December 29, 2014 12:00 PM

Stephen Collins has released a statement in which he admits to inappropriate sexual behavior with three female minors over a span of roughly 20 years. The news of this behavior is not quite a revelation: Two months ago a 2012 recording of Collins similarly confessing during a therapy session with his now-estranged wife, Faye Grant, was leaked to the press. The fallout was immediate: The man best known as Reverend Eric Camden on the hit family drama 7th Heaven was now a pedophile and a pariah. Reruns of 7th Heaven were pulled from syndication; upcoming film and television roles were scrapped.

But now, Collins, 67, has chosen to detail what he says he actually did, as well as his feelings about what he calls the “inexcusable” actions that have “haunted me ever since.” In his writing, Collins is at times defensive, at others remorseful. The document also presents just one side of a story that has multiple facets: None of Collins’s victims has ever publicly come forward or been named, nor has he ever been criminally charged. (In October the LAPD and NYPD had open investigations but have given no updates since that time.) Faye Grant, while still embroiled in an ongoing divorce from Collins (see sidebar) has largely remained silent since the recordings were made public. While Collins plans to sit with Yahoo’s Global News anchor Katie Couric for an interview that will stream on Yahoo! and air on ABC’s 20/20 on Friday, Dec. 19, for now he wants his written words to speak for themselves. Yet for all the answers it seeks to provide, the statement also raises some questions. Collins claims not to have acted inappropriately toward any underage females since 1994, just two years before he began on 7th Heaven. He also says that only once did he have any sort of physical contact with an underage girl, and that the full tally of his inappropriate behavior totals just five very brief acts. And he repeatedly says he no longer struggles with “the kind of impulses I once had…. [S]uch things are never going to happen again.” Experts in this field have their own opinions about these claims.

Can an Abuser Really Recover?

Collins says he has “been in treatment continuously for over 20 years” and plans to continue. Dr. Gail Wyatt, a professor of psychiatry and director of the UCLA Sexual Health Program, who has not treated Collins, agrees with that approach. With sexual offenders, “there needs to be ongoing therapy for the rest of their lives,” says Wyatt. As for Collins’s assertions that he no longer has certain impulses, Wyatt is skeptical. “The urges are always on the back burner of a person’s mind, like a low-level rumble that you may hear all the time,” she says. Collins says he is detailing his actions not “to excuse what I did … but to clarify what actually happened.” But Dr. Laura Killinger, a professor at William & Mary Law School and a former prosecutor who tried child abuse cases, says that while Collins may have acted out only a few times, that’s beside the point: “I’d be concerned about anybody minimizing this like, ‘I only did this.’ I don’t care how many seconds it took, that’s entirely inappropriate. It’s child molestation.” Still, Killinger points out that there’s a difference between pedophilia and molestation; the former would apply if Collins’s victims were prepubescent. (While Collins refers to one as a preteen and the other two as teens, their ages have never been confirmed.) “There is no known cure for pedophilia. But you can have someone who is a child molester, who abuses older children, who is not a true pedophile,” Killinger says. “It’s possible that someone never reoffends.”

An Apology’s Impact on Victims

While Collins says he directly made amends to one victim, who was “extraordinarily gracious,” he has not attempted to reach out to the other two victims. Killinger approves of this decision:”It can do more harm than good to directly contact someone. That can make a victim feel entirely powerless: ‘How did this person find me? Is this person still thinking about me?’ That can be extremely anxiety-provoking.” Gail Wyatt also feels “there is tremendous benefit” in Collins’s public apology. “You re-victimize them by staying silent and pretending like it didn’t happen,” she says. “For the person who perpetrated the abuse to admit it was wrong—it doesn’t change what happened, but it does help to clarify to the survivors that they didn’t make this up.” Agrees Killinger: “To have someone say, ‘Yes, this happened,’ I think it can help a victim to recover.”

AN UGLY SPLIT

The long and drawn-out divorce between Stephen Collins and former actress Faye Grant—which first began in 2012, before the scandal broke—was delayed yet again in November when the third in a series of attorneys for Grant quit just hours before proceedings were set to begin in Los Angeles. The trial will resume Jan. 5 so Grant’s latest attorney, Kristina C. Royce, can get up to speed on the case. At issue: Collins’s ability to pay a requested $13,000 in spousal report, since, per his filings, he’s “lost all earning power” in the wake of the scandal. Collins could argue that Grant breached her fiduciary duty to their 29-year marriage by leaking the therapy tape to TMZ, though his soon-to-be ex-wife has denied making the recording public. Grant, 57, believes she is entitled to half of Collins’s assets. When asked if Grant had any comment on Collins’s going public with his story now, her attorney did not respond.

December 9, 2014

Forty years ago, I did something terribly wrong that I deeply regret. I have been working to atone for it ever since. I’ve decided to address these issues publicly because two months ago, various news organizations published a recording made by my then-wife, Faye Grant, during a confidential marriage therapy session in January, 2012. This session was recorded without the therapist’s or my knowledge or consent.

On the recording, I described events that took place twenty, thirty-two, and forty years ago. The publication of the recording has resulted in assumptions and innuendos about what I did that go far beyond what actually occurred. As difficult as this is, I want people to know the truth.

In 1973 when I was twenty-five, I exposed myself to a pre-teen girl on two occasions. Some months later, this girl visited and stayed with my first wife and me. When the girl and I were watching TV alone, I moved her hand in such a way that caused her to touch me inappropriately. It lasted less than a minute, during which there was no gratification. I then left the room. I had no further physical contact with her. It was a completely impulsive act and it’s haunted me ever since to think of what I put her through.

I have never again had any inappropriate physical contact with a minor. However, on two later occasions, thirty-two years ago in 1982, and twenty years ago in 1994, I exposed myself to a teenaged girl. The first instance lasted seconds and the second about a minute. I had no physical contact of any kind with either girl. I don’t say this to excuse what I did—it was inexcusable—but to clarify what actually happened.

For me, the moment in 1994 was when realized I had hit bottom and needed to address my issues so that these actions, and anything like them, would never happen again. As a result, I have been in extensive therapy for over twenty years, years of 12 Step recovery, personal growth workshops in therapeutic settings, private religious confession and consultation, daily prayers of atonement, and meditation every day. I have been in treatment continuously for over twenty years. And since that day in 1994, I have not had an impulse to act out in any such way.

If you’ve read this far, you have the full history of my inappropriate behavior with underage girls.

I have agonized over making a direct apology to the women I have mentioned here. I did have an opportunity to do so with one of the women, fifteen years later. I apologized and she was extraordinarily gracious. But after I learned in the course of my treatment that my being direct about such matters could actually make things worse for them by opening old wounds, I have not approached the other two women, one of whom is now in her 50s and the other in her 30s. With all my heart, I want them to know how sorry I am and that I haven’t engaged in any such behavior for over twenty years.

I deeply regret the mistakes I’ve made and any pain I caused these three women. I admit to, apologize for, and take responsibility for what I did.

But here’s the thing: I can’t take responsibility for what I didn’t do—or what some people seem to have imagined.

The marital therapy session was part of a disclosure process recommended by our then-therapist in the hopes of bringing Faye and me closer together. I agreed to take part in these sessions because my wife, whom I loved, was saying that our participation was essential if we were going to heal our marriage—and that’s what I wanted to do. In our first session, in addition to other marital issues, I disclosed the actions described above. Six days later, we had a follow up session with the same therapist; this session is the one that was recorded.

But there are no dates mentioned on the recording that was made public, which is why some people hearing it have assumed that the incidents happened very recently, and not between twenty and forty years ago.

Among several things not included in the excerpts of the recording that were published are an exchange that included my emphatic answers of “No” when Faye asked if I’d ever been inappropriate with any other underage children, including our daughter.

I appeared for eleven seasons on a television series with a cast that included minor females in our TV family, and countless other young actresses throughout the show’s eleven years. I never behaved inappropriately on or off that set—or on any set I’ve ever worked on.

I’ve been amazed and touched by countless private messages of love and support from friends, old and new. They have carried me though this time of humiliation and pain, and I am more grateful for them than I can say.

I had planned not to make a statement until after our divorce trial, which was originally scheduled for November 12th. When the trial had to be postponed, I didn’t feel I could wait any longer to speak up. I owe it to my family, friends and extended family of co-workers, crew members, and a public that has shown so much faith in me over the years. I want to reassure them about who I am, and I want them to understand that I take these issues very seriously.

But I also need people to know that I no longer struggle with the kinds of impulses I once had. I’ve been actively addressing these issues for decades, and, out of respect for those three women, I’ll keep doing so for the rest of my life. While I’m deeply remorseful about what happened, I also know that the wake-up call that came to me in 1994, and the way I’ve chosen to lead my life since then, ensure that such things are never going to happen again.

—Stephen Collins

If you or someone you know has been the victim of sexual abuse, contact the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network at Rainn.org or 1-800-656-HOPE

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