Statement is of "tremendous benefit" to the women he victimized so many years ago, says UCLA professor

By Lynette Rice
December 17, 2014 04:30 PM
Kevin Winter/Getty

Stephen Collins shares a vividly detailed confession with PEOPLE in which he admits he had inappropriate sexual conduct with underage girls. Subscribe now to access the complete statement, only in PEOPLE.

Stephen Collins‘s decision to release a public apology about his past inappropriate behavior will be of “tremendous benefit” to the women he victimized many years ago, experts say.

In his lengthy statement released to PEOPLE, Collins writes, “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.”

“When children are involved in incidents that result in sexual abuse and victimization, they are so traumatized and so unable most of the time to advocate for themselves,” says Dr. Gail Wyatt, a Professor of Psychiatry and Director of the UCLA Sexual Health Program.

“They are not really sure what these experiences are because more than likely they involved somebody that they knew. They frequently go back and forth trying to figure out, was it supposed to happen? Was it supposed to happen to me? Did I do something wrong? Did I bring it on?,” says Dr. Wyatt. “For the person involved in perpetrating the abuse to admit that it was wrong, that they should not have done it, that they are sorry it doesn’t change what happened, but it does help to clarify to the survivor that they didn’t make this up.”

Collins also made the right call not to apologize to his victims personally, experts say. In his statement, the 67-year-old actor best known for his work on 7th Heaven explains he had learned it “could actually make things worse for them by opening old wounds.” He did say he was sorry to one woman 15 years after the fact, but he has not approached the other two – one of whom is in her 50s and the other in her 30s.

“If he seeks them out, that can make a victim feel entirely powerless,” explains Dr. Laura Killinger, a former prosecutor who’s now a professor at William & Mary Law School. “How did this person find me? Is this person still thinking about me? Is this going to happen again? That can be extremely anxiety-provoking.”

And there is no doubt among experts that Collins – who will sit down with Yahoo Global news anchor Katie Couric for an in-depth interview based on his PEOPLE essay (this will stream on Yahoo! and air Friday on 20/20 on ABC) – should continue on his current course of seeking “treatment continuously.”

Besides undergoing therapy for the last 20 years, Collins also explains that he’s participated in years of 12-step recovery and has attended “personal growth workshops in therapeutic settings.” As a result, he claims, “I have not had an impulse to act out in any such way.”

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, says Wyatt. “It’s not a recoverable issue.”

Adds Killinger, “It’s possible that he either decided that this was just an absolutely horrible thing that he did and that he didn’t want to re-offend. Nobody can say. It’s hard to prove a negative, right?”

For Collins’s complete statement, read it on PEOPLE Premium or pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday

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