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MSNBC Reports: Innocence lost

ANNOUNCER:  MSNBC REPORTS, “Innocence Lost.”  Here is Alex Witt.

ALEX WITT, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Hello.  I‘m Alex Witt.  This hour, three stories of innocence lost, allegations and accusations of sexual abuse.  We begin with Katie Hnida, who made history as a female placekicker with the University of Colorado football team.  But she made headlines when she came forward with explosive allegations that one of her teammates had raped her and others had sexually harassed her.  She talked to Katie Couric about how one minute changed her life forever.


KATIE COURIC, “TODAY” (voice-over):  Honor roll student, athlete and homecoming queen, Katie Hnida seemed to have it all.  The Colorado stand-out who excelled as a placekicker on her high school football team dared to dream what many thought was impossible, becoming the first woman ever to play for a division 1 college team.

KATIE HNIDA:  I‘d rather look back and think, you know, Well, at least I tried, than, Boy, I wish I had tried, or, What would have happened if I had.

COURIC:  Her goal was to suit up for her home state school, the University of Colorado.  She made the team as a walk-on in the fall of 1999.  Beyond the flashbulbs and photo ops, she says, she endured her own personal nightmare.

HNIDA:  A lot of sexual things going on, where we would be in the huddle and guys would rub up against me.  There were a few times when I would be alone in the hallways, and guys would constantly be asking me if we could hang out as more than teammates and would literally ask me for oral sex, would occasionally expose themselves.  I was scared out of my mind.  I did not know what to do.

COURIC (on camera):  One thing you could have done is complained.  You know...

HNIDA:  Right.

COURIC:  ... register a complaint to the authorities...

HNIDA:  Sure.  Sure.  Right.

COURIC:  ... or to officials.  The coach at the time. and still is the coach, Gary Barnett.

HNIDA:  He didn‘t want me on the team from the start, and I knew that.  So the last thing that I wanted to do was to go to a man who was unfriendly to me.

COURIC (voice-over):  But according to Hnida, the worst was yet to come.  In the summer of 2000, she says she was sexually assaulted by one of her teammates.

HNIDA:  It was a player who I was very close to, who I trusted very much.  And one night, I went over to his house to just watch a game, you know?  And we were sitting on the couch and he started to kiss me.  And I was kind of, you know, a little bit, like, Back off.  This isn‘t quite OK.  And then the next thing I knew, he was on top of me and it happened.

COURIC (on camera):  He raped you.

HNIDA:  He raped me.

COURIC:  You told him to stop.

HNIDA:  As soon as he was on top of me, I said, No, I don‘t—what‘s

·         what are we doing?  I don‘t—I don‘t want to be doing this.  No.  And I pushed on him.  I literally pushed up onto his shoulders and said, Stop, and...

COURIC:  Is it hard to think back on that time?

HNIDA:  It is.  It‘s been five years, and it‘s still terrifying.  It‘s still something that I wake up with and I deal with.

COURIC:  After it happened, did you scream at him?  Did you say, You raped me?  What happened?

HNIDA:  The phone rang, and for some reason, he picked it up.  And I high-tailed it out of there.  I just ran through the door, didn‘t say anything to him, got into my car, you know, and was shaking.  And I backed my car into a pole.  And the fact that it was a teammate just made it all the much worse because I knew that I couldn‘t go to Coach Barnett.  I literally was afraid that he would have kicked me off the team.

COURIC:  Not only did you not talk to Coach Barnett, but you didn‘t go to the police.


COURIC:  You didn‘t report this to anyone.

HNIDA:  And I was scared that if I filed a police report or if I had gone and done something that, you know, immediately CU would have gotten involved and the media storm would have just blown up.

COURIC:  How old were you, Katie?

HNIDA:  I was 19 years old.

COURIC:  And you were a virgin?

HNIDA:  And I was a virgin.

COURIC (voice-over):  Katie Hnida says she was terrified and ashamed. 

She told no one, not even her parents.

(on camera):  Did you come across this man, this teammate...

HNIDA:  Yes.

COURIC:  ... afterwards?

HNIDA:  I did.  I thought the best way to deal with it was to just pretend like it didn‘t happen.  I wanted to keep playing football.  All I wanted was to be a football player.  And I didn‘t want to bring up something like that because I thought it might mess up my chances, to be quite honest, as sick as that sounds.  I wanted this so badly.

COURIC (voice-over):  So Katie Hnida says she kept her secret.  But the next year, sick with mono, and she claims, deeply depressed, she didn‘t make the team and dropped out of school.  She eventually joined the squad at the University of New Mexico in 2002.  Her experience there was the polar opposite of her time at CU.  She says her coaches and teammates were nothing but supportive and treated her like the team mom.

HNIDA:  And I made cookies for dessert.

COURIC:  At the same time, the scandal at CU escalated.  Stories of enticing recruits at parties with young women and call girls had been circulating for some time.  But then in February of last year, three women came forward with sexual assault allegations against two recruits and one player.  As a result, Katie Hnida says she could remain silent no longer.

HNIDA:  When I heard that there were rape allegations, I literally went to my toilet and I threw up.  I was tired of hearing, Oh, no, there‘s no problems, no problems at all because I knew there was.

COURIC (voice-over):  In a statement given to NBC News, the University of Colorado said, quote, “The university has reached out to Katie to encourage her to provide information about her assault so that appropriate action could be taken.  We remain steadfast in that we will not tolerate sexual harassment or exploitation in our athletic department or anywhere in the university.”

(on camera):  Do you plan to press charges?

HNIDA:  Actually, I am in the middle of an ongoing investigation, so I can‘t comment on any of that right now.  But this is far from over.  This investigation is very far from over.



ANNOUNCER:  We now continue with “Innocence Lost.”  Here again is Alex Witt.

WITT:  Katie Hnida was making history as a woman playing football for the University of Colorado.  But from the beginning, she says, she silently endured a nightmare.  She says some players groped her, others exposed themselves, worst of all, the night that changed her life forever, the night she says she was raped by a teammate.  Here again, Katie Couric.


COURIC:  When your story broke, Coach Barnett, as you well know, held a press conference in which he said, She was awful.

GARY BARNETT, HEAD COACH, UNIVERSITY OF COLORADO:  Katie was a girl.  Not only was she a girl, she was terrible, OK?  And there‘s no other way to say it.  She couldn‘t kick the ball through the uprights.

HNIDA:  For me, that was the Coach Barnett that I knew.  That was the way that he had dealt with me through the year that I spent with him on his team.

COURIC:  But it wasn‘t just questioning your athletic ability.  He said you had kissed everybody on the team, that you were...

HNIDA:  Yes.

COURIC:  ... that you had done lap dances.

COURIC:  Unbelievable things.  I can handle him saying I‘m a crappy kicker, but to attack my character, to attack who I am as a person is completely unacceptable, and I think it‘s despicable.

(voice-over):  Gary Barnett was suspended for three months with pay following his comments.  He remains the team‘s head coach.  Barnett‘s spokesperson told NBC News that “Coach Barnett and the team took extraordinary precautions to protect Katie and felt that the allegations, if true, were reprehensible.  Barnett has publicly apologized for his insensitive remarks and denied any knowledge of Katie Hnida‘s alleged rape.

(on camera):  Coach Barnett says that you complained to him once about a player and he reprimanded that player, and that was the only incident he was aware of.

HNIDA:  I find that hard to believe because that incident that he reprimanded him for was actually the guy calling me the “C” word, and later on in a deposition by the president, she said that it could actually be used as a term of endearment.  And that was like a big, fat slap across the face because I can promise you, he was not using that in an endearing way.  And I don‘t know any woman who has ever used that in an endearing way.

COURIC (voice-over):  Betsy Hoffman, the president of the University of Colorado, told NBC News she regrets her comment.

(on camera):  Coach Barnett has not been fired.  He was recently, in fact, named big 12 coach of the year.  Are you surprised that, in your view, he was not held accountable?

HNIDA:  Everybody there is responsible for a little bit of it, all right?  Not everybody because I think it is very, very important to mention that CU is an outstanding place.  It‘s a shame that the actions of a few have had to drag everyone through the mud because there are a lot of very, very good people there.

COURIC: (voice-over)  Since 1997, 10 women in all have accused Colorado football players of sexual assault, but no arrests have ever been made.  An independent panel investigated the football program and its recruiting practices, and while it did find the team used sex and alcohol to lure recruits, it also concluded that no one in the administration knowingly sanctioned it.

(on camera):  Despite the fact that some women have sued the university, you opted not to.  Why?

HNIDA:  You know, for me, I wouldn‘t get anything out of suing the university.  There is no amount of money that‘s going to take away my pain, nor help my healing.

COURIC:  You would like an apology, though.

HNIDA:  Yes.  But to tell you the truth, I‘m not holding my breath.  Unless it is true and sincere, I don‘t want it.  I just want changes.  I want to see stuff different there.  That is what I want.


WITT:  The University of Colorado says it has made, quote, “sweeping changes in athletics with the intention of fully integrating the department with academics and providing new oversight.”  And coach Gary Barnett said he was shocked and saddened by the statements of Katie Hnida.

When we return, innocence lost in the deeply religious Amish community.



ANNOUNCER:  We now continue with “Innocence Lost.”

WITT:  The Amish are known for their simple dress and devout way of life.  They‘re also very private and wary of the outside world.  But one young Amish woman desperately longed for that world, not just to broaden her horizons but to escape, she says, a brutal reality hidden behind closed doors.  Here‘s Rob Stafford.


ANNA SLABAUGH:  I don‘t drive cars, no electricity, no indoor plumbing.

ROB STAFFORD, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Traveling through Amish country is like taking a trip back into time.  And for 18-year-old Anna Slabaugh, that‘s a very painful journey.  She was raised Amish but says she is now an outcast here.

SLABAUGH:  They don‘t want anything to do with me.

STAFFORD:  Not, she says, for something she did, but for speaking out about the terrible things that were done to her.

SLABAUGH:  It just felt like I was better off dead.

STAFFORD (on camera):  Anna‘s story is a story of survival, and she says she‘s telling it to help other Amish girls who are suffering in silence.  They are forced, she says, to keep a dark secret that‘s existed in the Amish community for years.

SLABAUGH:  It wasn‘t like you can go talk to your mom, either, because it was just—you‘re just asking for trouble.  You know, Just keep your problems to yourself.

STAFFORD (voice-over):  Anna‘s life wasn‘t always that way.  As a young child, her mom taught her in a one-room school house.  Back then, they were close and even kept secrets between themselves.

SLABAUGH:  She let me read books that were off-limits.

STAFFORD:  Mysteries like Nancy Drew, banned by the Amish, a religious group that lives apart from modern cultures.  For a time, Anna learned to enjoy the simple things, like laughing with her mom.

SLABAUGH:  Just kind of talking and having fun, you know, making a joke that nobody else got.

STAFFORD:  Anna is the eighth of nine children in a family that belongs to one of the most conservative Amish groups in America, the Swartzentrubers.  They have strict rules controlling every aspect of Amish life, work and dress, even down to the size of the seams on clothes and the number of buttons on a shirt.  It‘s a male-dominated society, where women must obey their husbands and girls must obey their fathers and even their older brothers.

SLABAUGH:  He made a dare with me.

STAFFORD:  She says her oldest brother took advantage of that power. 

It started when she was 11 and he was 19.

SLABAUGH:  He dared me to touch him in inappropriate ways and also dared me to let him touch me.  And I took up his dare.

STAFFORD (on camera):  How often did he touch you?

SLABAUGH:  At least once a week.

STAFFORD:  For how long?

SLABAUGH:  I‘d say at least four months.

STAFFORD (voice-over):  It was a confusing and troubling time for a naive young girl who knew nothing about sex, but the 11-year-old felt she had no choice but to go along.  While they never had intercourse, she says that his touching turned rough.

SLABAUGH:  If I told him it hurt, he‘d just call me a wimp.  But he wouldn‘t talk to me during that, other than that.

STAFFORD (on camera):  Did you ask him to stop?

SLABAUGH:  I don‘t think that I ever asked him, except when it hurt.  I hate to think about it, but you know, I—I willingly did it with him, you know?  It was a dare, and sometimes, you know, I wanted very much for him to let me alone, but I never did anything.

STAFFORD (voice-over):  Her older brother moved out of the house, but Anna says by the time she was 12, her 17-year-old brother had taken his place, sometimes catching her at work in the barn at the family farm in Ohio.

SLABAUGH:  He went much further than my oldest brother had.  He wanted to do things.  You know, he wanted to have intercourse and everything.  And at that point, I was pretty sure that was wrong.  For one, I was too little.  It just felt wrong.

STAFFORD:  She says she was raped almost every week for two years, often on Sunday afternoons.

SLABAUGH:  Sundays mostly was a dreadful day.  He even did it after church.

STAFFORD (voice-over):  After church, he‘d sexually assault you?


STAFFORD (voice-over):  When Anna resisted, she says, her brother would pin her down.  One day, their mother walked in.

SLABAUGH:  And she really—got really mad at me and punished me.

STAFFORD (on camera):  Mad at you?

SLABAUGH:  Yes.  As far as she was concerned, I asked for it.  I was always rebellious.

STAFFORD:  What did she say to you specifically

SLABAUGH:  I can‘t believe that you would you do something like that.  You know, You—you—you know, and I‘m, like, He‘s the one who comes to me.  You know, He holds me down.  You saw it.

STAFFORD:  Did she punish your brother?


STAFFORD:  What did she do to you?

SLABAUGH:  I was locked in my room.

STAFFORD (voice-over):  Anna was just 14.  She felt the mother she‘d been so close to had betrayed her.  “DATELINE” tried to get her family‘s side of the story, but when Anna‘s oldest brother answered the door, he said he and his parents had no comment.

NADYA LABI, SENIOR EDITOR, “LEGAL AFFAIRS”:  When I spoke with her mother...

STAFFORD:  Nadya Labi is a senior editor for “Legal Affairs” magazine who‘s been investigating sexual abuse amongst the Amish for an article in January‘s edition.  She helped “DATELINE” find Anna and says she was able to talk to Anna‘s mother.

LABI:  She never outright denied what occurred.  She never said it did, indeed, occur.  She did, however, say that Anna was lying, but she wasn‘t very specific about what those lies entailed.

STAFFORD:  Sociology professor Donald Kraybill is an expert on Amish culture who teaches at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania.

DONALD KRAYBILL, PROF. OF SOCIOLOGY, ELIZABETHTOWN COLLEGE:  The Amish church would consider sexual abuse or incest as a very serious sin.  They are not inclined to overlook it.  I mean, it‘s not a light matter to them.

STAFFORD:  Kraybill says the Amish handle sexual abuse and most other offenses within their own community.  To report a crime to outsiders is unacceptable.  But that‘s exactly what Anna did.  She says after three years of abuse, she managed to  get to a neighbor‘s phone and call for help.  Eventually, child abuse investigators talked to her and alerted Ohio police.  But the allegations of rape were never pursued.  Before detectives launched a criminal investigation, her family moved to Pennsylvania, deep into Amish country.  Here, Anna, says, she was pushed to the breaking point.

(on camera):  Did you have any idea what was really going do to happen that day?



ANNOUNCER:  “Innocence Lost” when MSNBC REPORTS returns.


ANNOUNCER:  Returning to our story, here again is Alex Witt.

WITT:  As an Amish child, Anna Slabaugh says she was forced to endure years of sexual abuse by her brothers.  She wanted to speak out, but breaking the long Amish tradition of silence would come at a price.  Once again, Rob Stafford.


STAFFORD (voice-over):  By the time Anna was 16, her family was living in this Amish community in Pennsylvania.  Anna says the abuse had ended, but she was determined to get away and told her story of incest to anyone who would listen, including a state trooper.  The move infuriated her parents.  Months later, it all came to a head.  Anna had a toothache, and her mom was taking her to an Amish dentist.  She expected a routine visit until she heard what her mom had to say.

SLABAUGH:  He was talking to my mom and—about, you know, which ones, and she told him to take them all.

STAFFORD (on camera):  Pull all your teeth out.

SLABAUGH:  Uh-huh.

STAFFORD (voice-over):  And she says that‘s exactly what did he.

SLABAUGH:  I didn‘t really have time to think.  I mean, it was cracking my head, and I was just wondering why it was happening.  And I wondered, actually, if I was going to die.  As soon as I got home, I laid on the couch, and that‘s where I was for three days.

STAFFORD (on camera):  And you see yourself...

SLABAUGH:  You‘re an animal.  You‘re treated like one and you look like one.  I didn‘t feel human at that point.

STAFFORD (voice-over):  But why?  What possible reason could there be to pull all the teeth of a 16-year-old girl?

(on camera):  What did your mother say?

SLABAUGH:  Well, after it was done, she said, I guess you won‘t be talking for a while.

STAFFORD (voice-over):  One expert says it‘s not unusual for the most conservative Amish groups to pull children‘s teeth and replace them with dentures to save on dental bills.  Anna‘s mother said her daughter wanted her teeth pulled.  Anna denies that and says her parents wouldn‘t even buy her dentures.  For her, living without teeth was a scarlet letter, a clear message to keep silent about the rapes.

(on camera):  The little girl they couldn‘t break is finally broken.

SLABAUGH:  At that point I was. 

STAFFORD:  In the meantime, the story she told the state trooper had prompted an investigation.  But at a court hearing, she says she was so depressed and defeated, she recanted her story.  She felt her effort to speak out had taken too great a toll. 

SLABAUGH:  You raped me so many times, I cannot count them all. 

STAFFORD:  This as another young Amish woman who paid the price for going outside the community and reporting a crime to police.  In a Wisconsin court, 20-year-old Mary Viler (ph) testified at the sentencing of her two brothers, who admitted repeatedly raping her.  A third brother pleaded guilty to having oral sex with her 6-year-old sister. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  You were my brother.  You should have protected me.  Instead, you raped me and lied about it.  The hardest thing I‘ve ever done or ever will do was to leave the only life I had known.  I did it to save myself, but my primary motivation was to save my 6-year-old sister from having to experience the horrors I have and will live with my entire life. 

STAFFORD:  The Amish community packed the courtroom.  Most were there not to support Mary, but her brother.  At least, that‘s how the judge saw it. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Certain people sat here crying for the Johnny Viler (ph) family.  And the thought occurred to me, how many of you have ever cried for Mary Viler?  You may have prayed for her.  I don‘t doubt that you have.  But how many of you cried for her or the loss of her childhood? 

STAFFORD:  In Mary‘s case, the Amish community did punish her brothers by shunning them, making them outcasts, banning them from church for six weeks, in court, a much different sentence, one to eight years in prison. 

Back in Pennsylvania, three months after losing her teeth, Anna gathered up her will, more determined than ever to escape.  She sent a letter to a woman she befriended outside the Amish community, asking for help.  Fearing her parents would read her mail, Anna asked the woman to leave a reply in a bottle by the side of the road. 

(on camera):  A message in a bottle is your only way out? 

SLABAUGH:  Yes, it was. 

STAFFORD:  Anna says she looked every day.  Then the message she‘d been waiting for. 

SLABAUGH:  It said that their arms are open and their home is open and just let them know how I want to do it.  And, at that point, I felt like I could jump to the sky. 

STAFFORD:  Freedom? 


STAFFORD (voice-over):  Anna said later she ran through the fields to her friend‘s home.  No one has ever been convicted of sexually abusing Anna.  But a judge did rule that no one from the Amish community, including her own family, is allowed to see her. 

For the past two years, she‘s been living far away from the Amish with foster families.  And she finally got dentures.  While she now feels safe, Anna worries about the little sister she left blind. 

SLABAUGH:  I know that she‘s been beaten.  She was when I was still there.  But whether she‘s been sexually molested, I just pray to God that she hasn‘t.  But...

STAFFORD (on camera):  Do you think you‘ll ever see her again? 

SLABAUGH:  No, not in this life. 


ANNOUNCER:  Next, an experience respected pediatrician and the accusations of betrayal—when MSNBC REPORTS returns.


ANNOUNCER:  We now continue with “Innocence Lost.”  Here again is Alex Witt.

WITT:  He was a trusted pediatrician in a tight-knit community in practice for more than 30 years, known to be devoted to parents, children, grandchildren, caring for some families for generations.  Then, troubling accusations began to surface coming from former patients.  Was this respected doctor taking advantage of young girls or performing legitimate medical exams that were misinterpreted? 

Here is Hoda Kotb. 


HODA KOTB, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Gina Limmer (ph) was your typical first-born child, appealing, sweet and most of all obedient, the one her mother could count on to be a good girl.  She grew up to be a popular beauty, a dancer and cheerleader, the kind of girl who always had a handsome date for the prom.  Along the way, Gina says she picked up a secret, one no little girl would want to have. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  It was something very, very, very wrong. 

KOTB:  It was a secret about one of her most trusted caretakers, her pediatrician. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I felt very vulnerable.  I felt very intimidated, but I couldn‘t find the words.  I felt frozen. 

KOTB:  Gina says it all began in 1974, when she was 6 years old and her family moved to the sea seaside town of  Merrick, Long island.  The family needed a doctor and turned to one of Merrick‘s most respected pediatricians, Dr. Stuart Copperman.  Gina, now 33 years old, says she liked him immediately. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  He made jokes with you.  He‘s very personable and funny. 

KOTB (on camera):  So he made you feel comfortable? 


KOTB (voice-over):  In Merrick, Dr. Copperman was nearly a local legend, known as the rarest of baby doctors, one who made house calls, saved lives and was there for parents in their darkest hours.  Affiliated with all the best local hospitals, he was active in charities, his temple and campaigns to keep kids off drugs.  And to Gina‘s mom, there was an added advantage.  His practice was just a few blocks away in this comfortable neighborhood home. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I said, well, maybe this is a doctor that I could use. 

KOTB (on camera):  Someone you could trust, right? 


KOTB (voice-over):  When Gina was around 11, she says the doctor approached her mom with an idea that caught her off guard.  He said that sometime within the next few years, Gina would be old enough to see him alone, without her mother in the room, so he can talk to her privately about personal teenage issues, like sex and drugs.  He also said he‘d give Gina a quick routine vaginal exam.  Gina‘s mother thought it and over and agreed reluctantly. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  At first, I thought I‘m not real comfortable with this, but maybe I‘m old-fashioned.  Maybe I‘m a prude.  Maybe this is the way it should be, because it‘s a different world today.

KOTB:  And so the day came when Gina was 13 and it was time for her yearly checkup.  As always, she was happy to go to the doctor.  As always, her mother was in the room with her.  And then she says the moment Dr.  Copperman had been preparing them for, for nearly two years arrived. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  He does all the regular, you know, yearly checkup things, checking my eyes, checking my throat, checking my ears, and asked my mother to leave the room. 

KOTB:  Gina‘s mom trusted Dr. Copperman and did leave the room.  And Gina says the doctor did talk to her about teenage issues, but only briefly.  And then, it was time for the rest of the exam.  Gina says, in the past, he had always quickly checked her genital area.  But this time was different.  This time, he checked and then said she needed cleaning.  Gina says she was shocked when he began rubbing her genitals. 

(on camera):  Was he wearing latex gloves at the time? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  No, he was not wearing gloves.  And there was no nurse in the room.  It was just the two of us. 

KOTB:  What did you think was going on? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I just thought he was cleaning me.  I felt uncomfortable to have someone touching me or looking at me so intensely.  But I thought that that‘s what he was supposed to be doing. 

KOTB (voice-over):  Gina says she left the doctor‘s office that day feeling mortified and upset. 

(on camera):  Why not say to him, Gina, in the middle of this, going on for five minutes, why not say to him, cut this out; what are you doing to me; stop?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I trusted him.  And I was a kid.  But I started to dread the doctor.  I started to dread going. 

KOTB (voice-over):  Gina was so embarrassed about what she says happened that she didn‘t mention it, even to her mother.  The same thing happened at her next two exams with Dr. Copperman, but, still, she didn‘t tell anyone.  Then, one day, in 1983, when Gina was 15, she came home from school and her mother said it was time for her yearly checkup.  It would be their last visit to Dr. Copperman. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I said, I can‘t go to the doctor.  And she said, why?  And I said, because I have my period.  And she said, oh, don‘t worry.  We‘ll just tell him that he can‘t check you.

KOTB:  Gina‘s mom said she told Dr. Copperman not to check her daughter‘s genital area.  Once again, Gina says he did the standard above-the-waist checkup with her mom in the room.  And, afterwards, once again, Dr. Copperman insisted he see Gina alone. 

(on camera):  You‘re her mother standing there.  Why don‘t you just say, this physical is over; you‘ve done it; let‘s go? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Because I still didn‘t know what had been going on.  I really didn‘t know.  So I believed when he told me he wouldn‘t be examining her that way that he wouldn‘t. 

KOTB (voice-over):  Gina says yet again the doctor started touching her the way he had before.  But, this time, the touching lasted nearly 15 minutes. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I felt disgusted.  I felt dirty.  I felt something was really, really wrong. 

KOTB:  Outside in the waiting room, Gina‘s mom wondered what was taking so long. 

(on camera):  But after five minutes went by and 10 minutes went by, weren‘t you thinking to yourself, what‘s going on in there? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Yes, I was, And I didn‘t like the way my kid looked when she came out. 

KOTB (voice-over):  Gina, who, remember, was just 15 at the time, says, when she left the room, she was frightened, angry and confused.  Once in the car, she finally tried to tell her mother what happened. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I couldn‘t even find the words.  I just looked at her.  And I—I said, he checked me.  She said, what?  And then I said, and he touched me and I feel sore. 

KOTB:  Gina‘s mother says she was stunned. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I was really angry.  He had betrayed us.  He had hurt her.  I didn‘t know what it could mean to her. 

KOTB:  Gina‘s mom says she called Dr. Copperman demanding to know what happened and claims he apologized. 

The Limmers switched pediatricians and thought that was the end of it.  But nearly a year later, Gina was surprised when a classmate told her that she went to Dr. Copperman, too, and the same thing happened to her.  When Gina‘s mom heard that, she said that was it and reported Dr. Copperman to the police. 

(on camera):  So, when you filed your report, did you think they were going to go directly to Dr. Copperman, cuff him, bring him down to the police station? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  That‘s what I thought.  I was 16. 

KOTB:  Is that what happened? 


KOTB (voice-over):  When questioned by police, Dr. Copperman denied the allegations.  And, remember, he was one of Long Island‘s most respected pediatricians.  The guest expert in this baby exercise video. 

DR. STUART COPPERMAN, PEDIATRICIAN:  BabyCise is a series of carefully-devised and tested exercises.

KOTB:  And Dr. Copperman took and passed a privately administered lie-detector test.  The police said they had no case. 

(on camera):  Could you have misunderstood what he was doing?  Could this have just been your standard everyday exam? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  No, not at all.  In no way is a doctor ever supposed to touch a patient like that. 

KOTB:  So if Gina and her mom couldn‘t put Dr. Copperman in jail, they were hoping at least to put him out of business, so they went to the state medical board, that has the power to pull a doctor‘s license.  It would be three years before the medical board even heard the case and Gina‘s allegations. 

(voice-over):  In 1987, a medical board made up of two doctors and one priest came out with its decision—quote—“Gina received a standard exam.”  The board believed the doctor and thought Gina was making it all up.  The proceedings were kept secret, and so none of Dr. Copperman‘s other patients ever knew anything about Gina‘s case.  And Dr. Copperman continued to practice. 

(on camera):  They didn‘t believe anything, obviously, that you said. 

They sided with the doctor. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Right.  When I heard that they were going to let him keep practicing, I remember saying to my mother, he‘s going to keep doing this. 

KOTB (voice-over):  Gina had no idea how telling that statement would be. 



ANNOUNCER:  A respected pediatrician accused of an astonishing breach of trust.  We return once again to “Innocence Lost.”


KOTB (voice-over):  In 1995, 12 years after Gina‘s last visit to Dr.  Copperman, a letter arrived at the New York State Department of Health in Albany.  In it, a woman in her 30s made an alarming allegation.  When she was 14 years old, she wrote, her pediatrician, Dr. Stuart Copperman of Merrick, Long island, molested her sexually.  Two years later, another letter arrived making nearly identical charges.  By 1999, officials had received complaints from six women, all charging Dr. Copperman with sexual abuse. 

Eventually, dozens of women would come forward to say essentially the same thing.  They claimed that, when they were young teenagers, Dr.  Copperman saw them in an exam room with no nurse, mother or chaperone present and without providing a gown or wearing gloves.

Then they say Dr. Copperman, usually suggesting the girls needed to be cleaned, rubbed their genitals for several minutes.  These four women, who say it happened to them, agreed to talk to “Dateline.”  They have never met each other, but they have remarkably similar stories. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I was about 12 years old.  I was walking to the doctor‘s office by myself, so I was all alone. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I started seeing him when I was 13.  It was always just me and Dr. Copperman. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I was 8.  I don‘t remember there being a nurse. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I was 14 or 15 at the time.  There was nobody in the room with us. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I didn‘t have a gown or sheet. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I don‘t remember wearing a robe. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I know for a fact he was not wearing any gloves. 


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  He asked me to remove my panties. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  He said, put up your knees, close your eyes and relax. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  And he had his eyes closed. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  So, it was a clean thing.  You have to be clean. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  He started to clean off what he claims was dirt. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  He started rubbing my vagina. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I remember pain, a lot of pain.  I said, when is this going to be over?  And he said, just little bit longer. 

KOTB:  For this woman, Deborah Lynch (ph), it went further.  She says Dr. Copperman rubbed her for minutes at a time even though she repeatedly said he was hurting her and begged him to stop.  She was 15 at the time and not yet sexually active.  She says only years later did she realize she had several orgasms that day.  She remembers being afraid. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I said to him, I don‘t understand what is wrong with me.  And he said, well, I will explain all that to you once I‘m finished.  Once he was finished, he patted the inside of my thigh and he told me that all the heavy breathing and all the shaking I was doing was absolutely normal.  I didn‘t need to worry about it. 

KOTB:  But privately, she did worry about it and she said she was haunted by the shame and anguish.  Two of these women say they told their families about the abuse and weren‘t believed.  The other two say they were embarrassed and kept quiet.  And Dr. Copperman continued to practice. 

(on camera):  But is it possible these women were simply impressionable, insecure young girls who misunderstood what the doctor was doing?  In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics says that, for some young teenagers, even appropriate touching of the genitals can cause embarrassment and discomfort.  And the academy does encourage doctors to spend time alone with teenagers to help them make difficult decisions about sex and drugs. 

(voice-over):  Stuart Copperman, who had no criminal record and had been cleared of similar charges years earlier, seemed to be just that kind of doctor. 

COPPERMAN:  Children need rules.  Children need limits in order to grow up safe and healthy. 

KOTB:  He remained a guest on talk shows, was honored as Merrick‘s person of the year, and his practice continued to thrive.  Dr. Copperman categorically denies ever molesting or sexually abusing a patient and says the charges against him are outrageous. 

In this letter sent to “Dateline,” he declined our request for an interview and said: “The danger in cases like this one is that people hearing unsubstantiated allegations may believe that when a doctor does even a routine inspection of genitals, he is doing something improper.  And that will impede the doctor‘s ability to do his job.”

Dr. Copperman‘s attorney, Joseph Tacopina.

JOE TACOPINA, TRIAL ATTORNEY:  I believe in my heart of hearts that he is being wrongly accused of these horrific allegations. 

KOTB:  Tacopina asks why several of the women who filed a complaint against Dr. Copperman continued to see him for as long as 10 years after the alleged abuse and waited years after that to report him to authorities?

TACOPINA:  They believe this happened to them, OK?  Why wait 15 years? 

KOTB:  But psychiatrists, child advocates and even some pediatricians say that, given sexual inexperience and the shame involved in cases like this one, it is typical for a young woman to wait years before filing a complaint. 

(on camera):  It is predictable, isn‘t it?  This happens all the time. 

TACOPINA:  Sometimes.  I will not accept as a logical response that it‘s predictable that a 17-year-old girl will have a doctor insert a finger inside her for no medical basis, just for the purpose of sexual gratification, and that 17-year-old girl will not know that that is improper and will not tell anyone, but yet 15 years later will bring it to the forefront.

(on camera):  Well, they are 30-something.  They‘re smarter.  They‘re more confident. 

TACOPINA:  So, at 25, they were not smart enough?  At 30, they were not smart enough?  That‘s an excuse.  That‘s not a reasonable answer.

KOTB:  So no fondling? 

TACOPINA:  No fondling.

KOTB:  No molesting?

TACOPINA:  Absolutely not.

KOTB:  No abuse?

TACOPINA:  No abuse. 

KOTB (voice-over):  Tacopina says he is suspicious that after so many years have passed all of the women came forward at around the same time. 

(on camera):  How could they possibly benefit from coming forward with these painful and embarrassing stories?  What would be their motive? 

TACOPINA:  Hoda, I don‘t have the answer to that question.  The fact of the matter is, they do it.  People do it all the time.  False allegations of sexual abuse are—unfortunately lard the criminal justice system. 

KOTB (voice-over):  To Dr. Copperman and his supporters, there‘s one other important indicator of his innocence.  Remember the lie-detector test he took and passed in 1987, when Gina Limmer filed charges against him?

Well, when allegations resurfaced in the letters women sent to the medical board, Dr. Copperman took a second privately administered lie-detector test and passed again.  By now, five years had gone by since the health department began receiving letters complaining about Dr. Copperman. 

(on camera):  So, what would happen next?  In August of 2000, a newly reorganized and supposedly more efficient New York State Medical Board, took up the second case against Dr. Copperman.  On one hand, there were women with nearly identical stories, on the other, a respected doctor backed up by not one, but two lie-detector tests. 

The two doctors and one health management consultant on the board heard eight days of testimony and, in the end, believed the women.  They voted unanimously to pull Dr. Copperman‘s medical license permanently. 

(voice-over):  So Dr. Copperman, who had been practicing medicine for 35 years, was out of a job.  He spoke with the media briefly after the board announced its decision. 

COPPERMAN:  I have spent my entire life building a reputation and a name.  I care about kids.  I love kids.  And the fact that these allegations have come up just destroys me. 

KOTB:  And why had it 10 taken so long for the State Department of Health to act? 

Dr. Antonia Novello, former U.S. surgeon general, pediatrician, and New York State health commissioner.

(on camera):  If my math is right, it took five years, five years from the first complaint that this office received, five years in which he was still practicing, before he were to lose his license.  Now, that doesn‘t really scream efficiency to me. 

ANTONIA NOVELLO, FORMER U.S. SURGEON GENERAL:  Remember, these are very difficult cases, very difficult cases, he said/she said. 

KOTB (voice-over):  Difficult for two reasons, no forensic evidence and the women had waited many years to report the alleged abuse.  Dr.  Novello says she had to be certain she had a rock-solid case the second time around. 

NOVELLO:  And that‘s exactly what happened.  He is revoked.  He is not practicing medicine in the state of New York.

KOTB:  Since the newspapers reported that Dr. Copperman lost his license, Health Department sources say more than 50 additional former patients have claimed he molested them, too, including some of the women we spoke with on camera.  But for Gina Limmer, it was too little too late.  She thinks he should be in jail. 

(on camera):  Is it enough to have his license taken away? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  No, not at this point.  He is already 65.  He has had his whole career, basically.

KOTB (voice-over):  To Gina and the other women “Dateline” spoke with, there is no getting back the innocence they claim to have lost in Dr.  Copperman‘s Long Island office.  And Gina says she is sorry the medical board didn‘t believe her the first time around.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  They gave him 14 more years to practice, 14 more years.  God knows how many girls he has touched, how many lives he has hurt. 


WITT:  Dr. Copperman denies he has ever done anything wrong.  Criminal charges in these cases are not being pursued. 

That‘s all for this edition of MSNBC REPORTS.  I‘m Alex Witt.  Thanks for joining us.



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