Tuesday, March 19, 2013

A very special Dr. Phil episode...

Today I'm watching a rerun of Dr. Phil.  On this episode, a man and his wife are confronting the man's parents.  The man's father, a creepy bearded guy who looks surprisingly young for a man in his 60s, molested their six year old daughter.  Honestly, I don't know how those parents can deal with this issue without completely freaking out.

The mother of the child, especially, seems to be having trouble with it.  She says that her husband now reminds her of his father, who had inappropriately touched their little girl.  The husband obviously had a good relationship with his parents at one time.  And now his father has done the unthinkable and his mother is standing by him.  How do you cope with such a thing when you still have feelings of love and loyalty toward your parents, yet they have harmed your child in an unspeakable way?

Dr. Phil, for his part, holds the grandparents fully accountable for what they did.  When the grandfather says the devil made him do it, Dr. Phil tells him that the devil had nothing to do with it.  The man put his hands on a little girl inappropriately and he did so knowing right from wrong.  He sacrificed a child's well-being for his own prurient desires.

I must say, this episode is disturbing and fascinating on many levels.  Most of the episode is very interesting, with the parents being very candid about how they feel about what happened to their daughter.  But then they bring out the little girl.  They don't show her whole face, but they do show her mouth and chin and her hair.  She speaks to Dr. Phil.  I'm a little uncomfortable with the fact that this was on camera, even with her identity somewhat obscured, yet I'm also impressed by how brave, bright, and articulate she is.

I have a lot of empathy for that little girl.  It's obvious that she loves her grandparents and is conflicted about what happened to her.  I hope she doesn't suffer long term damage over this.  I don't generally like Dr. Phil, but kudos to him for how he speaks to the child.  She seems to be at ease with him.  The girl is lucky, too, because though her parents don't seem to be as close as they could be, they are very loving and kind to the child and present a united front to her.

When I was growing up, I had some unfortunate run ins with the neighborhood pervert.  This guy lived across the dirt lane from us and went to our church.  He never actually touched me in a harmful way, but he used to show me pornography and made some extremely inappropriate sexual comments to me.  I was too dumb to realize what he was doing was wrong.  He was nice to me and paid attention to me.  He took me to movies, softball games, the beach, and even taught me how to garden.  These were things my dad rarely did.  In fact, my dad usually treated me like I was a pain in his ass and a disappointment.  

I never mentioned it to either of my parents except one time, in an oblique way.  In fact, I didn't even realize what he had done was criminal until I had started therapy.  I had a long session with a psychiatrist, who was evaluating me for medication.  I told him about the neighbor and he said I had been sexually abused.  Later, when I saw my psychologist, who was actually my therapist, he asked me point blank about the "sexual abuse".  Up to that point, I had never really thought of it in that way, even though I know now that's what it really was.  My therapist said my neighbor probably should be in jail.  

Some time ago, my mom and I were talking about a high school teacher who had been very well respected in our community.  My sister had him when she was in high school and my parents knew his wife because she was involved with the local music scene.  He was always very nice to me, though I never had him as a teacher and didn't know him that well.  Anyway, after he retired, he was caught exposing himself in his front yard.  He got a slap on the wrist.  Years later, he was caught with a teenaged girl in his car.  He is now a registered sex offender.

My mom made a comment about how crazy it was that the teacher had seemed so nice and normal.  And for some reason, I blurted out that our neighbor had been the same way.  My mom looked at me like she was just stunned.  She didn't pursue the issue and I didn't offer more information, yet it was obvious that she understood what I was telling her.  It was too late to do anything about the neighbor.  He was long dead by the time I had that conversation with my mom.  I kind of wonder what went through her head.  She probably wished I hadn't said anything.  I don't know what they would have done if I had told them about it when it was going on.  I'd like to think they would have done something... and yet the thought of them doing something makes me cringe.    

It took me many years to find someone I trusted enough to be sexual with.  I was 30 when I lost my virginity, even though I had been exposed to sexual things from a very early age.  I really love and trust my husband because he is very patient, kind, loving, and accepting.  He listens to me and doesn't judge.  I am very fortunate to know him.  I have always liked men and had male friends, but they also made me very nervous.  Things turned out okay for me and for that, I'm very lucky.  When I see kids like that little girl on Dr. Phil, I can't help but feel so much empathy and hope that things turn out okay for them too.  


  1. I've been very fortunate in that nothing even close to molestation (that assault in the bathroom was entirely different that a childhood molestation)so I'm fortunate in not being able to relate from a personal perspective.

    Does your perspective as a social worker impact the way you process and deal with this information many years after the fact? Or are things like that sufficiently compartmentalized that the social worker part of you is one parson and the child who became you was another person entirely?

    My mom's sister was undressed and "examined" as in "playing doctor" when the family was stationed in Minot, North Dakota. It was right before (like ten days before) their family was transferred. the transfer was in placlong before the molestation. My aunt was almost three and the "doctor" was sixteen. My grandfather was supposed to be watching my aunt while my grandma was at an OBGYN appointment (she was preggers with my mom and her twin brother), but one of my grandfather's superiors called about something (in the mid '60's, before cordless phones) and my aunt got out of the house and into the backyard that sort of adjoined several other backyards. One of the backyards had a partly-covered shed-like workshop area. A neighbor lady walked upon the scene and went totally hysterical. Base police were called.

    My aunt didn't even remember it happening. My grandfather told my mom about it not long before he died. He felt guilty about letting her out of his sight for the rest of his life. Some of my mom's older siblings knew about it at the time and remembered. After my dad died, my mom and the sibings who were old enough to have remembered talked about it. They had a hard time reaching consensus as to whether or not she should be told. She was doing fine and leading a very happy life. Apparently there was highly inappropriate touching in addition to the nudity, but as far as could be determined, no penetration. It was a tough call. Do you tell someone something like that?

    The final decision was that just enough people knew, and the world is getting smaller all the time with technology. She has Facebook friends from many of the military communities where the family lived. The concern was that someone else was going to mention it to her casually, most likely in terms of, "Remember so-and-so, that guy who did #$%& it you? Well, I heard he's in prison now;" that sort of thing. If one of the family didn't tell her first, it might have been worse.

    So the decision made was to tell her husband, who's a fairly level-headed guy, and ask him to break it to her at what he though was a good time. A week or two later, he told her. She handled it pretty well. She called the oldest brother and sister, whom she thought would remember more of the details than anyone else. Someone was able to give her a phone number of the lady who walked into the whole sitution. My uncle, my mom's oldest brother, called to see if the lady was still lucid, still remembered anything, and would be willing to talk to my aunt. She was and did, and my aunt called her.

    About three months after they decided to tell my aunt, and about two months after she heard the first of it, someone did mention it to her, not in a social network but at some sort of reunion she and her husband attended. It was a highly inappropriate thing for this woman to bring up, but my aunt was able to change the subject and get out of the situation. It did upset her, though. I hate to think how much it would have hurt her had that been the first she had heard of the situation.

    I generally don't care for Dr. Phil and think he's full of himself, but I'm glad he was kind to the little girl.

    I admire people such as you who go into fields such as social work. I don't thinnk it's something i would do very well. It must be incredibly emotionally taxing.

  2. I'm going to respond to your comment in a post.


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