Dilemma for Del. parents in pediatrician sex abuse case, some say they don’t want to know

By Randall Chase, AP
Friday, February 26, 2010

Parents in Del. child sex abuse case face dilemma

LEWES, Del. — For years, Brandy Little worked as a nurse for the Delaware pediatrician accused of molesting more than 100 of his young patients. Dr. Earl Bradley treated two of her children, his four kids sometimes baby-sat hers, and her oldest daughter even spent the night at his house.

Now the mother of three — along with thousands of other parents whose kids were treated by the quiet, disheveled doctor — has been asked to provide photos of her children to see if they match images on 13 hours of video that prosecutors say Bradley took to document his alleged crimes.

But Little and other parents aren’t sure they want to know.

“If something had happened, it hasn’t affected them in any way,” Little said of her oldest daughters, now 11 and 16, who have told her nothing happened. “I don’t know what I’m going to gain from knowing that he had done something to one of my kids.”

In the days since Bradley was indicted on hundreds of separate sexual abuse charges, the scandal has created a wrenching dilemma that has pitted some spouses against each other, parents against grandparents. Guilt over leaving children alone with Bradley lurks in the background for some.

Bradley, 56, is being held in lieu of $2.9 million bail and is charged with 471 separate crimes. If convicted, he could become one of the most notorious pedophiles in the nation’s history. His attorney has indicated that the criminal case could center on Bradley’s mental health.

The allegations have devastated the small coastal community of Lewes, where he practiced. For some families, the victim identification process has confirmed their worst fears. Others are anxiously waiting.

A Rehoboth mother of two daughters hopes the silence from authorities is a good sign.

“I don’t know how I would be able to cope with that,” she said. “I think it would kill me if my child were to be identified.”

The Rehoboth mother, like several other parents interviewed by The Associated Press, spoke on condition that their name not be used to protect her family’s privacy. The Associated Press does not usually identify alleged victims of sexual assault.

Dr. Eli Newberger, a professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, said deciding whether to cooperate in the identification process is a complicated issue for parents.

“The best interests of individual children are probably better served if the abuses are identified,” said Newberger, former medical director of the Child Protection Program at Children’s Hospital in Boston. “There is a reasonable likelihood for a lot of these children of having subsequent symptoms.”

At the same, Newberger said, parents are generally the best judges of their children and that deserves respect.

“If parents are not worried and say they don’t see any perturbation in their children’s behavior,” he said. “… then I think that’s probably not a sign that these particular kids are foredoomed to trouble.”

Patricia Dailey Lewis, a deputy attorney general and director of the Family Division in the state Department of Justice, said repressed memories can come back to haunt victims who may not have any symptoms of abuse now.

“We can’t just see pictures of children being molested and ignore it because their parents don’t want to participate,” she said, noting that free counseling and other services are available to families once victims are identified.

The disturbing images of Bradley’s alleged assaults were captured by cameras he set up in various rooms, which he decorated with Disney characters and stockpiled with toys and miniature carnival rides. Bradley spent much of his time and money on toys and amusement items that cluttered his offices.

“He was very easy to work with and for, and I never had any bad feelings or bad vibes,” said Little, who left Bradley’s practice in 2004. “He was just not a businessman. He could not run a business, and that’s one reason I left.

“I wasn’t into the whole carnival stuff; it was definitely over the top,” she added. “Some people thought it was the greatest thing in the world… Some people thought it was weird.”

A statue of Mickey Mouse sits abandoned in a front room of Bradley’s shuttered office, where cameras can still be seen through the upstairs windows and on the boarded-up carousel near the front door. The property, like that of his run-down home, is strewn with junk, including rusting Volkswagen Beetles and amusement rides. Coin-operated Buzz Lightyear rides are stuffed inside a trailer, one with a sticker warning “Do Not Leave Child Unattended.”

Prosecutors said some of Bradley’s victims were sexually assaulted after he separated them from his parents during office visits. Others had unnecessary “exams” caught on videotape in the presence of their unsuspecting parents.

“I am very afraid that if we don’t get people the help they need, we’re going to see marriages crumble, we’re going to see families crumble,” Dailey Lewis said. “… Blaming yourself is not going to help your child. It’s not going to help your family.”

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