Stephen Collins, the actor best known for playing dad/pastor in the long-running TV series, “7th Heaven,” finds himself the latest tabloid whipping boy over allegations that he diddled underage girls. It sorta figures that he played a pastor, eh?
With all the rotten eggs being metaphorically hurled at him, it seems like nobody is at all uneasy about how the story came to light in the fist place.
Pedophiles are bad. Exposing them is good. End of story. Because fuck him, that’s why. Right?
While the tabloid-consuming dipshits are crowing about the salacious accusations, can I please get one person to put down the Brawndo® and think about the one serious issue here? What about Collins’ privacy?
The whole sordid affair came to light because someone recorded Collins during a therapy session in 2012 while he talked about screwing around with little girls. Yeah. Its pretty goddamned creepy. TMZ got ahold of the tape and published it. Let the games begin.
At this point, we don’t know for sure who made the recording. Collins’s lawyer says that his client’s estranged wife, Faye Grant, leaked it to TMZ. That’s probably what happened, but I really don’t think it matters (at least not for the purposes of this column). When we look at the legal issues, who leaked it is really secondary to who made the recording.
Given the context, the recording could have been made by Grant, the therapist, or some other person who bugged the therapist’s office. It seems pretty obvious that it was Grant, but what the hell, lets walk through the possibilities. It beats talking about dirty old men putting 10 year old girls’ hands on their dicks. I don’t like talking about that at all. Yes, dear readers, something creeps me out.
Under California Penal Code 632, it is illegal to record a conversation without the consent of all parties. So, unless Collins, the therapist, and Grant all consented, someone broke the law.
But wait, there’s more! There is an exception to §632 in California Penal Code § 633.5. Under that provision, a party to a conversation may secretly record it if the recording is made for the purpose of “obtaining evidence reasonably believed to relate to the commission by another party to the communication of the crime of extortion, kidnapping, bribery, or any felony involving violence against the person.” “Violence against the person” can mean a lewd or lascivious act with a kid under the age of 14. See Cal Pen Code § 288; (§ 667.5, subd. (b)(6)). In fact, there is a California attorney general opinion right on point.
Not only do lewd acts on a child (§ 288) constitute a “violent felony” under section 667.5, so also do continuous sexual abuse of a child (§ 288.5) and penetration by a foreign or unknown object (§ 289) by force, violence, duress, menace, or fear of immediate and unlawful bodily injury on the victim or another person. (§ 667.5, subd. (c)(11), (16).) Based upon Hetherington and Stephenson, we believe that each of these forms of child molestation qualify as “any felony involving violence against the person” (§ 633.5) as defined by the Legislature. (82 Ops. Cal. Atty. Gen. 148)
So, right there, it seems like it was legally permissible to make the recording if the wife made it, and she did it to gather evidence about Collins getting a little grabby with little kids.
It doesn’t appear so, but it’s at least possible that the therapist made the recording. But then the therapist would not have had a right to disclose it unless he or she had permission or did so in order to prevent an imminent lawless act.
If a fourth party made the tape – that is, someone who was not a party to the conversation – then even the exception in Section 633.5 would not apply. The exception does not give every person in California a warrantless wiretap free pass.
So where are we legally? Maybe the therapist violated his professional responsibilities, maybe someone bugged the office. Maybe Grant made the tape to prevent a crime or solve a crime, or maybe she did so to create an advantage in her divorce proceedings. Or, maybe this was some fourth party who clearly broke the law. Most likely, this was a legal, but shitty, maneuver by the wife.
Now lets stop giving a shit if it was legal or not, and start asking some more philosophical questions. Did someone piss on Collins’ expectation of privacy? I think that the response is a resounding “hell yeah!”
Even if it were legal, there is something really twisted about all of this. Collins had an expectation of privacy in that conversation. He was in fucking therapy for chrissakes. Yeah, yeah, I’m sure that the dumpy fucking Fox-News lovers out there are screeching “so what, this is a pedophile, THIS IS ARE COUNTRY! SEPTEMBER 11, NEVAR FORGET!
And ok, even the dumbest of the dumbfucks are sort of right here, aren’t they? Does privacy matter when we are setting out the snare for child molesters?
I say it does. Before we cheer the loss of an accused pedophile’s rights, we should remember that those rights matter. They matter even for child molesters, because if they actually matter for a guy who might have been trying to get a handy from an 11 year old, then they matter for all of us. So yeah, I’m ok giving epic creepy guy some privacy – because I want it.
Now of course, we have varying expectations of privacy depending on where we are. If you’re in the middle of the street, wearing a leather codpiece and blowing a vuvuzela, you have no expectation of privacy in that act. Welcome to the front page and social media fame, weird-leather-clad-vuvuzela guy.
On the other hand, if you pose for an intimate picture for your girlfriend (with a vuvuzela), it is reasonable to expect that the photo will not turn into “revenge porn.” And when you’re at the therapist’s office, you should expect that you can speak freely and frankly without fear that your problems will be divulged to the world. Otherwise, what is the fucking point of therapy? Where else do you have an expectation of privacy than when you’re on the damned divan talking about what a fucking weirdo you are?
When someone pisses on a child molester’s rights, few want to speak up for him. And, I really don’t give two shits about Collins. But, I want to speak up for his rights, again, because I want those rights – and not for any lewd or screwy reason. I want them because I’m a goddamned human being. If that makes me an apologist for a child diddler, while someone crows “what about the children” then so be it.
I will stick up for the diddling creep — because privacy matters. And public approval of privacy violations (or just silence about it) in cases like this just normalizes privacy violations in general. That affects us all. First they come for the diddling creep’s rights, but once you break the seal, do you think that it will ever get re-sealed? No way. That’s not how the cops or google think.
But, you know what? Even if you don’t accept privacy as a fundamental good that we should protect for its own sake, then simply follow me down logic lane. Down at the end of the road, you’ll find that we still need to protect accused pedophiles’ privacy – no matter how much we may despise them.
Consider this: There is such a thing as a “non-practicing pedophile.” Some people feel sexual attraction for children, but they refuse to act upon it. (source) Many of them lack that self-control on their own, so they seek treatment so that they can avoid acting upon their unacceptable desires. (source). Don’t we want them to seek out treatment? If every therapy session is potentially bugged, how many of these creepy characters will simply forego treatment?
Do we want them to do that, or do we want them lying on the sofa, talking it out with the therapist?
Without privacy, therapy becomes something to fear. Patients clam up or avoid seeking help altogether. Where are we safe, if not when speaking to our spouses or our therapists? Is every conversation just so much data for tabloids and search engines to mill into grist for click bait? If that is the case, we’re going to have a lot of untreated pedos. We will drive them into “solitary secrecy,” where they may do the most harm. (source) If you’re a “what about the children” type, then you should realize that this privacy violation just made children less safe.
If you look at this from a simple utilitarian perspective, and not (as I do) from a fundamental belief in a right to privacy, you still should wind up on the same square — this violation of Collins’ privacy is a bad thing for us all. Don’t applaud it.