Stephen Collins: A Man We Should Forgive

Can long-ago acts of sexual deviancy like Stephen Collins' be forgiven?

Posted Dec 18, 2014

Stephen Collins, the 67-year-old actor who played a moral minister and dad on the popular WB show “7th Heaven,” has admitted publicly that he had inappropriate sexual contact with underage girls, the most recent being 20 years ago. Since then, he has been continuously in therapy, trying to understand and to keep from repeating that behavior.

Of course, Collins would prefer that this information had never gone public. He has his ex-wife to thank for that. During a confidential therapy session to attempt reconciliation in his marriage, his then estranged wife secretly recorded the session in which he detailed exposing himself to young girls and having one of them touch him. She released that tape to TMZ. But it was personal pressure, not public condemnation, that drove him to work hard on himself before the incidents became public. As he said in an interview with Katie Couric, “I had dealt with them [the sexual incidents] very, very strongly and committedly in my private life. I think I’m a human being with flaws and I’ve done everything I can to address them.”

He also said, “I deeply regret the mistakes I’ve made and any pain I caused these three women. I admit to, apologize for, and take responsibility for what I did.” If only Bill Cosby would stand up like a man and do the same!

When someone is this sincere in his efforts to address his shortcomings, and has twenty years of clean personal behavior behind him, shouldn’t we support him . . . and forgive him. He has been in personal hell for decades over this; there is no need for further punishment. He has handled everything in the right way, including not apologizing directly to two of his victims, which could reopen old wounds for them. Clearly, 20 years of restraint and no repetition of his inappropriate sexual behavior shows that he is holding himself accountable.

Collins is working at least three of the famous 12 steps of recovery:

• (step 5) Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

• (step 8) Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.

• (step 9) Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

I wonder if his continuous therapy has addressed the reasons behind his behavior in the first place. I would posit that he himself was the victim of sexual assault in his childhood. These types of sexual behaviors don’t arise in a vacuum—there had to be something in his own childhood that triggered the desire to expose himself to young girls. When we take the “long view” on sexually-deviant behavior, it becomes easier to forgive Collins’ actions if we see him as a victim himself. 

Because I have worked with so many people who were sexually assaulted in some way during childhood, I have always stood strongly with the victims. But I also know that the perpetrators, especially when they take responsibility and deeply regret their actions the way Collins has, deserve our forgiveness. Forgiving my father for sexually assaulting me as a child was easier when I learned that he also had been a victim of sexual assault as a child. The “sins of the father” lead to perpetrating sexual assault on generation after generation.

It’s a shame that bringing Collins’ past out in public could scuttle the rest of his acting career. It’s hard to see someone playing a moral character on TV when the viewers know that his personal behavior was anything but. It would, however, be a sign of great cultural maturity to forgive this man and let him move ahead with his life and his career.