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THE DIRTY FAMILY SECRETLIKE ALL MOLESTERS, TOM KNOWS HOW TO CON

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Incredibly, the victims also suffer from their own denial of what happened to them. Why? "Because it's painful," Okner says. "We have a kid whose father raped her. But she'll say it's not a big deal because `I love my daddy and I want to go back.' And they're willing to sacrifice themselves. And I'm telling you, nothing pisses me off more than seeing that. Because that is this con that this adult did to that girl to make her minimize herself where not even rape affected her."

Okner says he doesn't teach "stranger-danger" because most kids know their offenders: "And I have a real hard time with all the emphasis that was placed on `stranger-danger.' I teach `inappropriate behavior,' because then it could come from anybody." Okner reverts to role-playing: "If my grandpa molests me, geez, he's not a stranger. He loves me, I love him. It must be okay."

The crust of denial can be like granite, and that calls for a blast of dynamite. Sometimes, though, even that's not enough. When Marc Okner plays the role of The Offender in the kids' therapy group, this is what he says frequently happens:

"Hi," the child nervously says. "Well . . . "
The offender: "What do you want to say to me?"
"Well . . . why did you do this?"
"Do what?"
"You know."
"You mean what you lied about?"
"I didn't lie."

"And then," says Okner, "the children turn their heads and cry. That's control. I've won. And there's a lot of winning going on."

"The questions are always about Tom. Very few, interestingly enough, about Tom's daughter."

"Why is there this push to get molesters and their families back together?"

"There's nothing that makes me feel worse than seeing a child who's had a terrible childhood grow up and have a terrible adulthood, then pass it on."

"I can always tell who I feel were victims."

"I become, as much as I can, something that I detest."

"A lot of these kids go through the justice system and feel like they're being prosecuted."

Will a shock tactic like Tom the Molester have an impact on adults?

"The best thing they could say, not only for themselves but to the children, is: `You are not to blame. I'm sorry. I'm sick. You didn't do it.'

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Ward Harkavy
Contact: Ward Harkavy