Actress MacKenzie Phillips has accused her deceased father John Phillips, famous as the lead singer of The Mamas and the Papas, of having a "consensual" sexual relationship with her. She says it began when he raped her while she was semi-conscious and drugged at age 19 and continued for 10 years. She also says she hopes her revelations will help other survivors of incest.
I applaud incest survivors and rape victims who come forward to share their stories because I believe that human empathy is the most powerful force in the universe. The more that people disclose what they have suffered, the more chance there is that others will be relieved of the terrible psychological toll it is to keep their secrets underground, where they cause pathological guilt and depression and anxiety.
I've got several problems with MacKenzie Phillips' allegations, however.
First, I think it does no service to rape victims or victims of incest to suggest that father-daughter sex that begins at age 19 is "consensual." If Ms. Phillips is telling the truth (more about this later), then I would venture that the psychological gears behind her sexual relationship with her father began turning much earlier in her life, very likely when she was a young girl. After all, Ms. Phillips also alleges that her father humiliated her in front of his famous friends by commenting on the way her body was changing during puberty. No doubt, that was the tip of the iceberg.
Many of my patients who suffer greatly from sexual boundary violations by their parents, in fact, never slept with their fathers or mothers. They were aware, however, that the potential for sexual contact was very real, as evidenced by inappropriate touching, joking or gazing.
My second problem with Ms. Phillips accusing her father of raping her and then having sex with her for a decade is that her father is dead. He can't refute the charges. That seems awfully convenient.
My third problem with Ms. Phillips labeling her father a sexual predator is that she offers no corroborating evidence. None. There are no psychiatry records noted to support her claim. She doesn't come armed with three polygraphs that, flawed as they are, suggest she is telling the truth. There are no ER records showing vaginal trauma from her "rape." There's no one else on the face of the planet yet to come forward and confirm that John Phillips was a monster.
My fourth problem with Ms. Phillips is that she has lied to the media before-to get on television and become more famous. Years ago, she told Geraldo Rivera she had quit drugs so she could tout her sobriety to the nation. She was still using.
My fifth problem with Ms. Phillips is that she was hooked on heroin and cocaine and other drugs, to begin with. While I understand that drug abuse and dependence is an illness, I also know from treating over a thousand patients with the disorder that those with a predisposition to drug dependence are also predisposed to make up stories for their own benefit-in this case money and fame. They aren't reliable witnesses in court cases and they shouldn't be seen as reliable reporters of fact in any venue.
That brings up my sixth problem with Ms. Phillips. Her claims are neatly timed to sell books. She found herself on Oprah making her allegations, not in an auditorium talking to survivors of sexual assault. Millions of dollars may flow her way because she says she slept with her father for a decade.
So, we've got a drug addict who has lied to the media before, who now says that she's telling an incredibly gripping tale, who also stands to make a fortune from it. You add up the numbers.
Bottom line_ When people paint their parents as monsters, they ought to have the strength of character to do it when their parents are on the planet to respond.
I wouldn't suggest anyone with real and genuine trauma spend a lot of time pondering MacKenzie Phillips' packaged, media-friendly, mass market, convenient, dramatic, televised, titillating version.
Dr. Keith Ablow is a psychiatry correspondent for FOX News Channel and a New York Times bestselling author. His book, "Living the Truth: Transform Your Life through the Power of Insight and Honesty" has launched a new self-help movement including www.livingthetruth.com. Dr. Ablow can be emailed at
Keith Ablow, MD is a psychiatrist, and was host of the nationally-syndicated "Dr. Keith Ablow Show." He is a former member of the Fox News Medical A Team.