KP, who asked that her real name not be used, said she was a victim of her therapist for 10 years, but said she was “re-victimized” by the way the state of Tennessee portrayed her patient relationship with Dr. Stephen Owens in the order that revoked his license to practice.
KP said she began seeing Owens to work through issues she struggled with for much of her life — abandonment, major depression, prior sexual abuse by an authority figure at church and suicide attempts.
She said Owens preyed on that vulnerability, and that after two years of actual therapy sessions, he took advantage of her emotionally and sexually.
It took 10 years for her to be able to break that cycle.
“Being blamed as a victim makes you afraid to talk about what happened to the proper authorities until it reached a really bad point,” she said. It wasn’t until she checked herself into a mental health facility out of state that she was able to process what had been happening between her and Owens.
And while KP is an adult, she said she was vulnerable to the authoritative power Owens had over her.
“It’s hard to talk about consent when there’s a real power differential. That’s why we need to not blame the victim.”
The national conversation about sexual misconduct in the workplace, other professional settings or when there is a power differential often turns to asking the person making the allegations why they kept quiet. KP said fear of victim-blaming was part of the reason for being afraid to come forward.
“If it’s true, why didn’t they say it sooner? That’s always a question,” she said. “I don’t think people realize how often women, or men for that matter, are blamed or doubted. Burden of proof shouldn’t be solely on an accuser, just like guilt shouldn’t automatically go to the accused without due process.”
She said the in-patient program she attended out-of-state gave her the ability to see how wrong things were with Owens’ power over her. It gave her the strength to turn him in to the Tennessee Department of Health’s licensure board to be held accountable for his actions.
The state investigation into the complaint she filed on Owens took 10 months to resolve. That was 10 months he was still allowed to practice, which angers KP, she said.
When the Department of Health released the order revoking Owens’ license, which he voluntarily surrendered, documents indicated Owens began a “romantic relationship” with KP in 2006, and that continued until 2016.
KP said that as much as the abuse made her angry, that characterization made her even madder. Several months later, she also learned Owens told his other patients he “retired,” which she said was another slap in her face as a victim.
“You’re re-victimized and now have to go back through it to come out whole,” she said. “You carry real unresolved hurt from that, which comes out in various ways and will be a lifelong healing process because of the holes it leaves in your sense of wellbeing and self-worth.”
She said her trust of people is shattered, but she hopes she can rebuild that with time and therapy. Still, she reminds herself that “men like ministers and doctors who are trusted and respected are no less dangerous than the man (who assaults women) on a jogging path.”
KP said she just wants to get on with her life, but hopes talking about her experience might help another.
“(I) just want to be whole and live a meaningful, peaceful life with some happiness and someone to love me — horrid history and all,” she said.
That path was damaged before her therapy with Owens; when she turned to him for help working through the prior abuse, she said, “he caused worse damage by actually helping some and making (me) trust him, then betraying that trust.”
Owens has since surrendered his license to practice, but KP was left to pick up the pieces of her life and try to move forward. It hasn’t been easy, and neither has speaking out, but KP hopes her situation can help other victims break free from an abusive situation.
“I want to be an advocate (which I try to be) by being honest and open about my mental illness and the various pitfalls. I’ve already suffered horribly. I’d like to save others from that,” she said.