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Counsellor’s Corner with Jessica Bruhn: Advice columnists enabled sexual predator

This article is for Wayne and Tamara Mitchell. I was greatly concerned to read your “Direct Answers” advertisement in the marketplace section of the July 14 edition of the Yellowknifer.
Actor Joshua Jackson protrayed Pacey on Dawson’s Creek, a popular teen-centred television drama from the 1990s.His character had an affair with a teacher, Tamara, in a scenario that also played out in an advice column printed in Yellowknifer earlier this month, according to columnist Jessica Bruhn. Wikimedia Commons photo

This article is for Wayne and Tamara Mitchell. I was greatly concerned to read your “Direct Answers” advertisement in the marketplace section of the July 14 edition of the Yellowknifer.

You titled the piece, “Turning Point,” and proceeded to give advice to a sexual predator who convinced herself that it was OK to have sex with a 16-year-old boy when she was 32 years old.

To give some perspective, I’m a 34-year-old woman; the amount of maturity and life experience I have, as well as the depth of understanding of consent, human rights and human development is exponentially more than a 16-year-old boy. I want to tell both of you that by creating an acceptable storybook narrative around this woman’s betrayal of a child’s trust, you perpetuate the enabling of and confuse the process of ending child sexual abuse. I can tell you that the rates of sexual abuse against boys and girls in the Northwest Territories is higher than average in the rest of Canada. I can tell you that because as a practicing psychotherapist, soon to be psychologist, sexual abuse cases, incest, and psychological abuse involving gas-lighting and the DARVO response, have dominated my practice for the past five years.

So, to avoid any confusion in future on your points as advice columnists that buy ads at the back of the paper and attempt to simplify a woman’s betrayal of a 16 year old child, as simply a case of “forbidden love,” to be the, “heroine in her own story” and to make her life a “page-turner,” you are fundamentally wrong and morally reprehensible.

What your advice column should have entailed as trauma-informed professionals (which it is clear you are not), was:

Dear Debbie,

You groomed and sexually abused a child in your own home, betrayed the trust of your stepson by praying on the naïveté and underdeveloped executive functioning abilities of a 16 year old boy, and attempted to avoid responsibility by reminding readers that the age of sexual consent is 16. You missed one crucial aspect in your story: you were in a position of authority as the mother of his friend, a potential legal guardian were he or your stepson to suffer a medical accident or need emergency help. And we have to be 18 in order to consent to have sex with a person in a position of authority.

Also, I’d like to inform you of the definition of incest. You may’ve only thought it was limited to rape between direct family members, but it’s not.

The full definition of incest is, in accordance with the recovery group, Survivors of Incest Anonymous (SIA) is: “In SIA, incest is defined broadly as any sexual encounter by a family member, or by an extended family member that damaged the child. “Extended family member” means a person that the child or their family has known over a period of time. This may be any family member, a family friend, clergy, another child, or anyone who betrayed the child’s innocence and trust. SIA maintains that incest survivors were affected by the abuse whether it occurred once or many times since the damage was incurred immediately. In SIA, “abuse” is defined as any sexual behavior or contact with a child. Sexual contact may include verbal and/ or physical behaviors; penetration is not necessary for the experience to be defined as incest or sexual abuse.”

If you can’t stop all contact with the child you abused, right away, (now a 20 year old man you still hold psychological and emotional control over), then first make a sincere apology and explain to him and his family how you violated his trust in all of the above ways, contact your local child protection services office and take a course on how to identify psychological manipulation and sexual abuse by adults against children. Volunteer on the NWT helpline, where you have a good chance of hearing grown men and women call in and describe their first sexual experience as being with an “older woman” or “older man” while they were teenagers, and listen to their distress about how they don’t know if it was rape or not, and wonder if this is why they drink all the time and want to die. Then, you Google the definition of rape, and you be the one to tell them, that yes, it was, and you are so deeply sorry that they had to live in a world where that woman or man wasn’t stopped by a protective adult, and they weren’t taught that having sex with someone in their 30’s (a family friend, a trusted adult, a teacher, a pastor, etc.) when they were only 16 was the 30-something’s responsibility, an abuse of power, and indeed sexual abuse.

Teenagers are children. An adult is an 18-year-old. The legal drinking age is 19. Why couldn’t you wait until he turned 18, or better yet, prioritize his developmental needs to be able to socialize with your stepson without having to navigate your predation? You are 36 now and have taken 4 years of his young life when he should’ve been able to experiment with other teenaged friendships and sexual partners who were at a similar developmental level as he was (i.e.. other children/people under the age of 18).

It may shock you to learn that your particular storyline has been done before, in the 2005 hit series, Dawson’s Creek. Pacey is a 15 year old boy who turns 16 while a teacher named Tamara at his school sexually abuses him. Worst of all, he takes all the blame when his classmates find out and press charges against his abuser. Our media representation of ethical ways of handling sexual abuse against boys and men failed miserably when Pacey took the fall for Tamara’s abuse. In the courtroom, he plays into the old ruse of victims making abuse up and simply telling his peers they’d had sex when they hadn’t. He is scapegoated by Tamara via her efforts of 1. intimidation and 2. emotional blackmail. These are two forms of psychological abuse. She psychologically bullies him to defend her when she is the one who abused him. The jury, not being trauma-informed at the time, bought the lie, and let Tamara off without any mandated counselling or restorative justice for Pacey. She transfers to another school, and again, blames Pacey for having the normal human need to talk about his very first sexual experience with his friend, Dawson, in order to see if it was OK (i.e.. consensual).

So, Debbie, if you were 16 and you went over to your friend’s stepfather’s place and your pubescent interest in him was expressed, would you want him to decline your interest, remind you of the age difference and reroute you to explore romance with youth your own age? Or would you like your first sexual experience to be with someone with more personal power and authority in the relationship, and vastly greater neurological brainpower. Would you look forward to never really knowing if he deliberately took advantage of you for the selfish reasons of filling his emotional/sexual needs he could not take care of himself, so he outsourced the responsibility to a 16 year old girl, while betraying his wife?

Debbie, you know what you did and what you’re STILL DOING is wrong; you wrote in for absolution and some kind of sympathy. You’ll get none from me; stop offending, take accountability, remain single (from both your adult and pedophilic relationships) while you work on and heal yourself.

You still have time; you took some of the most developmentally sensitive and precious years away from him. It ends here.

Oh, and Debbie, those “cruel things” he’s starting to say about your age difference? That’s him waking up to the fact that you used his sexual innocence to fulfill your own needs at his developmental expense. Grow up, and let him have his sexual agency far away from you.



Actress Leann Hunley portrayed Tamara Jacobs, a high school teacher who had an affair with a student on the 90s drama Dawson’s Creek. Flickr photo