Many Women Targeted by Faith Leaders, Survey Says
By Jacqueline L. Salmon, Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 10, 2009
One in every 33 women who attend worship services regularly has been the target of sexual advances by a religious leader, a survey released Wednesday says. The study, by Baylor University researchers, found that the problem is so pervasive that it almost certainly involves a wide range of denominations, religious traditions and leaders.
Carolyn Waterstradt, 42, a graduate student who lives in the Midwest, said she was coerced into a sexual relationship with a married minister in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America for 18 months. He had been her pastor for a decade, she said, and told her the relationship was ordained by God. “I believed him because I was looking for direction and for help,” said Waterstradt, who ended the relationship years ago and entered therapy. The pastor was removed from the clergy. Waterstradt said she has suffered lasting psychological and spiritual consequences from the relationship, including depression and a deep distrust of organized religion. “It’s very difficult for me to walk into a church,” she said.
At least 36 denominations have policies that identify sexual relations between adult congregants and clergy as misconduct, subject to discipline. The Rabbinical Assembly, the international association of Conservative rabbis, uses investigating panels to look into complaints against rabbis. It notes that the “power imbalance between clergy and those to whom they minister makes it clear that sexual contacts in these situations are by definition non-consensual.”
Lawmakers are also taking note. Clergy sexual misconduct is illegal in Minnesota and Texas. Texas law, for example, defines clergy sexual behavior as sexual assault if the religious leader “causes the other person to submit or participate by exploiting the other person’s emotional dependency on the clergyman in the clergyman’s professional character as spiritual adviser.”
Researchers say they don’t know whether the incidence of clergy sexual misconduct had changed over the years. Nor do they know whether sexual wrongdoing by clergy is more, or less, frequent than in other well-respected professions. But, Garland said, “when you put it with a spiritual leader or moral leader, you’ve really added a power that we typically don’t think about in secular society — which is that this person speaks for God and interprets God for people. And that really adds a power.”
September 09, 2009
Clergy come-ons more common than you think
Congregations who blindly trust the person in the pulpit should tune into a new national study, suggesting clergy sexual misconduct with adults occurs across denominations and religions a lot more often than many realize. The analysis by Baylor University’s School of Social Work found that 3.1 percent of adult women who worship at least once a month have been the target of a clergy come-on since turning 18.
The findings, released today, come from questions included in the 2008 General Social Survey, a survey of a random sample of more than 3,500 American adults conducted by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago. “We assumed that if victims are adults that the relationship must be consensual,” said Diana Garland, dean of Baylor University’s School of Social Work and lead researcher on the study. “If it wasn’t physical coercion, we miss the emotional and spiritual coercion … It’s not an affair. It’s an abuse of power. Regardless of who intended what, the religious leader is the one in the position of responsibility.” Garland said she has seen too many churches torn apart by abuses of spiritual power and hopes the study will lead to developing effective prevention strategies and policies and statues to make clergy sexual misconduct illegal.
Barbara Blaine, president of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, welcomed the study as a wake-up call for congregations. She agreed that legislation should protect people in the pews from predators in the pulpit.
“The state has as much interest in protecting vulnerable citizens whether the predator is a doctor, an attorney, someone wielding a weapon or a clergyperson,” she said. “An adult who is talking with a clergyperson assumes there are certain levels of trust and has their guard down and will most likely assume the clergyperson has insights, can offer spiritual guidance, may even have ability to assist the person in getting closer to God … That’s why when the clergyperson exploits that person it causes such devastating harm.” The same person exhorting the congregation from the pulpit is often the same person providing counseling or psychotherapy behind closed doors. The overlapping roles create an inappropriate power dynamic.
Clergy Sexual Abuse: Social Science Perspectives ed. by Claire M. Renzetti, Sandra Yocum (review)
Nicholas P. Carfardi
From: American Catholic Studies Volume 125, Number 3, Fall 2014
pp. 67-68 | 10.1353/acs.2014.0050
In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:
This book is a collection of essays by social scientists, adding insights from their areas of expertise – sociology, criminology, cultural anthropology, and psychology – to the rather saturated issue of clergy sexual abuse. While most of the essays deal with the sexual abuse of children by clergy, primarily Roman Catholic clergy, two of the essays deal with the sexual abuse of adults by clergy. It was those two essays that I found the most interesting because they provided the freshest insights.
In “Don’t Call it an Affair,” Diana Garland, writes a striking essay on the primarily female victims of sexually predatory pastors. Perhaps I found this piece so interesting because it did not deal with the ever-depressing topic of the sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests. The pastors involved here are ecumenical abusers. They include both celibate Catholic priests and married Protestant pastors and Jewish rabbis. I was struck by how similar the response of adult women who had been sexually abused by their pastors was to those of the children who had been abused – from not understanding what was happening to not knowing how to tell people about it to the years of recovery required. The other piece on adult sexual abuse, “Clergy Sexual Misconduct with Congregants or Parishioners,” by Bradley Tobin and Kris Helge is primarily a brief on the need for state statutes criminalizing sexual activity between ministers and their adult congregants. Evidently thirteen states already have such laws, and evidently they pass constitutional muster.
Kimberly’s Story [Case Study Baylor University]
“The guilt I was feeling was overwhelming. Nothing I had been through before compared to this guilt and pain.”
Kimberly joined a Baptist church soon after enduring several personal tragedies: her mother and two of her brothers died in the span of five years and her third brother was sent to prison. She was trying to work and care for three children. Her husband noticed that Kimberly seemed depressed and called their new pastor so that she could receive counseling.
The counseling lasted several months. Kimberly was working in Women’s Ministry department at the church and the pastor asked her to come and work as his assistant, and she accepted the position. While she was at work, he would make it a point to bring up the troubles she had addressed in counseling – including her family losses and past abuse. At the same time, he and his family became friends with Kimberly and her family. His children would play at their house, sleepover at each other birthday parties. The pastor befriended Kimberly’s husband and gave the family gifts, including a car. The family took a vacation to Canada and upon checkout, the desk clerk stated that their hotel was paid in full by the pastor.
Pastor had multiple roles
As the pastor took on multiple roles as Kimberly’s boss, her family’s friend, and her religious leader, Kimberly found herself immersed in the pastor’s life. She rode with him to meetings that she did not have to attend because he would state that “he just needed her there.” He asked her to accompany him to his doctor’s appointments, and she went out with him to lunch at his request on many occasions. He called her at home every morning. Conversations became increasingly personal. He talked about his life and his abusive childhood. Most of these conversations occurred without her husband’s knowledge.
“At the time, I thought ‘Wow, this is why God has me here – to be his confidante,'” Kimberly recalls.
The pastor began requesting hugs from Kimberly. The counseling sessions started again. He talked about issues she had told him about in earlier sessions; she would become upset; and he would hug her to comfort her. She told him she thought she would end the counseling, but he promised he had himself under control. Eventually the relationship turned sexual. The pastor used scripture to justify and spiritualize the relationship. Kimberly felt an overwhelming feeling of guilt.
“The guilt I was feeling was so overwhelming. Nothing I had been through before compared to this guilt and pain,” Kimberly said.
A pattern emerged
Kimberly started catching her pastor in lies about his relationships with other women. She noticed the pastor’s pattern with other women in the congregation – doing them favors, buying them gifts, counseling them, becoming friends with their spouses and their family. As his assistant, she knew when he had meetings scheduled with women, and even was asked to send other women flowers. She was deeply angry, hurt and depressed. She wanted help but the only person she could ask for help was the pastor himself.
She began to reach out tentatively by asking questions in Bible study sessions on the subject of adultery and how that applied to pastors. Eventually, she explained to the church elders what had happened. When they confronted him, the pastor denied everything. The elders decided to tell the church that Kimberly had lied. She recalls one elder saying that they needed to “protect the pastor at all costs.”
Kimberly and her family resigned from the church after 13 years and after that received a letter from the church chastising them for their defiance of speaking publicly on this issue. Kimberly and her family are now members of another Baptist church. “They welcomed us with open arms,” Kimberly said. “They had had to put a pastor out of their church for the same thing.”
Silence When the Door is Shut by Allison Moran [The Hope of Survivors Story]
At 37 years my senior, my Pastor, claimed he was “in love” with me. Only a month or so after we started attending the Church, I was in the beginning stages of the manipulation process, that would lead to sexual abuse by this Pastor, three years later. Did I have a clue at the time? Not one suspicion.
My youth left me with scars. Family relationships were strained. I never felt like I could measure up to what was expected of me. I lived a life literally looking for love in all the wrong places. I encountered a life of alcohol, drugs, and men—each one leaving deep wounds. As I got older, the scars remained—surfacing from time to time. I tried my best to keep them hidden. I failed. Now, a grown woman—happily married—with a family of my own, I made the choice to seek help. I sought that help from the closest person to God I knew—my Pastor.
We begin counseling. In our very first session, I told him I didn’t trust men much, and his response was, that he was a man of character—a man I could always trust to never cross my boundaries. He remained a perfect gentleman, winning my trust in him completely. Months turned into years—three years later to be exact. By this time, we were very, very close. I looked up to my Pastor as a father figure, and he loved me (or so he told me) like a daughter. In fact, he called me his “daughter,” and I referred to him as my “dad.” Things were going well. I was happy—all that would soon change.
Nearing the end of the third year, a kiss was placed on the top of my head, during a hug that lasted a bit longer than I was used to. The following Sunday, I received that same long embrace, with another tender kiss on my forehead. We spoke a day or so later, and he confessed to me that he had fallen in love with me seven months back. He tried to get his heart in check, but instead, had only continued to fall deeper in love. He wanted to pursue his feelings for me, saying, he couldn’t hold back any longer. Leaning forward, and looking me directly in the eye, he said, “You have to promise me to keep this a secret. You have to give me your word, right here and now, that whatever happens when the door is shut, will remain only between you and I. Nobody can know. My marriage and career are on the line if you tell on me. Promise me you will always be silent!!” Naively, I promised.
For three years this man had been like a father to me. Holidays, birthdays, family dinners, movie nights—he was always around. For three years, I had counseled with this man. What was I to do now? I was a happily married woman! I had children! He was married! He had children, and grandchildren! He was my Pastor!! My mind was racing.
For the duration of the next year, our “relationship” changed. I became the object of his lust. Every time I was with him, he was all over me. Saying “no” meant absolutely nothing. Somehow, he had gotten me to a place, where out of loyalty, or fear, or something I can’t explain, I was willing to comply with everything he asked me to do. He began controlling every area of my life—to whom I talked, what I wore, and my friendships. His jealousy was getting the best of him. He couldn’t stand it if other men were around me. We fought constantly. While in a heated argument one afternoon, he told me that “all men want from me is sex.” He said, “you are a fool if you believe they want to be your friend with no ulterior motives. Look at me. I’m your Pastor, and when I wanted you, I got you!!” I felt as if I had been slapped.
I couldn’t take any more. I told him I wanted out. He said the only way it would end, is if I was the one to end it. But, the more I pulled away, the tighter he held on. He was crazy with jealousy by this point, and lived in fear that I was going to leave him. That combination did not make him a pleasant man to be around. So, after one of the most horrific and degrading acts of abuse (in a public place no less), I finally got up the courage to tell on him. My husband was the one to tell me this was Pastoral Sexual Abuse. He stood by me the first day I told, and he stands by me today. This was not the first time my Pastor had been in this situation. I was not the first woman he made promise to “keep silent.” My hope is that I will be the last!!
The manipulation lasted four years. The sexual abuse lasted for one. The remembrance of what he did to me, will last a lifetime.
Pastor Has Sex with Congregants, Lies About AIDS, Refuses to Step Down
October 15, 2014 by Mark Shrayber
Juan McFarland is an Alabama pastor with a horrible track record: He’s admitted to sleeping with congregant while not disclosing the fact that he has AIDS, has mishandled church funds and used drugs. He refuses to step down, despite the fact that church officials have voted 80-2 to have him ousted.
It’s important to note that having AIDS shouldn’t preclude anyone from being a pastor. It’s a serious condition, but it says nothing about the quality of the person living with it and there’s no reason that someone like McFarland should be ousted on that alone (and, in fact, that would be deplorable). But his admission that he knowingly had sex with his congregants while not disclosing his status is problematic. Dude, WTF? How are you going to be a church leader and do something like that? Where does it say to knowingly put people at risk without informed consent in the commandments? Add that to the allegations of substance use and mishandling of church funds, and it’s hard to see how McFarland, who took to the pulpit on Sunday to deliver a sermon on “divine healing,” is a good person to be talking about morals and ethics. McFarland, however, disagrees and says that he refuses to step down, regardless of what any vote of confidence may say.
According to TheGrio, congregants were surprised to see McFarland on Sunday, assuming he would already be gone. And no one in the church wants to hurt McFarland, whose health, TheGrio notes, is failing. But church members would like a new leader, and if McFarland isn’t going to step down, those members will attempt to take the church back through legal means.
The church leaders are working with a lawyer to file a restraining order against McFarland.
The Beach vs. Budd
newspaper article, below, clearly demonstrates a woman having the right to bring civil and criminal action in her state of Minnesota -she won on both. It begs the question as to why she wouldn’t have had the right to bring criminal action if she had happened to live in our state of Alabama?
2011-10-08T00:00:00Z $1.4 million for woman abused by former pastorBy Amy Pearson email@example.com Winona Daily News
October 08, 2011 12:00 am • By Amy Pearson firstname.lastname@example.org
Punitive v. compensatory
Punitive damages are designed to act as punishment and deter others from engaging in similar behavior, whereas compensatory damages are meant to cover a variety of costs related to an incident, such as medical expenses and lost wages, or compensate for intangible losses, such as injury to reputation and emotional distress.
A jury has awarded $1.4 million to a woman who was sexually abused by a pastor at Winona’s McKinley United Methodist Church.
Donald Dean Budd, 67, must pay the woman $1 million in punitive damages and a portion of $410,000 in compensatory damages, awarded late this week by a Hennepin County jury.
The Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, which oversees McKinley, must pay about $164,000 of the compensatory damages.
“The jury came back with a very responsible and reasonable verdict,” said Robert Hajek, the woman’s attorney.
A woman who answered the phone at the office of Budd’s attorney, Timothy Waldeck, said Waldeck left Friday afternoon for a week-long vacation and was unavailable for comment.
Attempts to reach Budd, who is no longer a pastor, were unsuccessful.
The awards stem from a civil suit filed in June 2009, connected to a period between 2003 and 2005 when the woman sought counseling from Budd, then the pastor at McKinley. An inappropriate sexual relationship
developed, leading to Budd’s eventual conviction on felony sexual-abuse charges.
The woman reported the relationship in September 2006 to the conference, which initially investigated the woman’s claims, then dropped the investigation and called the woman uncooperative and not credible, according to court documents.
The civil suit claimed the conference failed in investigating Budd’s sexual misconduct and that its request during the investigation for the woman to sign a document agreeing to keep her accusations private was outrageous.
Victoria Rebeck, a spokesperson for the conference, said Friday that the agreement was related to a mediation session the woman had requested between herself and Budd, and did not restrict the woman’s legal options.
Rebeck also said the conference and its bishop, Sally Dyck, acted immediately when notified in 2006 about the allegations, placing Budd on restriction and removing his credentials.
“We take all allegations against pastors seriously,” Rebeck said. “We are committed to doing everything we can to create a safe environment for our people.”
Later in 2006, the woman turned to the Winona Police Department, whose investigation led to criminal charges filed against Budd in January 2007.
Budd pleaded guilty in March 2009 to two counts of felony criminal sexual conduct, admitting he touched the woman inappropriately both at her home and in the men’s room in McKinley’s basement. He was sentenced in May 2009 to 15 years of probation and ordered to register as a sex offender. He can’t serve as a pastor while on probation.
The woman had first sought counseling in 2003 after the death of her grandfather, court documents state. Over time, the counseling sessions grew personal, and the woman developed strong feelings for Budd in a common psychotherapy phenomenon described simply as a patient who “falls in love” with a therapist, according to the civil suit. Sometimes the therapist develops similar feelings for the patient, but is trained to reject them and refer the patient to another therapist, according to court documents.
The suit claimed that after those feelings developed, Budd did not end counseling and instead pursued an inappropriate relationship with the woman.
Budd offered in July 2010 to pay the woman $10,000 to settle the case, said Hajek, the woman’s attorney, and said the conference offered to pay $20,000.
In December 2009, the woman was awarded $10,000 in a separate civil suit she filed against Budd that sought compensation for medical and counseling bills.
Budd came to Winona in 2002 from serving the tiny Minnesota communities of Sargeant and Brownsdale, near Austin, Minn. Prior to that Budd had also served in Methodist churches in Harmony, Minn., and in Eau Claire, Wis.
Witchcraft’ doctor case from AJC series could prompt change in Okla. law
Andi Higbee, who committed suicide at age 37, pictured in her memorial service program. FOX 23
The case of a psychiatrist who used tales of witchcraft and evil spirits to manipulate patients into sex could spur a change in Oklahoma law, criminalizing sexual exploitation of patients by therapists.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution revealed the extent of Dr. Kyle L. Stewart’s mistreatment of female patients last year as part of its nationwide investigation into doctors and sexual abuse.
Bartlesville, Okla., psychiatrist Kyle L. Stewart admitted to predatory sexual behavior when he surrendered his medical license in 2014. BARTLESVILLE EXAMINER-ENTERPRISE
The AJC’s news partner in Tulsa, Fox 23, helped report the story locally, and Oklahoma State Sen. Josh Brecheen found it so disturbing that he’s reintroduced a measure that failed five years ago. Had that law been passed, it could have been used to charge Stewart.
“We wanted to have a cause and effect,” Brecheen told the AJC last year, speaking of his 2012 bill. “If you’re willing to expose someone to trauma that they will pay for for the rest of their life, we are going to make it cost you.”
The cost he’s proposing would be in dollars, though, not in jail time.
Brecheen’s bill would have Oklahoma join about two dozen states, including Georgia, with laws against sex between mental health care providers and patients, or between doctors and patients, or both. But Oklahoma would only fine offenders, whereas other states have laws on mental heath professionals that include possible jail time.
In Georgia, for example, a therapist who has sex with an adult patient can be charged with sexual assault and sent to prison for up to 25 years. In Florida, the sentence can be up to five years for a first offense and up to 15 years for a second offense.
Brecheen’s “Protection Against Sexual Exploitation By a Mental Health Services Provider Act” would make a single act with one patient a misdemeanor punishable by up to a $5,000 fine, multiple acts with one patient a misdemeanor punishable by up to a $10,000 fine, and multiple acts with more than one patient a felony punishable by up to a $20,000 fine. The law also covers sexual acts with former patients.
Oklahoma state Sen. Josh Brecheen’s proposed law would fine psychiatrists who sexually exploit patients, but he said he’ll consider adding jail time based on feedback from colleagues. FOX 23
The senator told Fox 23 he’s considering adding jail time, but he wants feedback from his colleagues first. His 2012 version passed unanimously in the Senate, then died in a committee before reaching a House vote.
“There wasn’t the desire to advance this,” Brecheen, a Republican from Coalgate, told the AJC. “This could be different now, because this instance in Bartlesville has brought this issue to light.”
Two women accused Stewart in lawsuits of sexually abusing them during appointments in his office, using religion and tales of the supernatural to manipulate them into sex acts. Both say they were emotionally vulnerable and had been molested as children. They say he convinced them they had multiple personalities that could seize control of their bodies, that their mothers had given them over to witchcraft as babies, and that they were powerful witches.
“I was in a state of terror,” one victim recalled through tears in an interview with the AJC, which usually does not publish the names of sexual exploitation victims.
The other woman quoted Stewart as telling her once, “We have been having sex all this time because you’re a witch and you have been seducing me, because witches have no purpose for men.”
The AJC also reported that another of Stewart’s patients, Andi Higbee, committed suicide in 2003. The next day Stewart went to the Bartlesville Police Department and told a detective that Higbee had been involved in witchcraft and had multiple personalities, and that he had three or four other female patients who were “satanic or demonized,” according to a police report. One of the women suing Stewart for medical malpractice said her abuse dated back to the early 2000s, so she could have been one of the patients he was referring to.
But Bartlesville police did not act on the information, nor did they report the doctor to the state medical board. Stewart has not been accused of having an improper relationship with Higbee, and it’s not clear if her death was connected to her treatment. But if someone had investigated Stewart’s bizarre prognosis of Higbee and others, his behavior with female patients might have come to light sooner.
Stewart admitted to predatory sexual behavior against one of the women suing him when he surrendered his license to the Oklahoma medical board in 2014. The board allowed him to quietly retire and decided not to report him to law enforcement. Though Brecheen’s bill had failed, charges could have been possible based on other aspects of Stewart’s behavior, according to an Oklahoma legal expert. Stewart has refused to talk to the AJC and Fox 23 about his case.
Milwaukee * Wisconsin Journal Sentinel
October 13, 2011
By Bruce Vielmetti of the Journal Sentinel
An Oak Creek psychologist convicted of starting a sexual relationship with a longtime patient in 2005 was sentenced Thursday to a year in jail.
Jeffrey Adamczak, 48, faced up to 7 1/2 years for sexual exploitation by a therapist.
But Milwaukee County Assistant District Attorney Jacob Manian said the state wasn’t seeking prison, just accountability.
“This case has always been about protecting patients,” Manian told Circuit Judge Rebecca Dallet.
Adamczak made a public apology to his wife for the affair and the public spectacle. He said it never should have happened and he’d never forgive himself.
“I’m truly paying the price for infidelity,” he said.
Dallet corrected Adamczak, saying she wasn’t sentencing him for having an affair, but for abusing the trust patients put in their psychotherapists.
“You took advantage of that relationship, used it and turned it around into a sexual relationship,” she said. “That’s the serious part.”
Dallet also ordered Adamczak to provide a DNA sample and pay other court costs. The court allowed him to report to jail Oct. 24, with release privileges to work and continue his own treatment with a psychiatrist.
While his attorney, Gerald Boyle, said Adamczak has lost his practice and profession, he does remain a licensed psychologist in Wisconsin. Boyle did not say what kind of job Adamczak has now.
Colleagues and family members described Adamczak as a caring professional who helped more than 10,000 patients over a 22-year career, literally saving the lives of some, and as a generous, devoted father and husband – save for his one error in judgment. His wife said she has forgiven him, and that they are rebuilding their relationship.
But former patient Sabrina Eder told Dallet she still sleeps with a gun on her bed stand, finds it harder to be an empathetic professional herself and has gone from being extremely social to preferring seclusion.
“I’m tired of crying from the humiliation I feel,” she said.
Adamczak was charged in August 2010. Eder, with whom he carried on a yearlong affair before she broke it off in 2006, reported him to authorities in March 2010 after she became convinced that he was again having sexual contact with other patients.
Boyle argued at trial last month that jealousy drove Eder to destroy Adamczak, and he said his client’s testimony and office records showed the affair didn’t start until after Adamczak had closed the woman’s file, ending the patient/therapist relationship.
On Thursday, he told Dallet that Eder, 40, is suing Adamczak for damages in civil court. He also expressed amazement that Manian would suggest Adamczak was guilty of perjury for his testimony at trial.
Dallet didn’t buy that. She told Adamczak, “I get why the jury didn’t believe it. It wasn’t believable,” recounting how two emails between him and Eder directly contradicted testimony he gave about the timing of their relationship.
Eder said she had initially gone to Adamczak about postpartum depression and had been in near-weekly counseling with him for about three years when he initiated sexual contact with her at a session in February 2005, after she told him she had filed for divorce from her husband.
Adamczak and his wife, who acted as billing manager, opened Psychological and Counseling Services in 1992. He testified at trial he was trying to get a license to practice in Nevada; his Wisconsin license is current through September 2013.
Broken trust: Sex allegations against therapist prompt investigation
Licensed Clinical Social Worker Howard Vidaver.
Patients came to him in their darkest hours, going through divorce, struggling with substance abuse, perhaps grieving over the loss of a loved one. But while some call Albemarle County social worker Howard Vidaver a therapist of rare talent and insight, court documents suggest he has been betraying one of the bedrock rules of his profession by engaging in sexual contact with patients. If true, the allegations suggest that he violated therapist/patient trust– and that it happened after he had already been disciplined by the state licensing board for similar behavior.
In a divorce complaint filed last November in Albemarle County Circuit Court, Vidaver’s wife, Laurie Vidaver, alleges her husband “engaged in acts of adultery and sodomy” with multiple female patients at various locations, including in his Charlottesville office, for more than 15 years.
“It’s devastating,” says Laurie Vidaver, reached by phone. “Several families have been torn apart by this.”
According to experts, it’s a serious problem. A 1991 study of 958 patients who had been sexually involved with a therapist found that about 90 percent of those patients were harmed by the experience– with about 11 percent requiring hospitalization, 14 percent attempting suicide, and one percent committing suicide.
Of those harmed, only 17 percent fully recovered, according to the study by Kenneth Pope and Valerie Vetter.
Currently, 23 states make sexual contact between patient and therapist an imprisonable criminal offense. Virginia is not one of them.
Since 1980, Howard S. Vidaver has been licensed to practice social work in Virginia. But that’s not to say he’s always been in good standing with the Virginia Department of Health Professions, which oversees the various counseling professions.
In April 2007, according to public disciplinary records, Vidaver was placed on supervised probation by the Board after he admitted to having sex with someone listed only as “Client A” over a period of three years, from 1999 to 2002. The acts allegedly occurred in his office.
The state responded by prohibiting Vidaver from treating individual female clients for a period of two years, although he was permitted to continue seeing couples. As part of his rehabilitation in the profession, he was required to meet with an approved supervisor once a month with an emphasis on some of the most challenging aspects of therapist/client relationships, including boundary issues and the topic of “transference.”
Transferring the feeling
While many modern practioners eschew some of the teachings of the famed Austrian psychoanalysis pioneer Sigmund Freud, one of his concepts still widely embraced is “transference,” a process by which a patient redirects personal feelings onto the therapist. While those feelings can include anger or jealousy, often they’re feelings of being in love– and a therapist must be vigilant, says local clinical psychologist Sherry Kraft.
“There is a vulnerability that is always a potential in these relationships,” says Kraft, citing in particular the risk to patients who may already be feeling lonely or isolated. The therapist, she explains, is “a person whom you see regularly, who devotes their entire attention to you, who knows things about you that you have not been comfortable sharing with the outside world and sometimes even with family members.”
Such close feelings, however, must not be mistaken for a personal relationship.
“The intimacy there is somewhat artificial,” says Kraft. “It’s a professional relationship.”
Or should be.
Problems can arise, Kraft says, if the therapist fails to recognize and appropriately deal with the feelings. Ethics codes of organizations such as the American Psychological Association require a therapist to immediately refer the patient to another practitioner if they recognize their own version of those feelings: “countertransference.”
Trouble can begin when a therapist fails to recognize countertransference, and the private nature of the therapist/patient interaction, Kraft says, increases the risk of unethical behavior.
“When you go to a doctor’s office, there’s a nurse there to protect the doctor against some of these issues,” explains Kraft. “In therapy, there’s no one else there.”
When a transgression is reported and verified in Virginia, the professional sanction is often “supervised probation.” But that supervision comes in the form of private meetings between the therapist and someone appointed by the licensing agency. The therapist can continue to see his patients alone, an opportunity to continue the behavior.
And that, according to Laurie Vidaver’s November 10 divorce complaint, seems to be what happened with her husband.
Back in practice
When the Virginia Board of Social Work reinstated Vidaver’s full unrestricted license in June 2009, a letter attested that he had complied with the terms of his two-year probation and closed with kind words.
“The board wishes you well in your future endeavors,” wrote Patricia Larimer, deputy executive director of the Board.
According to the divorce filing, however, at least some of his future endeavors remained problematic. The “adultery/sodomy” that his wife alleges in her complaint began in 1995 and “continues to this day.”
While patient records are confidential, the divorce filing takes the unusual step of naming one female client with whom Vidaver allegedly has had repeated sexual contact.
Laurie Vidaver and her attorney, Chris Smith, declined to say how they learned so much about the alleged conduct, but Hook legal analyst David Heilberg says he believes they must have evidence to back up the claim made in their legal complaint.
“I wouldn’t put that out there unless I was quite certain,” says Heilberg.
Reached for comment, the client– whom the Hook is not naming in keeping with its policy regarding victims of alleged sexual assault or abuse– confirmed that an investigation is under way but declined further comment. Vidaver did not return a reporter’s call.
And Vidaver’s attorney, Ron Tweel, noting that the social worker would not be commenting, declines to add anything. But in his court-filed response to the allegations, Vidaver pleads the Fifth Amendment, the part of the Bill of Rights that protects individuals from testifying against themselves.
A reporter was able, however, to make contact with two of Vidaver’s former clients (the reporter, who saw him, quite uneventfully, for just a single session about two years ago, is also a former client).
“He was the third therapist we saw, and he was insightful in a way that the other therapists were not,” says one former patient. Requesting anonymity, she says she met with Vidaver for treatment over several years both in individual and in couple’s counseling. “He made a real difference in our lives,” she adds.
Another former patient, calling Vidaver “gifted,” says they worked out a variety of personal problems over several years prior to 2007. Learning of the latest allegations, however, she says she believes there were times he pushed ethical boundaries.
“He cried on a couple of occasions,” she recalls, describing an emotional involvement which felt “almost like I had a relationship with him, like he was a player in my life.” During another session, she says, Vidaver asked if she’d chosen her outfit specifically for him. “He didn’t maintain the professional distance I would have expected,” she says.
As for Larimer, the Board member who wished Vidaver well upon closing the state’s disciplinary case, she says she can’t comment, asserting that any investigation cannot be discussed until it’s complete.
The policy, while protecting therapists who may have been falsely accused, can leave current and prospective patients unaware that the therapist they’re seeing may have engaged in unethical behavior.
And that worries Jan Wohlberg, founder of TELL, the Therapy Exploitation Link Line, a website that supports victims of therapy abuse. Noting the 15-year span of the new allegations and the November filing of the divorce complaint, Wohlberg says that patient safety demands a prompt response.
“I think 90 days is enough to complete an investigation,” she says.
While noting the right of accused therapists to due process, Wohlberg is one activist eager to help victims with a problem that’s more widespread than some realize.
A 1995 paper published in the Journal of Contemporary Health Law and Policy claims that while patient/therapist sexual contact is already considered a punishable ethical breach by all major oversight organizations, seven to 10 percent of male therapists and one to three percent of female therapists have engaged in it.
“We get about 41,000 individual visitors to our website each year,” says Wohlberg, “and our website is not even that easy to find.”
A former professor at Boston University, Wohlberg has dedicated much of the last three decades to helping victims, and she says the effects of such behavior can be “horrendous.”
She has reason to know.
In 1972, at the age of 31 and with two young children, she lost her husband to a workplace murder. Soon after, she began grief and depression treatment with a psychiatrist she had previously consulted.
“He manipulated me,” she says, and the two ended up having sex in his office during her scheduled sessions.
“He was charging my insurance, and I was paying him,” notes Wohlberg, pointing out the potential insurance fraud (although he was never charged with a criminal offense).
She reported the errant therapist, but she says the ensuing investigation took more than two years. And after the Massachusetts medical board stripped him of his license to practice in that state and ordered him to reimburse her, Wohlberg says, the man moved to California and set up shop.
In the mid-1980s, Wohlberg shared her story with a similarly abused friend and, along with several other victims of alleged therapy abuse, they founded TELL in an effort to provide information and support.
The main message that she and TELL’s dozen volunteers from around the world impart: “Sex is not a part of therapy,” she says. “You could be a prostitute, naked and begging for sex, and it’s still the therapist’s responsibility to set boundaries.”
Illegal or just unethical?
Even if it’s widely accepted that therapists shouldn’t have sexual contact with their patients, should it be illegal? Clinical psychologist Gary Schoener says yes.
“It’s criminal sexual conduct,” says Schoener, a nationally renowned expert in therapy sexual abuse who notes that 23 states already have laws on the books, and 22 make it a felony.
“It’s rape, and the reason is the nature of the relationship,” says Schoener. “The ability to manipulate is extraordinary. They know your secrets.”
He says the emotional intimacy is way too deep and the power differential way too lopsided to portray it as two consenting adults.
“You can’t have valid consent,” says Schoener, “because of the distortion in the mind of the client through transference.”
As for any notion that only “weak” people can be manipulated, Schoener recalls a case in which the legal counsel for a Fortune 500 company was frequently excusing himself from important meetings to call his female therapist, with whom he was having sex.
“He got to the point where he was getting advice from her about what to tell the company’s executives,” says Schoener, who says he has also assisted corporate bosses and judges who’ve been victimized.
“These are people who are high-powered in the rest of their lives,” he says, “but that doesn’t mean that in that relationship you can’t be controlled.”
If Schoener is firmly in favor of criminalization, TELL’s Wohlberg says she’s less eager to jail offenders.
“My number-one concern is for victims,” she says. “People who’ve been victimized are often very confused about their feelings towards the perpetrator. I worry, given the ambivalence that most victims have, that criminalizing will drive it further underground.”
“The prosecutor can’t bring a criminal case without a victim’s cooperation,” Schoener responds, adding that “offering victims more options is always beneficial.”
Could therapist/client sexual contact be criminalized in Virginia? Delegate David Toscano did not return a reporter’s call, and Delegate Rob Bell says no one has approached him.
“I’d be willing to consider it,” says Bell, posing various questions about how a criminal offense might be defined.
Would it refer only to intercourse? Would it apply to all counselors, even those who aren’t licensed? How long after treatment terminates would sexual contact between the therapist and former patient be criminalized? And, Bell asks, is it even necessary– could existing laws protect patients?
Schoener says that states that criminalize such conduct limit it to intercourse between a therapist and any patient and generally define it as occurring within two years of termination of the treatment. He says that other criminal laws can’t protect therapy clients– unless they’re minors or mentally incompetent.
“There was one case,” says Schoener, “where the therapist terminated therapy, and then the two of them immediately drove to a hotel.”
While Schoener favors felony charges and permanent loss of their license for many therapist offenders, especially repeat offenders, he says each case deserves individual scrutiny. There are times, he says, when the therapist should be rehabilitated– such as one he saw suffering through a personal crisis and depression.
“His life was caving in,” says Schoener, “and he became enamored of a client. In one session with her, he kissed her, hugged her, touched her breast, then pulled himself off, terminated treatment, and reported himself.” (The therapist received treatment, abided by his sanctions, and was able to return to practice, Schoener says, in a healthier frame of mind.)
Unfortunately, he says, such one-time offenders aren’t as frequent as the serial predators– and even in serial cases, the severity of the offenses can range widely.
For decades, Northern Virginia psychiatrist Martin Stein abused his patients, sexually and by overprescribing medications, and also engaged in bizarre and unapproved treatments that resulted in false recollections of past sexual abuse by family members. As detailed in several reports in the Washington Post (and noted in the Hook‘s October 16, 2003, cover story), one patient died of a prescription drug overdose, and others suffered brain damage from the dozen or more medications Stein had pushed.
Most cases of therapist abuse, however, are far less dramatic even as they devastate lives.
Moving past abuse
If a person has been victimized by a therapist, the last thing they may want is to find another therapist. But according to TELL’s Wohlberg, that’s exactly what must happen.
“It’s critical to find an ethical therapist who can help you recover,” she says, noting that the majority of licensed professionals have not transgressed. Understanding that it is never the patient’s fault is also critical not only for the victim’s recovery, but also for anyone else who may have been harmed– such as a patient’s spouse.
Schoener says he explained to one man devastated by his wife’s sexual involvement with her therapist: “It’s not an affair; your wife is the victim of a felony.”
Even in states like Virginia, which don’t criminalize the practice, the damage to victims and their families can be severe.
“We have people who’ve killed themselves,” says Schoener.
Laurie Vidaver says she understands those consequences and says she too struggled after her husband’s earlier transgression with Client A– something she believed had been a one-time thing.
“I was hoping for the best,” she says,”trying to keep my family together.”
Faced with evidence that her husband’s behavior continued, she says she felt she had no choice but to file for divorce.
“It’s totally unethical,” she says. “It’s victimizing people and taking advantage of vulnerable people who see him for help.”
As for the former patient who recalled Vidaver shedding tears during appointments, she says she finds the allegations against her former therapist “revolting,” but she notes that they reinforce at least one of the important lessons he imparted during couples counseling sessions for her and her now ex-husband.
“He taught us about ‘duality,'” she says. “It’s the idea that two things can be true about a person.”
The latest allegations against Vidaver, she says, suggest “duality” is in play in his own life.
“He can be a brilliant therapist,” she says, “and also be a deeply flawed individual.”
Counselor Charged With Sexual Abuse
December 12, 2012, by Matt Kroschel, Updated at 10:36PM, December 12, 2012
DECATUR, Ala. (WHNT) — A counselor employed at a Decatur faith-based organization is accused of making sexual advances towards a woman he was supposed to be helping.
Investigators with the Decatur Police Department say on Nov. 8 they received a report of sexual abuse that occurred at the Baptist Children’s Home. The victim, an adult female, had been attending therapy sessions with her counselor, Jonathan Minnon.
Investigators say during one of the sessions Minnon made sexual advances towards the victim and touched her inappropriately.
The case was assigned to Detective Burleson of the Violent Crimes Unit. Investigators say they have discovered “additional evidence that corroborated the victim’s initial claim,” but they will not release what that evidence is due to the ongoing investigation.
A warrant for Sexual Abuse in the 2nd Degree was obtained on Tuesday and Minnon turned himself into authorities Wednesday . He was booked into the Decatur City Jail and later released on $500.00 bond.
Currently under state law investigators tell WHNT News 19 they could not charge Minnon with any other crimes related to this case. In other states there are “person in position of trust” laws, but not in Alabama for counselors or doctors and their relationships with patients, according to Decatur Police investigators.
WHNT News 19 received this statement from Rod Marshall, President/CEO, Alabama Baptist Children’s Homes & Family Ministries.
“The Alabama Baptist Children’s Homes & Family Ministries has a rich heritage of Christian service to children and families in Alabama. The services we provide include long-term residential care, short-term residential care, family care for homeless mothers with dependent children, foster-care, and professional counseling from a Christian perspective. On December 10, 2012, our senior administrative leadership was made aware of an allegation of professional misconduct by one of our employees. We take all allegations of inappropriate conduct very seriously and are conducting internal investigations, as well as cooperating fully with law enforcement authorities to determine if the allegation of misconduct is founded. The allegation of misconduct does not involve any of the children in our care or any minors. We hope to resolve this issue as quickly as possible.”
Under Alabama law sexual abuse in the second degree is described as:
(a) A person commits the crime of sexual abuse in the second degree if: (1) He subjects another person to sexual contact who is incapable of consent by reason of some factor other than being less than 16 years old; or (b) Sexual abuse in second degree is a Class A misdemeanor, except that if a person commits a second or subsequent offense of sexual abuse in the second degree within one year of another sexual offense, the offense is a Class C felony.
(Acts 1977, No. 607, p. 812, §2321; Act 2000-728, p. 1566, §1.)
Lack of consent. (a) Whether or not specifically stated, it is an element of every offense defined in this article, with the exception of subdivision (a)(3) of Section 13A-6-65, that the sexual act was committed without consent of the victim. (b) Lack of consent results from: (3) If the offense charged is sexual abuse, any circumstances, in addition to forcible compulsion or incapacity to consent, in which the victim does not expressly or impliedly acquiesce in the actor’s conduct.
The Des Moines Register
Counselor who had sex with client gives up license
Tony Leys, email@example.com 3:22 p.m. CT Nov. 14, 2014
A former Burlington counselor has surrendered his state license over allegations that he convinced a depressed woman her therapy should include having sex with him.
Scott Bair, 42, recently turned in his license and agreed not to seek reinstatement for at least five years, according to documents released Friday by the Iowa Board of Behavioral Science.
The board suspended Bair’s license last February after prosecutors filed a felony criminal charge of sexual exploitation by a counselor. He was convicted of that charge in May and sentenced to two years’ probation, court records show.
The state board said Bair started counseling the woman in July 2013. “Respondent informed Client #1 that hugging and kissing were part of therapy, and proceeded to hug and kiss Client #1,” the board wrote.
The board said the counselor and client had “sexual contact” several times. The board said Bair also told the woman that her therapeutic and personal goals should include “marriage between the two of them and a provision for financial support for maintaining secrecy.”
Bair told an administrator at the center that he had hugged and kissed the client, but he denied ever being naked with her, court documents said. However, the woman was able to describe him in a way that confirmed she had seen him naked, authorities said.
Bair could not be reached for comment.
In a separate case, the state board accused a western Iowa therapist of having a sexual relationship with a man after he and his wife began marital counseling with her.
The board said Amy Jo Murphy met the man in 2012, when he and his wife sought counseling at Murphy’s office in Corning. It says the man later saw Murphy for individual counseling, and they began a “romantic and sexual relationship.”
Murphy, who is based in Omaha, declined to comment Friday. A hearing was set for Feb. 5.