Monday, April 07, 2014

Pee Shy

In his poignant memoir, Pee Shy, Frank Spinelli writes about an important topic so many are reluctant to talk about. He was abused by his boy scout leader as a child and what was unresolved back then he daringly confronts thirty years later and ultimately finds justice.

After confessing the abuse he suffered as an 11 year old at the hands of a boy scout leader, who was also a cop, his parents did not prosecute but let it go and pretended it never happened. Later in life, he discovered his abuser, Bill Fox, had talked a suicidal teen boy from a ledge and then adopted him and wrote a book about it, portraying himself as a hero-cop. When he discovered that Fox had also taken in fifteen other young boys, Spinelli knew he had to take action and he becomes a one-man predator catcher.

The book is a slow burner, carefully setting the stage to show how a Catholic Italian family from Staten Island became convinced that the boy scouts would make a macho man out of their son, while ignoring all the troubling signs of a storm brewing.

Full disclosure: Frank is a friend, and I knew many of the characters in the book and have known his quest for justice has been years in the making. I’m so proud that he has finally found closure, and now his catharsis will be a wake-up call, and also a great help to so many in similar circumstances.

Dr Frank Spinelli
I was able to get Frank for a quick chat about his book, which you can check out here.  

Why do you think – in the era of Sandusky (Bill Fox was such a Sandusky!) and Catholic investigations - we aren't talking about this more? 
Dr Frank Spinelli: The idea of a man having sex with a man is still something that makes people cringe. For any normal person, imagining a grown man molesting a little boy is utterly disgusting, and to think the abuser likely knew the family and the boy makes matter worse. Child molestation is such a complex issue because, unlike rape, it involves a grooming process in which the molester gets close to the child, befriends them and then abuses them. And you have to remember that in most cases, the molester was a highly regarded individual. As with Sandusky, I’m sure most people didn’t want to believe someone like him could do such a thing because then they'd have to question everyone they know who has access to children. Unfortunately, most people would rather live in a state of denial than ask those questions.

It's curious how the abuse manifests itself differently in adults. Do you still speak to Jonathan [Frank's childhood friend who was also molested]? Does he know about the book and his portrayal? 
Abuse and trauma affects people differently. There was an amazing book/film called Mysterious Skin in which two boys were abused. One remembered the event vividly and the other had a vague memory of the event. Johathan has chosen not to revisit the past. He’s asked me not to contact him so I will respect his wishes. I hope one day he’ll read my book. I doubt he will.

 Has your family read the book? Or do they still prefer to not look at it?
My sister, Josephine, and my mother read the book. My eldest sister still hasn’t “gotten around to it”. Afterwards Josephine said to me, How come you don’t hate us? My reply was, I did. For a long time I hated my family. Only after years of therapy and learning to forgive myself first, did I learn to love my family again. My mother’s reaction shocked me. I was very proud of my mother for reading my book in the first place, but she called me after she finished it and said, “Children are like seeds. You plant them and hope they grow into beautiful flowers. Sometimes a wolf comes and destroys those flowers. I’m so sorry, but I didn’t know what to do.” I no longer hate my family and it’s nice to know we’re in a better place.

Are you still pee-shy, or have nightmares?
Less so now, but when I was in the thick of it - during the hearings - I was a mess. I sometimes couldn’t pee in my own apartment. It was torture like I had some urinary warden living inside me parceling out pee time. But in all honesty, if I use a public bathroom, you can bet your bottom dollar that I’ll dart into a stall if one’s available over a urinal any day. I hate urinals. Wait hate is a strong word. I dislike urinals but I’m growing to like them more and more. Maybe one day urinals and I will be friends.  

Your parents didn’t talk to the police – Bill Fox was the police – and yet you have great respect for the police who acted on your complaint.
I have great respect for the police and the legal system. One bad cop wasn’t going to taint my view of the police. One bad apple doesn’t spoil the whole bunch… wait, isn’t that a Michael Jackson song and wasn’t he accused of child molestation? All kidding aside, if you suspect a child is being sexually abused go to the police! Child molestation is a crime.  

Do you believe Bill Fox was remorseful? Did you see or have contact with him again after that day in court? 
No, he is a monster

Do you think pedophilia is a sexual orientation? Do you think it can be cured? 
Pedophilia is a pathological condition. I would be careful in labeling pedophilia a sexual orientation. It’s a pathological condition. We tend to use sexual orientation with regard to healthy sexual relationships.  

We have a sex offender registry for sex offenders but not a murder registry for convicted murderers. Do you think in some ways we as a society view violent crime as less horrific than sex crimes? 
That’s an interesting question, and I’m not sure I know the reason why we don’t have a murder registry. I would imagine it’s because if you’re convicted of murder you’ll likely already in jail. But it is public record.

What's your favorite response to the book so far? What is your biggest hope that it will accomplish? 
The reviews have been so great, but when readers take the time to write reviews it is so humbling. In writing this book, my hope was to give voice to all the boys Bill molested who wouldn’t come forward but who reached out to me privately and to all the survivors of child molestation. I want to say with Pee-Shy, you are not a victim. It wasn’t your fault and yes, you can find love and have a life that isn’t defined by something that happened to you when you were a child.

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