Earlier today, I defended Louis C.K.’s unequivocal right under the First Amendment to tell uncomfortable, even inappropriate jokes. But having the right to do something doesn’t necessarily mean you should, particularly when it’s not clear you fully understand what you’re saying.
The same is true for Dr. Phil. Obviously, he has every right to interview anyone he wants for his television show. The First Amendment notwithstanding, this seems like a remarkably poor decision.
Let’s briefly review the charges against Caswell. On June 18, 2014, Caswell, then 28 and named Jennifer Sexton, was arrested at a Best Western in Olive Branch, Mississipi (she has since divorced and resumed the use of her maiden name). She was in the company of a 15-year-old boy, one of her students at Hollis Middle School in Hollis, Oklahoma. The boy was visiting his mother in Olive Branch, and had climbed over a fence at his mother’s church to join Caswell in her SUV. Caswell was arrested on suspicion of statutory rape and contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
There had been questions about Caswell’s behavior with students before her arrest in Mississippi, but nothing was confirmed prior to her resignation from HMS in mid-April. Following the Olive Branch incident, however, the young boy began cooperating with police. He told them that just before Caswell resigned, they had sex in her classroom (which is the subject of the teaser for Tuesday night’s Dr. Phil Show). He also said that they had sex numerous times in various locations, including his home, her home, and her car.
On April 1, the boy’s father filed a federal lawsuit against Caswell, the Hollis Independent School District, the Board of Education, and the superintendent. Among other things, he alleges that the boy has suffered “mental anguish” and has withdrawn from daily life. (I’ll discuss the lawsuit separately in a later blog post.)
In light of the charges against Caswell and the pending federal lawsuit, it is really mystifying (and wholly inappropriate) that Dr. Phil chose to interview Caswell. Based on the clip the show has already released, it appears that she is attempting to shift at least some of the blame to the victim. Among other things, she tells Dr. Phil that “I kept on saying, ‘No you know we can’t do this. No, no, no.’ He wasn’t forcing me, I mean, I could have easily just walked out of my classroom, but I didn’t. But I was resisting because I knew it was wrong, but I didn’t.” It’s difficult to imagine that this interview, however well-intended, will not intensify the emotional damage that the young man has already experienced. Moreover, it undoubtedly will complicate the process of selecting a fair and impartial jury.
The Daily Mail quotes an as-yet-unreleased portion of the interview in which Caswell expresses dismay that she might have to register for the rest of her life as a sex offender: “It’s horrible because that’s for life. I’m gonna be a sex offender forever. And I’m not, I’m not – I’m not a predator. I’m not a sex offender. I’m not a threat or a danger to anyone. It’s here forever and I’m gonna pay for it forever… But I didn’t force anything. I’m not a rapist.”
It may well be, however, that a jury reaches a different conclusion about a teacher who has sex with a student nearly half her age. Regardless of what happens to Caswell in court, her actions resulted in the young man being on the sexual victim list for life. That’s a horrible thing too.
There is no compelling reason, other than prurience and a grab for ratings, for The Dr. Phil Show to give this woman an opportunity to spin her version of events on national television. Let her tell it to the jury.