Pediatrician Accused Of Child Molestation Puts Parents On Alert

Delaware pediatrician Earl Bradley was indicted on 471 counts of sexual abuse against children in his care. The case has rocked the town of Lewes, Delaware. Host Michel Martin speaks with Dr. Marilyn Corder, a pediatrician in the Washington, D.C., area as well as regular Tell Me More parenting contributors Jolene Ivey and Leslie Morgan Steiner for more on what parents and caregivers should know when choosing pediatricians and what to do to keep children safe at the doctor's office.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

Finally today, we want to talk about what has to be one of a parent's worst nightmares. And, I know that that's one those cliches invoked so often you want to tune it out, but in this case it has to be true: Finding out that your child has become a victim of sexual abuse. To make matters worse, the predator is not some stranger, but the one person most people rely upon to keep their children healthy: the pediatrician. A Delaware grand jury recently indicted Dr. Earl Bradley, a pediatrician, on over 400 felony counts in the alleged sexual abuse of his young patients, ranging in age from 18 months to 14 years. He is charged with sexually assaulting 102 girls and one boy that he treated.

Some of the abuses were caught on more than a dozen hours of video tape seized from the doctor's office and home. Dr. Bradley's being held on bail. His license has been permanently revoked. Now, of course, Bradley has not been found guilty, and he has a right to a fair trial. But in light of these horrific allegations, we wanted to take a minute to think about the lessons for parents and caregivers. Here to help us answer this are Dr. Marilyn Corder. She's a pediatrician with a diverse practice in Washington, D.C., she's also an associate professor of pediatrics, and two of our regular contributors two our weekly moms conversations, Jolene Ivey and Leslie Morgan Steiner. Welcome ladies, Moms, thanks for joining us.

Ms. JOLENE IVEY: Thanks, Michel.

Ms. LESLIE MORGAN STEINER: Thanks, Michel.

Dr. MARILYN CORDER (Pediatrician and Associate Professor, George Washington and Howard Universities): Thank you.

MARTIN: Dr. Corder, it's been reported that this has gone on for years. And I think a lot of people would like to know how is it possible that even a trusted figure like a pediatrician could allegedly abuse this many patients over the course of such a long time without being detected.

Dr. CORDER: Absolutely - now the reports are saying it's over two decades. And apparently there had been complaints alleged against him, but unfortunately they just kind a dismissed it or said, you know, they didn't have enough proof and authorities and hospitals just kind of moved him on. And as he went from place to place, the right thing would have been to have reported it.

MARTIN: When you heard about this, you know, oftentimes when it's a member of a group, like if it's a member of a group that you belong to, you feel an extra special disgust, that something like this. And I wanted to know...

Dr. CORDER: Gut wrenching.

MARTIN: ...you know, what your reaction was?

Dr. CORDER: Gut wrenching. I was just appalled. I'm a pediatrician of 30 years, and it just hit me because we are supposed to protect.

MARTIN: I want to bring the other moms in. Jolene, what is this case bring up for you as a mother of five? Five boys.

Ms. IVEY: Yeah, five boys for sure. And we've had two pediatricians over the years pretty much who we just love, and just the thought that they would ever do anything like that is just unthinkable. At the same time, I've been present for most of their exams until they get to a certain age where I think that, you know, I think they need their own privacy with the doctor and maybe I start thinking now, is that wrong? Should I not let my 14-year-old go in to talk to the doctor? But...

MARTIN: Let's ask Dr. Corder that question. I think Jolene raises an important point. There is a point at which kids of whatever gender start to want to have private conversations, and the doctor sometimes wants private conversations with the patient. At what point should the parents step out?

Dr. CORDER: There is something called adolescent confidentiality. And as an adolescent specialist, we educate the parents as we raise them in the practice from toddler on up, and we say there's a part of the exam, we excuse the parents out. And we make sure it's okay with the child, the teenager, because that will allow the patient feel comfortable in talking about adolescent issues: sexuality, drugs, just risky, or, you know, just what's going on with them. But you still include the parents. Even afterwards you just say, okay, all is well or, you know, you still have some involvement, but you want to make sure that that communication with the doctor, with the patient, is above board.

MARTIN: Apparently some of this alleged abuse occurred when the doctor would allow a child to take a toy, for example, a toy box, which a number of medical professionals have as an incentive for child to come, and apparently they'll say that this happened in a matter of minutes. He would take the child, say, to a basement - and that's, in fact, where this behavior was initially discovered was when a two-year-old told her mother that Dr. Bradley allegedly hurt her in December of 2009 when he took her to a basement room of his office after an exam. And the parent in that case says that the child was only out of his or her presence for a matter of minutes. So, what does that tell us, though, that you shouldn't let your child out of your sight at all? Leslie, what do you think?

Ms. STEINER: You know, as an abuse victim myself - I was a victim of spousal abuse, not childhood sexual abuse - the first thing that occurred to me is that abuse thrives only in silence. And, I think this little girl, the two-year-old who told her parents and her parents for listening to her are heroes in a way because they broke the silence. And, I think, it's very easy to dismiss a two-year-old, especially when they come to you and say the doctor hurt me. Because going to the doctor isn't pleasant, some of it does hurt and it would have been really easy for the parents to just say no you're imagining it. But they listened and raised an alarm. And to me that's the hope of this is that more parents will listen to their kids and more kids will speak out.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We're having our weekly visit with the moms and we're talking Dr. Marilyn Corder, a pediatrician, Jolene Ivey and Leslie Morgan Steiner. And we're talking about the Delaware pediatrician who was accused of sexually abusing over 100 of his young patients, and we're talking about what we can learn from this. Jolene, when you talk about - can you give us exactly what language to use with different ages of kids to make sure that they can talk to you about something like this?

Ms. IVEY: Well, what I've said to my boys from the time they were very little is, you know, as you're giving them a bath you might talk about oh, this is your penis, or these are your testicles, or whatever. So, that they're comfortable with the words and then it's nothing to be embarrassed about, and then when you start talking about these parts of your body are private. These are parts that, you know, I might help you wash right now, but when you get older even I won't help you with. And the only people who can touch these parts are the ones you give permission to. So, no one gets permission without you giving it to them, whether it's an adult, or another kid, or whoever it is. So, that they feel ownership over their bodies.

MARTIN: Leslie, what about you?

Ms. STEINER: I've even - I've done what Jolene has done with my three kids, but I took it even a step further, that I explained to them that there are some people who intentionally try to have sex with kids. And I know it's a shocking thing to talk about with your children, but I felt like I had to be really explicit. So, I was very intentionally specific, and I told them if they needed to tell me if that ever happened.

MARTIN: Dr. Corder, there are things about going to the doctor that do hurt.

Dr. CORDER: Yes.

MARTIN: I mean, one of the hardest things for me when I had children was holding my kids down to get shots. It used to kill me. It took every ounce of my strength to hold my children down to get them immunized, so then to turn around and say it's not supposed to hurt - help us out here.

Dr. CORDER: Okay, you know, coming to the doctor's office sometime is traumatic. When you know your child is going to get a shot, the two-year-old will start to cry. We say it's an immunization. We explain it to them. They begin to understand. It's just for a quick shot to make sure bad germs don't attack you. But there's a certain conversation that we have with the parents as we're talking to the child about the no-no touch, about this is not appropriate. And I have to encourage my medical students, my residents when they're examining, you get permission and you exercise that each visit. Mommy, I'm about to examine Jamal(ph) or Jessica(ph) and let Jamal and Jessica know it's okay. This is only when Mommy is in the room or Daddy's in the room or Grandma's in the room, and that must be protected.

MARTIN: Leslie?

Ms. STEINER: I think that, you know, this is just another example of why you need to talk to your kids about sex, and that it's never too young to talk to them openly about sex. I also think that in addition to talking, you have to listen really carefully to your kids. And if there's anything that they say that indicates that anybody has made them uncomfortable, listen to them. And listening also means listen to their bodies. One of my best friends from college is a pediatrician, and she used to say to my kids, you know, it's your body, you get to decide. And I've used that - even when we lived in Minnesota, I've never forced my kids to wear a winter coat, because I would say it's your body.

And, I think that that's sort of part of listening to a kid is when they say they don't want to do something. I think there are times, you know, obviously there are times where you have to impose your will, but you've got to be really careful and listen when they're giving you clues about things that are going on and teach them to listen to their own instincts.

MARTIN: Leslie, I take what you have to say but I think you can't help but second guess and think of all the times that you let your child go down the hallway without you or something and...

Ms. STEINER: Sure.

MARTIN: ...you're playing it in your mind thinking what could I have done.

Ms. STEINER: Exactly.

MARTIN: ...differently?

Ms. STEINER: You know, in my pediatrician's office they take kids into a small dark room for the eye exam and they don't let parents in, because it's a tiny room. And my kids are never going in that room again alone, you know? I think that obviously we can learn, but it's different to learn something versus beating yourself up for something that's really, truly not your fault. That just gets in the way of helping your kids in the future.

MARTIN: Jolene, final thought?

Ms. IVEY: Well, no one wants their kid or any kid to be the canary in the coalmine. You don't want any kid to have to experience sexual abuse at all. So, the more adults can do to look out around them, to be aware of people, friends, family, whoever, if somebody is given you the creeps there might be a reason for it. So, listen to yourself, listen to your kids. And don't beat yourself up, but be aware.

MARTIN: Dr. Corder, a final thought from you?

Dr. CORDER: Yes, and this is something that we're seeing increasingly in our community to the point that, you know, we used to have our children able to go to the playgrounds and go out, but keep an eye on your children and make sure that you read their body language, as well as how they have discomfort around some individuals. And pop in on the day care - this is just not the pediatrician, just go - unscheduled appearances, different places that you allow your children to spend hours. So, it's very important to listen and to educate.

MARTIN: Dr. Marilyn Corder is a pediatrician with a practice in Washington, D.C. She's also an associate professor of pediatrics at two different institutions of higher learning here in the Washington, D.C. area. She was here with us in our Washington, D.C. studio, along with Jolene Ivey and Leslie Morgan Steiner, our regular TELL ME MORE parenting contributors. And I thank you all so much for speaking with us.

Dr. CORDER: Thanks, Michel.

Ms. IVEY: Thanks, Michel.

Ms. STEINER: Thank you.

(Soundbite of music)

MARTIN: And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow.

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