Case # 4
In the fourth case, the young woman perpetrator, Ellen, was only 19 years old at the
time of the offense. She was the older of two natural daughters in an intact family
in which the father was a minister and the mother also was a trained professional in her
field. Her younger sister was not born until she was seven years old, but by the
time she was age four, the parents had taken in foster children.
From Ellen's perspective, her parents' charity extended to the foster children and
others outside the home but they did not pay enough attention to her. Her younger
sister was dainty and petite, while Ellen was overweight. Ellen often felt in
competition with others for her parents' favor and attention and she had a great deal of
residual anger toward her parents.
There were other problems in her growing up years. There were a number of
relatives living in the home at various times, leading to the father admitting privately
that in retrospect he also had a lot of anger and felt his home was never his own.
One of these relatives molested Ellen when she was eight years old. She had
already been a victim of molestation by some teenage neighbor boys when she was six.
Ellen felt that she had actually encouraged and seduced these boys, although
clearly with the age differential between them, she was not actually responsible.
Ellen further alleged that her father had been physically abusive to her mother during
her childhood, although she denied that he had been abusive to her in any way. While
she could not recall actual incidents in which she had seen him abusing her mother, she
claimed that her mother would tell her about these incidents, confiding and complaining to
her about their difficulties.
During her childhood and adolescence, she was regarded by her parents retrospectively
as a very conforming and suggestible child who would readily absorb the expectations of
others around her. They sent her to a small church-affiliated college some distance
from home, and she very quickly experienced interpersonal and other functional
difficulties. While she had been an honor student in high school, she was unable to
develop a structure for herself in college. She was preoccupied with her social
life, and soon her difficulties multiplied.
She became enamored with one young man, John, who apparently did not want anything to
do with her, but she was completely obsessed and increasingly inappropriate, doing such
things as peeping in his windows to find out what he was doing. She appeared to have
a very limited concept of personal boundaries. Acquaintances who became aware of
difficulties advised her to seek counseling which she did. She eventually was able
to let go of John but only by having substituted another young man, Fred, into her
By her own account, she set out to seduce Fred. She reportedly had her first
sexual experience with Fred, and consciously hoped she might become pregnant so that she
would have a way to hold on to him. She alternated in describing this first incident
of intercourse as "date rape" or as seduction on her part. It was
uncertain as to whether her vacillating belief that she had been a victim of "date
rape" was motivated by a subsequent need to see herself as having been victimized so
as to provide mitigation of her offense, or if, in fact, she had actually once again been
sexually victimized. There were additional times that she and Fred had intercourse.
Fred was abusing alcohol and Ellen herself was also drinking heavily during this
time frame, even though she had previously never used alcohol.
But, about three weeks prior to the offense, Fred took her for a drive and told her
that it was all over between them. He had transferred to another college and did not
want to continue with the relationship. Ellen was devastated as she considered
herself married to Fred. She evidenced increasing instability, with rage,
helplessness, and gross denial. She had problems functioning in a job, and went
through several jobs over several months, while still trying to maintain a pose as a
student, even though she was not enrolled in any classes at this point. On the day
of the offense, Fred had been back on campus and she had seem him socializing with other
people, which upset her very much.
The victim was a five-year-old girl, Jenny, who was the child of parents employed at
the college she had been attending. She had babysat for the parents on one previous
occasion. On the day in which the offenses occurred, she was caring for Jenny in
their apartment. After playing a game, she alleged that Jenny asked her to take off
her blouse. She closed the living room blinds but then went into the bedroom.
The exact sequence is not clear, but Ellen said she went in the bathroom and Jenny came
in and noted her sanitary pad with blood on it and began asking questions. They
ended up in the bedroom where Ellen took off all her clothes and gave the child an anatomy
lesson, using her own body to demonstrate. As they sat on the bed, she indicated
that Jenny kissed her twice, reportedly "wet kisses."
It was further alleged that Jenny kissed her on the breast and in the pelvic area over
her underwear, but Ellen vacillated across time between admitting that this had or had not
occurred. She first admitted it to the police and to the psychologist. Then,
when seen jointly with her parents after the evaluation had been completed, her mother
insisted that this version of the offense was not what her daughter had reported to her.
The mother felt strongly that Ellen should not admit to anything she did not do.
The mother explained that Ellen would give in to the policeman's expectations as
well as the psychologist's and bury herself deeper and deeper by making untrue statements
just to please them. The psychologist did not experience this to be the case, but
observed definite differences in Ellen when seen alone or with her parents. She
seemed genuinely confused and unable to differentiate her own thoughts about what had
transpired from her mother's influence.
It appeared Ellen was jealous of Jenny and the attention the child received from her
parents, and, noting that Jenny's bed was located in the parents' bedroom in the tiny
apartment, she became angry, feeling that Jenny was perhaps being inappropriately exposed
to sexuality. Ellen described a feeling of rage toward Jenny, as well as a feeling
of competition and helplessness. She alleged that all of the activities had been
directed by Jenny and she herself was unable to stop what was transpiring.
Ellen did not actually enjoy babysitting but had felt "railroaded" into
providing babysitting services for acquaintances and friends by her mother prior to going
to college. She also did not want to babysit for Jenny, but was having significant
financial problems and needed the money. She resented being paid so little for her
There had been at least two other incidents in the past involving babysitting where
inappropriate behavior toward young children had occurred. In one case she was
caring for a young boy, Kenny, whose father was actually at home at the time but was doing
some work outside. She spanked Kenny, and he became angry, stating that he was going
to tell his father. When Kenny tried to go outside to tell his dad, Ellen prevented
him from doing so. In another case, she was changing the diaper of an infant boy,
and during the process played with his penis to see what his reaction would be.
When these incidents were discussed in the session with her parents, Ellen's mother
actively rationalized and minimized any possible significance that could be attributed to
them, indicating that in their conservative religious circle, spanking was considered an
appropriate response to misbehavior of a child and the parents would probably have wanted
her to spank him. She also said that Ellen was only powdering the baby boy and asked
who hadn't touched the private parts of babies in the process of caring for them?
The father sat silently throughout these discussions.
Ellen was given an MMPI-2 twice, but both testings were invalid due to overresponding
and exaggerating her problems. On the Child Abuse Potential Inventory (CAPI), the
validity measures were acceptable, and her Abuse Prediction Score indicated a high
propensity for physical abuse of children. On the Rorschach Inkblot Test her
personality functioning appeared disturbed but not at a psychotic level. She was
prone to scan her environment haphazardly and to neglect important pieces of information
in her decision-making processes and also to oversimplify situations she faced. She
appeared to be unconventional, dependent, narcissistic, and prone to rely upon fantasy for
many of her needs. She was highly prone to rationalize, externalize and deny
After review of her history, her testing, and consultation with the therapist, Ellen
was diagnosed as a Borderline Personality Disorder.