“In a Town This Size”

Dec 01

(No kid music content here.)

I lived in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, until I was 12 and we moved to Minnesota.  Bartlesville was an oil town, the worldwide headquarters of Phillips Petroleum (for which my dad was a research scientist).  It was a relatively well-off town, with strong schools (my dad was on the school board, in fact) and a stronger cultural core than you might expect for an Oklahoma town of 35,000.  It even boasts the only Frank Lloyd Wright designed skyscraper, the Price Tower, and hosts the annual OK Mozart festival (which was launched while we were living there).  It was a good place to grow up.

Like most families who moved to Bartlesville, my parents asked around about the best pediatrician when they got there from Arkansas, and received the consensus advice that the doctor to see was Dr. Bill Dougherty, Jr., who was a young and skilled pediatrician, respected in the community.

And, it turns out, Dr. Dougherty engaged in the consistent sexual abuse of children, patients and otherwise.

I first heard a bit about it maybe five or ten years ago (or perhaps even earlier); at that time, what I heard was that his abuse was solely of kids in a scout troop. It turns out, unsurprisingly, that it was far more extensive.

A new film, In a Town This Size, tells his story and, heartbreakingly, the story of his victims.  I watched the movie (made by one of his victims, Patrick Brown) this morning, and it was chilling.

Neither my siblings nor I were among Dougherty’s victims; my mom never left us in the examination room with him alone.

But it was striking — and rather intense — to see people my own age, people I easily may have been in school with or played on soccer teams with, discussing the abuse.  One talked about the visual that haunted him from his visits, that of one of those cat clocks with the eyes that go back and forth, and it made me remember that same clock in what must have been the same examination room (a room that, like all of Dougherty’s, had doorknobs too high for a child to reach).  The victim speaks of focusing on that clock during the abuse.  To a person, the victims in the film — and there are quite a number who shared their stories — have stories about how intensely Dougherty’s abuse affected their relationships, their professions, their families — their lives.

The film also includes an interview with a person, probably mid-70s, who was close friends with Dougherty and whose kids all went to him as their doctor.  In one of the toughest parts of the movie to watch, he describes his growing realization that this friend of his — a person he trusted entirely — had abused and stolen the childhood of at least three of his six children.  He later discusses his struggles from within his faith to consider forgiving Dougherty.  (The filmmaker speaks frankly about how low on his list of priorities “forgiving Bill Dougherty” is.  I can’t argue with him.)

Sometime in the ’80s, Dougherty’s crimes became slightly known and he retired from medicine.  The local paper published a story about “a local pediatrician” — not naming him — and his victims.  Due to the statute of limitations in Oklahoma, and the lack of recent victims speaking at the time, he was never criminally charged, and evidently still lives in Bartlesville, only leaving at night, in disguise.

The movie was obviously of particular interest to me because of the personal connection.  But it’s also a good reminder that pedophiles don’t come with name tags or signage, and that part of our job as parents is to be aware of everyone who’s around our kids.  That doesn’t mean assuming everyone is wicked, but it does mean being cognizant, speaking with our kids, and listening to our kids.  I am so grateful to my parents for doing that (and that doesn’t mean for a second that I’m blaming victims’ parents, or the victims themselves, for abuse).  I hope we’re doing the same.

24 comments

  1. Bill,

    I am the director of In A Town This Size and I would like to respond to your writing.

    I hear from people 5-6 times each month about the abuse they suffered during their childhoods. The majority of those who were victimized knew their abuser very well and the abuser was most generally well respected as was Bill Dougherty.

    Thank you for reminding people that its not a wise approach to assume everyone is wicked. The primary message I would like to reinforce is for parents to explain in age-appropriate terms what is appropriate touch and what is not. Also parents need to really listen to their children, observe their behavior and create an environment where the child knows he/she can talk about concerns or worries.

    Its not simple, there is no easy answer here but its something and that open communication is the most powerful means to keeping children safe.

    If your audience is so moved – I would like to suggest they research their states’ statutes of limitations in regard to child sexual abuse. Also contacting legislators to discuss those statutes and where they need to change, another helpful act is to volunteer at clinics that deal with abuse issues. By making financial donations to your local non-profit organizations that advocate specifically with child sexual abuse victims everyone can make a positive difference.

    Too often I hear from former patients of Bill’s that were abused – its a relief to know you were not abused.

    For those readers who are interested in viewing the DVD.
    They can be purchased at: http://www.inatownthissize.com

    10% of the DVD sales go to non-profit child advocacy organization(s) in Bartlesville. Thank you.

  2. Celeste Barrett /

    Thank you for your thought-provoking blog. Just to set the record straight: Dr. Dougherty no longer lives in Bartlesville.

  3. Thanks for the clarification.

  4. Kim Keaton /

    I never went to this doctor although I grew up in the same town. My parents never allowed us to visit our doctors alone. The one exception was a trip to the dentist when I was 15 and he started working on a tooth before the nova wine had deadened the tooth. When I told him to stop he told my to quit being such a baby. I kicked him in the crotch, yanked off the bib, and walked out the door. Mom had ran to the bank and pulled up to park the car when I walked up to the car. I told her what had happened and she marched into his office asked him if he was ok then unloaded on him in front of a waiting room full of patients. We went home and mom told dad and my dad hit the ceiling he was really mad at the doc but didn’t call him. We switched dentists. My son never goes alone to any doctor or event w/o our participation.

  5. Kim Keaton /

    Parents…remember this…you are your child’s strongest advocate even when they are adults. You trust NO ONE completely with the welfare of your child EVER!!! If you cannot do this then you are lost and your child will get hurt.

    I was notorious at our child’s school. If you were his teacher be prepared because if I ask you a question you better be prepared to answer and it better make sense. My child’s not a perfect angel but I know him very well and know when I’m hearing the truth and know when I’m hearing crap.

  6. Chris Van Noy /

    I grew up in Bartlesville and was a patient of this Dr. when I was a child. I don’t recall ever being abused by him. But this scares the hell out of me when I think of my own child. Thank you to the director for making this film

  7. Bonnie Mitchell-Hurwitz /

    This doctor, Dr. Wm Doughterty was the doctor of my five children for many years.
    I have no complaint, he was a fine doctor and supplied us with medical care
    through some rough years. He has never been tried in a court of law. The entire
    episode is a sorry one for Bartlesville and worst of all, it has tried a man without adequate
    evidence, something our country is not supposed to do. Bonnie Mitchell-Hurwitz

  8. admin /

    Ms. Mitchell-Hurwitz,

    Thanks for the note. As I posted in my initial post, Dr. Dougherty was my pediatrician (and that of my siblings) and none of us recall any problems.

    But you are confusing the standard for state action. The point of the film is that, in fact, Dr. Dougherty cannot be tried, due to the statute of limitations. He has not been tried in a court of law not because of a lack of evidence, but because a statute precludes it. (Maybe for good reasons, maybe for bad reasons, but for reasons unrelated to his guilt or innocence.).

    The film presents adequate evidence for me to conclude — not as a state actor, but as just me — that he more than likely committed sexual abuse. He declined to provide any counter to that evidence, as I understand it.

    If you’ve seen the film and reached a different conclusion, that’s fine. But its existence is not in conflict with anything in our country’s values; to the contrary, it stands in a tradition of journalism raising important political and legal issues.

    My best,
    Bill Childs

  9. Kerry Brownridge /

    Bonnie Mitchell-Hurwitz

    Just because it did not happen to your children does not mean it did not happen. Such ignorance scares me.

  10. irene dominguez /

    Thank you for this. I just saw the documentary. I was molested by an uncle and kept it quiet for many years. There was to much shame. I couldn’t let anyone know because I felt so dirty. Now as an adult it is still affecting me. I still have vivid memories. It is such a shame that dr dougherty didn’t have to stand trial.

  11. Kate S. /

    I just watched the documentary “In a Town This Size”, and I would like to express my gratitude to the director for producing such a brave movie.I know the topic is difficult to tackle, but we must discuss such things to protect the innocent. I would also like to thank all the survivors who agreed to participate in the film. Thank you for coming forward!

    I am a survivor of sexual abuse. I could relate so well to the stories of the survivors, especially being afraid to tell my father, not having the right vocabulary to tell or get help, the anger as a child, the self-destructive choices, the pain and anguish, and thinking I was inherently bad and worthless.

    I would also like to remind parents that talking with their children about good and bad touches and what to do if it happens is paramount. Listen to your children and take what they say to you seriously. It is better to err on the side of caution.

  12. Denise Hodge /

    I just watched the documentary “In a Town this Size”. My thoughts and prayers go out to every single victim of this monster.

  13. Bonnie that’s great that you say your children weren’t molested by this predator. But to sit and then defend him is pretty sad. The traits of the victims and the subsequent behavior of Dr. Dougherty is quite compelling evidence he is not innocent of these crimes. The description of the victims of what he did and how he pulled it off are all classic predator behaviors. There are plenty of Doctors who are sexual predators.

    If anyone is ever a victim of doctor abuse report it to the police and medical board. A quick internet search and you’ll see that it’s more common than people know.

  14. Maria /

    Thank you to everyone who made this film. My son is a victim of sexual abuse and I lived with guilt not being able to protect him. I’m happy that many can rise above this violation but many others go thru a destroyed life. And yes murdered my sons soul.

    Thank you thank you
    Maria

  15. J. Nagoo /

    Thanks for writing about this in your blog. I happened to watch this out of the many child abuse documentaries on Netflix. I had to do a google search on the doctor because I wanted to know if anything had been done since the documentary – which lead me to your blog.

    My fiancee was molested by her cousin when she was a small child. She was brave enough to go straight to her parents after the fact although not knowing if what happened to her was ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. To cut this long story short, her parents, from an Asian background decided to sweep it under the rug, not press charges, and pretend like it never happened.

    Yes, parents like this exist. Even her cousins who had witnessed her approach her family didn’t care either. Ironically, by the time I met her, she had subsequently done the same – swept the whole ordeal under the rug. It was by chance that I was able to get her to speak up about her past.

    Fast forward a few years, she decides to approach her cousins on why they didn’t take her side on things. Ironically, while everything had been under the radar for 20 years, the molester-cousin and his family had been doing damage control and feeding lies to the entire extended family; labeling my fiancee as a liar.

    What I realized from this ordeal and also from watching the documentary is that the best way to help someone who’s been abused is to listen and give them a voice. Hopefully, with a strong support net, the victim will eventually seek help to amend the damage that had be wrought.

    Empathy is timeless.

  16. Janice Pena /

    The ramifications of childhood (sexual) abuse are profound and traumatic, anyone who trivializes or makes “light” of the fact that “just cause it didn’t happen to them or any family members doesn’t deserve or has earned a platform/forum. Enough said!

  17. Stephen Holland /

    My wife and I saw this documentary last night and, being a child who experienced physical and sexual abuse by the age of six, even though it could have been much worse, was something I could so relate and identify with.

    My own struggles of abusing alcohol, drugs, and sex to escape, make me feel better, and to mask the low self-esteem I had as result of my experiences. The self-destructive behavior, pushing away emotional intimacy, and sabotaging relationships was all a part, not entirely, of being molested as a child.

    Being a sex addict, I am a member of SA b/c even though I know the right thing to do, I can’t do it alone… I don’t want to either, and so I need group support to hold me accountable for my actions.

    Only by coming into a saving relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ have I come to realize these truths so I can begin to heal and recover.

  18. disgusted mom /

    Just saw your movie, Patrick. You are excellent for exposing the pedophile. I can’t clearly articulate how frustrating it is to watch how ball-less the men of that town are! Since when is it ok to let your children be raped and then, forgive the man so you can get into heaven? Who hears the cries of those children in that hell? So let’s watch the parents cry…This country is too soft on this issue. That doctor is a beast, 666, for all those religious types and should be destroyed. I vote the death penalty for pedophiles. Don’t be afraid to fight back instead of being complacent. They’re allowed to live among us!!!!

  19. Michael Packard /

    I’m 50 years old now. It’s still hard to talk about even now. But, I have to. I was Dr. Bill’s boy for the longest time. My Mom moved from Bartlesville to get away from the physically abusive stepfather. It happened many times. He would always take care of us (my brother and I) and never charged mom. He would give us so many gifts and lessons. I’ve had a hard life since. Haven’t ever laid roots. I’m still trying to heal from his years of abuse.

  20. Andrew /

    I recently watched this documentary, as a victim myself, I found the commentary and interviews very interesting, and contributed to my continuous quest to come to terms with my own situation.

  21. Laura /

    What ever happened to this “man”? I hope he got what he deserved.

  22. Dianne Cottom /

    I live in Tulsa. I am a mother of 2 children and I have 4 young Grandchildren! Fuck the statue of limitations! I want to kill that man myself!

  23. Susan /

    I just saw your documentary this morning. I must say, it brought up plenty of issues for me! The first brush with molestation was very mild. As a little girl of 6 or 7, I had gone to a Saturday matinee with my best friend. An adult sat next to me, put his coat in his lap and mine. (Talk about stereotypes!!) The next thing I knew, I felt an odd sensation in my crotch; I realized his hands were where they should not be. My friend’s mom freaked when we told her. She wanted to call the police, but first she called my mother and told her. My mother just insisted we put the entire incident out of our minds. (My dad was a prominent conservative and what would people think???)

    But then… I was sexually abused by a male relative beginning at the age of about 11; it went on for a decade. I spent a lot of time with them as a child so it was going on constantly. I didn’t know what to think of it since my upbringing about sex was very repressive. My mother never talked to me about puberty. One day I found a 1950′s era pamphlet on my bed and that was that. I learned where babies come from straight from my peers.

    I’m a lesbian; plenty of people improperly conflate sexual abuse with homosexuality. However, I knew I was very “different” from other kids at the age of 4 when I fell in love with my (same sex) teacher. I decided I was going to ask her to “wait for me” – that is, not get any older – so I could marry her. My mom had a cow when I told her. She shamed me so that I’ll never forget that “talk”. It taught me two lessons: 1.keep dark secrets WELL hidden & 2. trusting ANYONE is a huge mistake. These are two of the worst lessons for a young child to learn, leaving me ripe for the picking should a child molester come along. And come along he did, when I was not quite 10.

    I still carry so much of the remnants of that abuse with me. When Brandy’s sister and mother said he sabotaged his relationships and achievements, they were describing me. (I can’t even begin to list the many ways I’ve undone the things I’ve worked hard to earn). I was a star academically; I earned scholarships that others would dream of. But then I’d decline to take advantage of them convinced I’d fail but also feeling guilty that others worked so hard but I got awards with little effort. It was far better for me to fail on my own terms than allow someone else to decide I didn’t make the grade. I’m middle aged now and i have nothing but regrets.

    So many dreams simply ended the day this all started; that was the day I learned to hate who I was. I was headed for medical school since being an MD was all I’d wanted since I was old enough to know my own name. Other little girls dreamed of having a big wedding, I dreamed of a medical practice somewhere doctors were most needed. In first grade, the teacher asked everyone what they wanted to be when they grew up. This was the 60′s, little girls gave one of two answers: wife and mommy OR teacher. I was the only girl who answered I wanted to be a doctor; all the kids laughed bc, back then, everyone knew that ONLY boys became doctors. I gave up on that dream, too, convinced I’d never make it.

    I’ve never learned how to negotiate relationships because I learned very young that trusting anyone was a mistake . When the last relationship fell apart more than a decade ago, I simply stopped trying.

    For many years, I kept my mouth shut about the abuse. Partly bc denial blocked me from thinking or feeling about it. (Although I told my best friend in college). I think there was suspicion on my parents’ part. I’m trained as a lawyer, anytime any of immediate family had a legal problem, they’d call me for free legal advice.

    However, when my perpetrator was accused of molesting another child they took great pains to keep me from hearing about it. I’d taken the geographic cure as soon as I got out of college. It was the only way for me to stop it from happening again since I lacked the self esteem to say no. (Even today, I still have a lousy self esteem. I can’t even decide what flavor to have when someone takes me out for ice cream). I didn’t find out he’d done this to another child until I was nearly FORTY.

    When I did hear about it, I was enraged, I could understand him doing that to someone like me, but it wasn’t OK for him to cause that kind of pain for another kid. I also blamed myself, since my silence had left the perpetrator free molest him. It was after I found he’d done it to someone else that I finally told my parents. My family dismissed the boy’s accusation as a lie, his mother they labeled “crackpot” for believing him. (Had I only known, I could have/would have corroborated his accusation).

    Of course, my family neither believed nor supported me, accusing me of seeking attention or trying to set them against one another. (I guess it’s odd that it annoyed me that they made this about THEM).

    As a result of my accusation, they stopped communicating with me altogether. (They already considered me a “sicko” for being a lesbian). Accusing me of fabricating this only compounded the damage. One of my siblings said that even IF my accusation were true, I could not blame my “problems” on the abuse. In her mind, I was a loser plain and simple, not because of the abuse as a child.

    I even purchased books and had them sent to them so they could educated themselves, but they were returned unopened. Sorry to interject this – but my experience with people like my relatives – far right conservatives – is that they see the world as black and white and they believe what they want to. All gay people are sick & immoral. My molester is a “good” conservative man. Why would they believe a lesbian – homosexuals are immoral and in league with Satan!

    If I can just reach one of parent… I’d implore you NOT to do this to your child. If I could open ONE mind, perhaps some of my pain has been worth it. I’ve been through therapy, I’ve done all of the things I’m supposed to do, but this ache never goes away.

  24. Susan,

    I am so sorry to hear what you have been through. I am sorry this has affected your life so profoundly and so negatively. I hate that your family has betrayed you and your trust by choosing to not believe you. You deserve way better treatment than that.

    I was molested/abused as a child and this film explained so much for me. I typed out the quotes that touched me deeply, and want to post them here:

    “You depend on adults as a child to guide you through life and teach what is right and wrong. When an adult authority figure betrays that trust in a profound way, it is difficult to regain trust for others even in your adult years.”

    “We are not set up to handle sexual energies and overstimultation as children, even though our bodies respond to the stimulation. When you are abused, the abuser is flooding you with their shame while overstimulating you sexually, and you take on that shame as if it is your own.”

    “When you’ve got this kind of history, you end up having this sense that there is something wrong with you at a deep deep level. How do you deal with something that’s overwhelming to you but it is not yours, but really feels like it is and has everything to do with you?”

    “Under the best of circumstances, learning what it means to value ourselves and respect ourselves and affirm ourselves in the world, (outside of sexual abuse) under the best of circumstances, that is a very difficult journey. So you add this to it and that’s why the journey is overwhelming.”

    These statements were such aha moments for me. They fill in some pieces to my puzzle.

    Thank you for making this film, Patrick. So hard, and yet to healing for me to watch.

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