Dr. Keith Ablow

Dr. Keith Ablow is a forensic psychiatrist who has treated dozens of men and women who have sexually abused their children. Dr. Ablow says that people are confused about what sexual molestation actually is. Is it touching? Is it only penetration? How does one define it?

"I define it as any sexual act or behavior that is uninvited or for which somebody's not prepared maturity-wise to respond to in an adult manner," Dr. Ablow says. "So it can be touching. It certainly can be, and we know, penetration, but there are also…fathers or mothers sometimes who are inappropriate with their children emotionally, in terms of being flirtatious, which causes its own kind of psychological damage. So it's all of that."

"I believe that our country is really confused about its notion of sexual abuse," Oprah says. "I think that the reason why the country is confused is because when you hear about [a child molester] looking at kids getting off a school bus you think, 'Oh, my God. That's terrible.' But that is somebody's husband, somebody's son, somebody's brother, and perhaps even somebody's father—and when it's in your house, you can find justifications for it. And so that consciousness that allows anyone, no matter who it is, to say, 'Maybe they can be helped' or, 'We had some good times' or, 'They're not all bad'—that way of thinking is what has us all confused."
Dr. Keith Ablow, Marilyn, Jody, Leanna and Oprah

In a previous show, three women talked about the moment they discovered their husbands and partners were child molesters . Leanna had been married to James for eight years when one day, 17 FBI officers arrived to arrest her husband on charges of sexual assault on minors. Jody shot and killed her partner Georgie after she claims to have found him masturbating on a bed, watching a pornographic film with her young daughter next to him, naked. And Marilyn stayed married to her husband for years even though she says he admitted to molesting her children.

Dr. Ablow is here to help them understand why they were involved with these molesters.

Jody says she had just come out of an abusive relationship when she met Georgie. She was aware that Georgie had a criminal record.

"And I think to myself, 'Run as fast as you can,'" she says. "[But] I thought I could handle it."

Dr. Ablow says her behavior was partly due to low self-esteem. "But when you say 'I knew better; I should have run'—My guess is this isn't the first time in your life where you should have run."

Jody says she has been running her entire life and that instead of facing things, she turns away. "I was molested as a child, so I struggled with that for a lot of years and during my teenage years I turned to drugs and alcohol and to the wrong scenes," she says. "And then at about 20 years old I realized I couldn't use that as a cop-out anymore. It was time to move forward and, I had to accept this happened to me and not let it bring me down. And I lived good and was doing good for a while. But I ended up falling back into the same [pattern]."

Leanna says her then-husband would often engage in suspicious behavior—he was often not home, and when he was, he would lock himself in a room with his computer and forbid her to come in.

Dr. Ablow says Leanna was in denial about his behavior. "If I were to lock myself into my office at home, not permitting my wife entry, I wouldn't be at home very long," he says. "For Leanna, therefore, something in her life experience led her to be able to tolerate a myth. Your husband says 'I'm in there doing computer games. But you can't come in.' … That doesn't compute."

Dr. Ablow asks Leanna what else in her life "didn't compute?"

"What untruth might you have lived with as a younger person that allows you to choose this fiction in place of reality?" he questions. "And by the way, when your husband met you, he knew you were that person, right? … You know, he knew who you were from the very beginning. He knew when he closed his door and locked it and said 'I'm playing chess,' that you were the kind of person, through no fault of your own but because you've had your own life story, who would say, 'Okay, I believe it. I'm concerned, but I believe you.'"

Leanna says she acted that way because she was given no choice. "I was afraid of him. I was afraid and I knew that I could only go so far."

On February 6, 2004, James Perry attempted to abduct 13-year-old Cassie, who was with her family at a hotel for the weekend.

Cassie was stepping out of the elevator when James Perry grabbed her, put his hand over her mouth and held his gun to her temple. He threatened to blow her brains out if she screamed. As Perry led her away from the hotel, Cassie says she made a decision: She was not going with him. She waited until she saw people within earshot, started screaming and managed to run away.

Marilyn says that when she discovered her then-husband was molesting her sons, she thought he just needed help. She decided to "keep an eagle eye on him," and would sleep on her floor in front of the door to make sure he did not leave the bedroom at night.

"You want to be loved so much at some level. You want it to work so badly. And you're capable of loving someone who's flawed so much that you missed the point, which is that you're not a cop," Dr. Ablow says of Marilyn's reaction to her ex-husband's behavior. "And even though you very much want it to work, the best thing to do in these situations is to throw up your hands and say, 'You know what? As sad as it's going to be, as tragic as it is—one strike and you're out. You hurt my kid just one time, I'm sorry, maybe I made a mistake. I'm going to have to err on the side of caution.'"
Dr. Keith Ablow

Dr. Ablow believes that molesters are "broken people" with their own sad history of abuse. "Someone destroyed your boyfriend," Dr. Ablow tells Jody, who shot her boyfriend after an alleged molestation incident with her daughter. "And we don't have that person to hold into account. And the fact that he was killed, to me, is a tragic outcome of a story that went bad. It would have been much better, of course—and I think Jody would agree—if we could have found him early and tried to help him. Not necessarily with an eye toward letting him go, but with an eye toward being human toward him. Saying, 'Look, I'm sorry, we don't have a cure [for molesters] so of course you can't leave this building. But we don't hate you. We feel bad for you.' If we can find that in our souls."

"Is that what we should be doing? Feeling badly for them?" Oprah asks.

"It's very hard to feel sympathy toward someone who hurts a child," says Dr. Ablow. "In order to do that, you have to do what I do in my career and in my life, which is find the child in those broken people. And once you hear what happened to them, it's very hard to maintain the same position of judgment."
Dr. Ablow and Oprah

Oprah and Dr. Ablow believe the nation is confused as to how it should punish convicted sex offenders.

Oprah: This country has not made a decision, as a collective body, about how we feel about child molesters. And the reason we haven't made a decision is because when it comes time to make a decision in everybody's home, somebody says, "Well, maybe he can get help." "Maybe he can be rehabilitated." "Well, I don't want him to serve [time]—I mean, I want him to be slapped on the hand but he's the provider of my family and maybe we can make our family work." We haven't decided what we really want done.

Dr. Ablow: There's an inherent disconnect. In other words, when [the molester is] someone we care about, we want this person to get help. When it happens to someone we don't know we want the person put in jail for life or killed.

Oprah: That's right. That's my point.

Dr. Ablow: We need to come closer to caring about everything and do the right thing.

The following conversations, Oprah says, are some of the most important she has ever heard—the chilling confessions of convicted sex offenders. "You will see how calculating [molestation] is," Oprah says, "It's a calculated seduction."

One man said he would volunteer to watch the kids so that he could be alone with them. After his wife returned home, he would tell her that he did something "strange" to one of the children, and that child may have misinterpreted his actions. That way, if the child mentioned it to her mother, she would already figure it was a misunderstanding.

Another man said most of his victims were in single-mother environments. He says he would "groom" the children—touching them accidentally, giving them little hugs and pecks—to see how far he could go. When he felt safe enough, he said he would ask to give them a French kiss.
Dr. Ablow

Do you know how to spot a molester? Dr. Ablow says one way is direct evidence—pornographic material involving children. And when pornography is coupled with drug use, it's a clear sign that a person is detached from reality and has trouble caring for other people, he says.

Another sign is an estrangement with children from a previous relationship. Don't assume that the kids have a problem. "Become an investigator," Dr. Ablow says, "Be more paranoid, not less paranoid."

"Is part of the reason the country is so undecided, ambiguous [about molestation] because everybody thinks it's just about the sex?" Oprah asks Dr. Ablow. "People think that, 'Oh, well, it was just about the sex.'"

"Correct," Dr. Ablow agrees. "If it was just the sex, it would be a different problem. The fact that someone says he loves you, who you desperately want to love you—he's your dad and this is your home and you want to be safe, so this is what you define as 'home,' right? That's the mind-bending part of it."