive training on how to identify inappropriate behavior and report abuse.

"This abuse went on far too long," Fitzsimons said. "If people have limited verbal skills, we need to give them more effective ways to communicate when they are harmed."

Chris Serres • 612-673-4308 Twitter: @chrisserres