child abuse

No laughing matter

No laughing matter
Compared to the average humorist, I'm a tad reticent to comment upon sensational cult of personality stories. I feel they're a distraction from what we should be considering. On occasion, however, they involve something truly important.

For instance, actress and singer Mackenzie Phillips' recent disclosures of her childhood horrors certainly brought up issues that we need to discuss: incest and child abuse. They are nervous subjects and they've resulted in a lot of nervous jesting. I've seen a variety of such jokes from friends and colleagues in the humor rackets, mostly via the Facebook social networking site.

When challenged about compounding this sordid mess with salacious comments, some of the skittish quipsters have been quick to blame the victim. After all, hadn't she "admitted" that she had a consensual sexual relationship with her father, the late musician John Phillips, well into her adulthood? Isn't she at least partly culpable? Besides, she's a celebrity so that makes her fair game, right?

Wrong. Mackenzie Phillips was given about as much of a chance to survive in this world as the average Brazilian street kid. The main difference between Mackenzie and those poor urchins is that they were abandoned to the street while her own father paved a boulevard of depravity right through his daughter's home.

John Phillips began drugging Mackenzie with cocaine when she was 11. Eventually he commenced shooting her up with heroin. On one of those occasions, when Ms Phillips was in her late teens, she "came to" while her father was raping her. After that she said she began to have "consensual sex" with him. But it was not consensual because she did not give informed consent. How could she? The only information she had to go on was that it was apparently appropriate for her to be in a drug-induced stupor as she was sexually and emotionally exploited and abused by her father and whatever other scumbags happened to pass through what should have been her safe childhood home.
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Think of it: she had passed out from what may well have been an overdose. At a moment when she could have been dying, her father chose to rape her rather than revive her. When she regained consciousness, she awoke to something so horrible that it led to several more years of drug and sexual abuse with, and by, her perpetrator. And why not? She already felt vile and empty and hopeless. How much more ruined could she be by succumbing to the Stockholm Syndrome and embracing and "permitting" her violator's heinous misdeeds? Why not emulate his deplorable conduct?

When Ms Phillips let the word "consensual" slip while being interviewed on Oprah the other day, she armed her detractors with all they needed. I wonder if any of these people have ever been mugged. I wonder how they'd feel if their mugging was videotaped and someone edited the tape to only show them handing over their valuables. How would they feel if they were then blamed for willingly giving the perpetrator what he wanted?

And so a lot of people now justify harsh judgments of Mackenzie Phillips because she was a "junkie" who "consented" to an incestuous relationship. They ask why she had no moral compass while ignoring the fact that she had been blindfolded and spun ever since she was small child. In such dizzying circumstances, she never once had the kind of clear mind needed to give informed consent to anything. John Phillips never gave his little girl the moral guidance that is a child's birthright. Instead, he made sure that she felt complicit in her drug abuse and sexual exploitation, assaults and rapes. That's what mega-perps like John Phillips do. They turn children's lives into unspeakable hell and then instruct their victims to blame themselves for their pain. The rest of the time they make sure that their prey understands just how unspeakable everything is. And they do this while counting on the average person to snicker away from such situations with seedy little jokes rather than summon the courage to confront the unspeakable. Because of such societal cowardice, John Phillips was able to hide in a bright spotlight.

Now Mackenzie Phillips has sold the legacy her father left her -- the tale of terror that is her life's story. Many will, and are, saying that because she stands to derive a profit from her book "High on Arrival," we know all we need to know about her motives. This is nothing more than an attempt to punish her for speaking the unspeakable. But the only chance abused kids like Mackenzie Phillips have is recovering adults like Mackenzie Phillips, who bravely disclose that this world is still a very unsafe place for kids, whether they are abandoned to the madness of Third World streets or the seclusion of a celebrity's sick and secret life.
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bob HopelessTuesday, October 20th 2009 7:59PM

Thanks for this. The story is horrifying, but I admit one that I had the "oh, God" reaction to and then went on to enlighten myself on the other horrors of the world.

Since I began working in the mental health field as a therapist about seven years ago, I have heard about and witnessed the absolutely incredible damage this kind of criminal, depraved behavior has on the children it is practiced on. Since I had my own child, I find it even more difficult to focus my mind on it. I work in a psych hospital with severly mentally ill adults, and my best guess would be that over 50%, maybe more, were sexually abused by family, relatives or family "friends" and that, although their illnesses have other triggers and confounding factors as well, the abuse is in many cases something they will never be able to recover from. Your point about McKenzkie never having a chance is well taken.

One of the fascinating episodes in the history of psychoanalysis is Freud's backpedaling on the issue of child abuse. First, from many interviews with patients, he came to the conclusion that many children were being sexually abused. But society wasn't hearing about that,and after considerable approbation, he took the easier way out and conceptualized a lot of this as "fantasy". Almost can't blame the guy, but it probably helped set us back many years. Still, we can't and won't face it- that many adults think this is okay behavior. Yeah, it's a hard thought to live with.

LanaMonday, October 19th 2009 1:45AM

Barry - thanks for this amazingly concise piece on MacKenzie Phillips' recent disclosures of abuse and the ways in which so many people in the entertainment and media sectors have responded to it.  I apologize for not getting to this earlier, but as you know this story hits very close to home and sometimes I just need a break....  

As I was reading your piece and thinking of all of the ignorant comments that I have heard with respect to how MacKenzie "consented" to the abuse, I was reminded of how many similar things I heard as a teenager while I was being sexually assaulted by my father.  No matter how old I was, I was almost always asked why I didn't run, or somehow stop the abuse.  If MacKenzie would have been younger when the rapes began, she still would have faced much of the same public humiliation that she is now facing.  People place a lot of power with the victims and tend to view the perpetrators as somehow unable to stop themselves -- as if they are the real victims.  As strange as this sounds, this really does go on in many cases where the perpetrator is related to the victim.  So many people cannot or will not allow themselves to be with the pain and sadness that these cases always bring.  

I give MacKenzie enormous credit for coming forward and I think that it illustrates to some degree what it like for so many victims who come forward no matter their age.  I cannot tell you how physically sickened I have been throughout my adult life by hearing jokes about "incest" (you know "incest is best," etc.).  That is one of the reasons why you will never hear my refer to what my own father did as "incest."  Incest happens between blood-related adults and the dictionary definition does not include the terms "rape or exploitation."  What happened to me, and MacKenzie was rape and exploitation in the most extreme sense of the words.  So I call it what is was - serial rape by a family member.

MacKenzie, if you ever read this, I am with you as a survivor of serial rape by a relative, namely my father.  I don't care how old you were when it happened -- it is still serial rape.  I applaud your bravery and wish you peace and healing.

Barry - thanks for setting the record on this issue strait.  I can always count on you to do so in the most compassionate way possible.  I am sorry for the ways in which you had to become so painfully familiar with this subject matter.

BobSaturday, October 17th 2009 7:36AM

Barry: I apologize for not attributing the quote.
As for the rest, as I said in my first comment, my gut level feeling is McKenzie is telling the truth. And I absolutely agree with you that those attacking her need to shut their mouths immediately – there is no way for them to know what happened.
But that doesn't mean I have to accept the notion that an accusation from one person with a second offering corroboration is iron-clad proof that the accused is guilty. In the McMartin case 48 children gave statements alleging abuse, molestation, and ritualistic satanic orgies. 48 children – and I remember vividly having life-long friends sputtering with rage because I dared suggest the whole thing sounded fishy. I was told the exact same thing – "NO ONE lies about this stuff." Today, you can't find a single person who will admit to having been caught up in the "fry those bastards – they molested children" hysteria yet at the time I remember being REAL lonely whenever I said, "gee, I'm not so sure any of this happened."
To this day some of those kids – now adults – still swear it all happened. Of course others have come forward and said it didn't happen. And even the most cursory glance at the "evidence" proves pretty conclusively that it just didn't occur. And there was never any forensic evidence. And this was a large walk-in day care center with staggered schedules meaning parents were coming and going at all times, making the notion of adult/child daisy chains on pentagrams rather hard to believe. But damn it, in the court of public opinion at the time – it happened because the kids said it did.
And I have enormous sympathy for the children. I don't believe they lied. I do believe – no, I know - they swore crimes were committed against them which never actually occurred. And those accusations ruined the McMartin family – just utterly destroyed it.
So when I'm told one person claiming incest with another corroborating is all the proof I should need, I have to differ. It sounds plausible and giving everything we know about John Phillips it sounds even more plausible but 2 statements is still 46 fewer than 48 and seeing as the accused is dead and will never stand trial that's as far as I'm willing to go with it.

Bob- I want justice for the falsely accused.

I want justice for victims of crimes. Period.

You choose to focus on a few aging cases that have been mega-publicized and have certainly had a good influence on how children are questioned and how such cases are prosecuted.

You were the one who said Ms Phillips charges weren't corroborated. When I said they were you said corroboration isn't enough and resumed your lecture. Then you set up the strawman of "iron-clad proof" and battered it to death as a warning to other strawmen who may be considering wading into this discussion.


If they ask how you got so bruised, tell them you slipped on the stairs.


If you tell anyone about what we did they will take you away from your Mommy and Daddy.

Because millions of these crimes are  committed one-on-one and in private, there can be no corroboration. So here's a "straw" poll question for you: should perpetrators who remember to do their raping, beating and emotional destruction of children in private automatically be considered innocent because there were a few bad prosecutions in the 90's that HBO and PBS documented in great detail?

I'll answer my own rehtorical, loaded question: Of course not

Lessons have been learned from the overzealous prosecutions that have received so much note. But they also get misused as a distraction meant to keep us from noticing that child abuse remains the most prevalent, easiest-to-get-away-with crime on the books.


BobWednesday, October 14th 2009 2:40PM

"NO ONE lies about this stuff,..."
Tell that to the McMartin/Buckeys.

Bob, I wish you'd have attributed the quote because some people might assume I said or advocated this and not an earlier commenter.

I will say this: From strictly anecdotal experience I've found that victims of abuse often make qualifying statements that tend to minimize what happened to them. This is for many reasons--  but I think mostly  because they haven't really dared to fathom all that they've been through and its impact.

I will also say there have been prosecutions of innocent people for crimes against kids they didn't commit. This is horrible and unjust and I deplore such abuse of authority. It's not as if we need to fabricate such criminals.

I will further say that if there is a serious crime that is under-prosecuted more than child abuse, I have yet to hear about it.


uncle buckWednesday, October 14th 2009 8:37AM

Glad to read you again - via Wolcott - after a long break from the blogging gig. Realized how much I've missed your insights.
Was getting worried that no mention was being made of Mama Phillips' role in this human tragedy until I read the first comment last.
Well done Jackie!
A lot of bad shit came out of that L.A. 60's scene - and I'm not just referring to the Manson family.
Interesting how this story coincides with the 'Creepy Dave' revelations.
Perhaps we should be a bit more cautious about who we idolize as a culture.
From what I've seen of Mackenzie on the teevee she is an incredibly brave and well-adjusted young woman.
Thanks Barry!

Steve in SwindonTuesday, October 13th 2009 11:16AM

When I read the Mackenzie's story, my first reaction was how brave she was in talking out, and not that she must be lying.

Telling others what happened to you takes courage and she had the courage to speak out, so should be commended.

NO ONE lies about this stuff, or put themselves up for potential ridicule, which some have thrown her way

I work with adult male survivors of csa/rape and am a male survivor myself..does any one want to tell me or my clients that we are liars?

My heart goes out to everyone, male and female, who have been  sexually abused and also to Mackenzie in her struggle to overcome this


BobWednesday, October 7th 2009 6:44PM

Although my gut feeling is she is telling the truth all we really have here is the word of one person that a crime was committed by one who is dead and thus unable to offer any defense. It's a horrible, sad, ugly story all the way around and there is absolutely no question over John Phillips' guilt in any number of crimes committed against Mackenzie. He confessed to them well still alive.
But this notion that an accusation is the exact same thing as a conviction makes me a tad nervous none-the-less.
No one should attack Mackenzie. Lord knows her father was a monster and in no way shape or form am I saying she's lying. Still, we are talking about one specific charge for which there is no evidence other than one person's word and acting as though that is proof "beyond a reasonable doubt."
Google "convictions overturned by dna" if you want to get some understanding of how problematic that can be.

But there has been corroboration:

One more woman has spoken out in reaction to Mackenzie's story. Jessica Woods is the daughter of Denny Doherty, the other male singer in the Mamas & the Papas. In an e-mail to The Oprah Show, Jessica wrote: "I just watched your show with Mackenzie Phillips. Tears are running down my face. Everything she said is true. My dad told me the awful truth. He was horrified at what John had done and knew all of it."

Walter DufresneWednesday, October 7th 2009 10:55AM

Thanks for reminding us how wrong it is that our society's chattering discourse so quickly ignores child abuse.

terraformerWednesday, September 30th 2009 2:25PM

This is a sad history, but Philips has monumental courage to come forward with what happened to her.  Let it be a lesson to everyone.

..and welcome back, Barry.  We miss you!!!


Judy MikeskaWednesday, September 30th 2009 1:50PM

Anyone who says anything bad about this poor woman simply has not gone through anything similar, or known anyone who has.  It is devastating in any degree, I know.  She really had it bad, much worse than myself.  I can also understand why she didn't say anything until he passed away.  God Bless her and may she find peace.

Glenn CondellWednesday, September 30th 2009 6:59AM

Well said Barry, as always. I know this is a subject close to your heart, which I guess is why it stirred you. I do hope though that we don't have to wait too long for something else to stir you - you are much missed.

Chuck G.Sunday, September 27th 2009 9:32PM

As a therapist who has worked with abused client's for the past 25 years, I thank you for your attention to this subject.


CharlieSunday, September 27th 2009 1:23PM

"...all the leaves are brown and the sky is grey.."
With any look Ms Phillips will have a spring time in her life.

Congratulations!Sunday, September 27th 2009 8:37AM

Excellent Barry!  Guy

Tim MungenastSaturday, September 26th 2009 9:13PM

Excellent work, old friend, and a valuable public service, especially to past and current victims. (To all of you who toss eggs at the victim, in the words of Frank Zappa, "I think you'd better check it again." Ask yourself where this effed-up attitude is coming from.) Since I do not follow tabloid pop culture as closely as I should, I had no idea that one of my musical idols was doing such non-human things to his own daughter. I hope this poor woman makes a pile of dough off this book, and that it helps other victims see that what they went through was not normal.  Anyway, Barry, well done.


MarieSaturday, September 26th 2009 8:54PM

Bravo!  Thank you Barry Crimmins!  I've always liked you.  Now I love you.  Thank you for writing such a thoughtful, heartfelt, brilliant article in support of Mackenzie Phillips and those in her position.  

catherineSaturday, September 26th 2009 5:58PM

To whoever wrote the following: (it's not clear from the way the comments are arranged)
"As a psychologist and former counsellor I tried to point out the "clues" in her story that proved it was true."  

Could you provide some of the clues for us readers, and also put them out on a blog somewhere? The thing that bothered me about this is that he's dead and can offer no defense, which spurs on the deniers, so knowing the clues that make it true might help quiet the "consensualites."  Thanks

Mike McDonaldSaturday, September 26th 2009 3:51PM

It's an upside down world when a humorist has to point out that it's NOT OK to drug and fuck their daughter..... on a regular basis.
I'm pretty sure that's page 1 in the parenting handbook.

The dripping irony here is that his band was named The Mama's and the Papa's, (Yikes) and she ended up appearing in 123 episodes of "One Day at a Time."


cindi dolph-mckSaturday, September 26th 2009 3:32PM

thank you for understanding and taking a stand.  i have been getting backlash when i show my compassion for mack.  these people make me ill with their flippant retorts!  i keep trying to make them see the light.  no one should be made to do ANYTHING against their will, regardless of the circumstances. child abuse has been one of my warrior causes for a long time.  deepist thanks.

child abuseSaturday, September 26th 2009 2:44PM

It really bothered me when this story broke to see the number of people commenting in my local paper that she was no victim, that she was lying, that she only wanted to sell her book and numerous other unkind and ignorant comments.   As a psychologist and former counsellor I tried to point out the "clues" in her story that proved it was true.   As far as her making money on her book, I hope she makes a bundle for being brave enough to tell her story.

WISDOM AND PAINSaturday, September 26th 2009 2:34PM


Your heart and spirit are as brilliant as your mind, old friend. She deserves a defender like you.

Thank you.

Miss ya, pal.

Rick O


Cathe BSaturday, September 26th 2009 2:25PM

Right On Barry- those who have gone through sexual abuse, or any kind of abuse- get it.. those who haven't, or who think it doesn't exist.. they just can't. YOU are kind to write so eloquently..and speak for those of us who can't or don't know how.

Bonnie KramerSaturday, September 26th 2009 1:00PM

Right on, brother! The world remains terrifyingly unsafe for children. Not just iin the third world. There can be no consenual relations between people  with different power in the relationship. I think she is very brave and I hope she makes a zillion dollars on the book. When you live through a nightmare, and survive it, you are ALLOWED to write about!!!

Child abuseSaturday, September 26th 2009 12:54PM

Thank you Barry.

Mackenzie must be in so much pain and telling her story is only part of the long tunnel she is in.

I can only think that consensual in this situation only means she didn't stand up to him with some weapon.

I hope she survives.


GinaSaturday, September 26th 2009 12:53PM

I'm sorry it took such a sad event to bring you out of work cubby but I'm really glad to read your perspective. It made me queasy when the story came out but some of the fallout was sickening. I feel just as uncomfortable as anyone when confronted with child abuse and incest but compassionate intelligence like yours helps us all. I'm sorry John Phillips is already dead.

Come BackSaturday, September 26th 2009 12:23PM

We miss you in NYC.  And your great big heart and brain and your unrelenting quest for intelligent life in the universe.  Come visit!

michael heatonSaturday, September 26th 2009 11:47AM

VERY powerful

Thanks, Mikey!


JackieSaturday, September 26th 2009 11:42AM

As usual, Crimmins is dead-on here.  I find it offensive that Michele Phillips should accuse her step daughter of having a mental illness. How is it possible to endure childhood drug and sexual abuse and not have mental challenges to overcome?  Rather than hurling accusations, compassion must be extended to victims of childhood abuse.  If they don't get every fact straight it is because the factual basis of their young life story has been permanently skewed.  The only fact that matters is that their God given innocence has been vilified.

 Mackenzie Phillips has every right to 'own' her story and capitalize on it in any way she chooses.  That is part of recovery. The fact that she has chosen to go public which might help other victims and inform society in general as to the horrors that continue to threaten young children, should be met with gratitude not snarky self-serving barbs. Thank you Barry for helping to slay the doubters.  They are all part of the problem.

Jackie, Thanks for adding such crucial info to this discussion. And double thanks for your compassion.