The girl recently told her secret to a friend. The friend told her mother, who told her school, who told police, who started an investigation Dec. 4, according to court documents.
Dominic Phillips, 30, was arrested the next day and charged with multiple felonies for allegedly raping and molesting his young relative. During an interview with detectives, police said Phillips confessed to the crimes, which happened from September 2010 to May 2011 while he was living with the victim.
Phillips waived his preliminary hearing on Wednesday and his rape charges were bound over to district court.
Phillips' case is not unique.
Only an estimated 30 percent of sex crimes against children are reported, according to a United States Department of Justice study.
And those that are reported are often only brought to light years after the fact.
"It does tend to be something we see in these cases," Farmington police Sgt. Robert Perez said. "It takes awhile for the victim to feel comfortable or understand what happened or be able to communicate the assault.
"That's why repeat offenders are so dangerous ... It can go on for many years without being reported."
There are at least three San Juan County men who are accused of committing sex crimes against a child years ago and are now being tried in district court because police recently became aware of the abuse.
Gerald Hale, 81, told Farmington police investigators that he lost track of the dozens of children he sexually assaulted in the last 70 years, police said.
Hale, a convicted sex offender and former substitute teacher for Farmington schools, was arrested in August for suspicion of molesting a relative.
The relative was 9 years old when she said she was molested. She told her mother about the incident four years later.
While police questioned Hale about the young girl's statements, he allegedly confessed to a lifetime of sex crimes that started when he was 10 years old.
Hale is set for trial in April.
Paul Gurule, 50, was arrested in July for raping and molesting a 7-year-old relative.
The victim's two brothers suspected the abuse and reported it to their mother. Bloomfield police detectives became aware of the allegations after the woman took her daughter to the hospital for an exam.
Bloomfield police charged Gurule with abusing the girl in July. During interviews with investigators, detectives said he admitted to abusing the girl in Idaho and Nevada, starting when she was 3 years old, Det. Chad Herrera said.
Bloomfield police are now working with police in out-of-state agencies and say Gurule may be charged with sex crimes that happened years ago in those states.
Gurule is set to face New Mexico charges in March.
There are multiple theories as to why children can take years to report an assault, said Gretchen Potter, the family support services program director at Childhaven.
One of the most common reasons is fear, she said.
Sometimes abusers will reward the child for not reporting.
Other children don't understand what is happening to them.
Some children won't report abuse until years after the abuse has stopped and the child feels safe again, said Eleana Butler, the executive director of Sexual Assault Services of New Mexico.
Hale told his victim he would kill her and her family if she reported the abuse, according to court documents.
Gurule gave his victim chocolates and other treats to keep her quiet, according to court documents.
"Most adults will groom a child and their care givers and set up an opportunity to take advantage," Potter said. "They look for people who won't report."
The statute of limitations for sex crimes against children only starts when the child reports the crime or turns 18, Chief Deputy District Attorney Dustin O'Brien said.
If the crime is a first-degree felony, such as raping a child 13 years or younger, there is no statute of limitations.
Because of the length of time between when the abuse starts and when children report it, oftentimes law enforcement is left with no evidence other than a child's statements.
"I tend to believe (a false report) would be very unlikely," O'Brien said. "Children won't go through that unless it actually happened." 5-326-4700.