Friday, February 8, 2013

Melvin Sembler's Penis Pump

    This tale has a little bit of everything, humor, sadness, irony and is a cautionary tale. This story begins with Richard Bradbury, a survivor of the drug "treatment" provider Straight Inc. 

The Penis Pump, the Ambassador and our Medical Privacy by Maia Szalavitz

Florida native Richard Bradbury lost years of his adolescence to an abusive drug program called Straight Inc. Much of his "treatment" consisted of being forced to admit his "part" in having been sexually abused by a small group of pedophiles when he was a boy. Program staff believed the eleven-year-old Richard "seduced" these adult men in order to get them to buy him drugs. His "recovery" would begin when he admitted how low drugs had made him go and was prepared to accept the program's "help" with that. 
But Richard never actually had a drug problem. His sister did. Because of the way Straight worked, her treatment required him to be "screened" for addiction as well. This screening consisted of an 8-10 hour interrogation in which admission of any marijuana smoking or alcohol use was seen as denial of more serious addiction-- and any denial of any use was seen as denial, period. His addiction was a foregone conclusion. Even though Richard's parents didn't believe he had a drug problem, they felt forced to admit him because otherwise his sister-- whom they believed the program was helping-- would be expelled.

Dirt and the diplomat by Leonora LaPeter (other quotes are from this source unless otherwise specified)

Bradbury says a fireman molested him when he was 11, abuse that continued for three years with a high school principal and other men the fireman brought around. He dropped out of school but says he was not hooked on drugs when his adoptive parents brought him to Straight. 
Other teens further along in the program forced him to sit up in a plastic chair for 10 to 12 hours a day, he says. If he leaned back, he was thrown to the floor and others sat on his arms, legs and chest. Forbidden to use the bathroom, he would soil his clothes. He says he was beaten. 
He graduated, joined the staff and inflicted beatings on other teens. He left Straight in 1985, after he said he learned other counselors were sexually abusing teens and tried to report it, only to be told to shut up or be returned to the program as a client.

Bradbury was eventually able to see through the brainwashing tactics of Straight Inc. and see the abuse he suffered, and imposed on others, as the human rights violation that it is. Bradbury then attempted to fight the Semblers any way he could. Mel and Betty Sembler are wealthy and politically connected, Melvin Sembler was even appointed as the ambassador to Italy in 2001. In this David verus Goliath battle Bradbury did whatever he could to try to damage the Sembler's credibility.

For 10 years he combed through the garbage outside Sembler’s home on Treasure Island, meticulously cataloging little treasures he discovered, including documents with the ambassador’s seal and presidential schedules complete with aircraft tail numbers. 
Three years ago, Bradbury’s garbage runs hit what for him was the mother lode: Sembler’s discarded penile pump. 
Thoughtful soul that he is, Bradbury offered the item on eBay: 
“Pump, one of a kind formerly owned by current United States Ambassador to Italy …” Minimum bid: $300,000. 
The Semblers filed a lawsuit that called Bradbury’s actions “so dark and fringe as to outrage common sensibilities” and “an invasion into the sanctity of our home and our bedroom.” 
It’s been three years, and the outgunned jobless guy is more than holding his own: Sembler offered to drop the suit if Bradbury would keep his distance. Bradbury said no. 
“Anybody else would have cut and run. I’m not backing down.”

Melvin Sembler has never been charged with a crime. The legacy of Straight Inc. continues to haunt survivors to this day. It is particularly ironic that the Sembler's are so distressed by the publicity surrounding a discarded penis pump. 

“Plainly put Mr. Bradbury,’’ wrote attorney Leonard Englander, “it would be our intention to have you become the prey and not the hunter, as you have fancied yourself to be these past several years.” 
The letter outlined the Semblers’ potential claims: intentional infliction of emotional distress and violation of privacy for publishing a private fact. 
Bring it on, Bradbury wrote back. He welcomed a lawsuit to “open Pandora’s box” and expose what happened at Straight: 
“I will give anything of my life for the victims of Straight,’’ he wrote, “in any legal effort to expose the dishonorable Melvin Sembler and all his actions including but not limited to the fraudulent organized child abuse Straight fraud centers.”
 “Mr. Bradbury’s been an irritant and he’s been distressing to my family, not only personally, and to my wife, but to my children,” Sembler testified. “I’ve told my family one of these days I wouldn’t be surprised if a bomb wasn’t placed in my mailbox by this outrageous behavior of this young man.” 
He said Bradbury was intelligent but “not a normal human being.” He said Bradbury had trespassed all these years; the garbage bin was on their property, not in the public right-of-way at the end of the driveway — as Bradbury remembered — where it would be legal for anyone to go through it. 
It especially upset Betty Sembler. “I’m under severe emotional distress,” she said in her deposition. She had lost sleep over it, cried about it and, afraid of Bradbury, changed the way she entered her home, making sure to look around when she got out of her car.  
“She’s like many women,’’ Sembler testified, “she’s emotional and she’s — this man is very distressing, particularly recently. Since his antics with his disclosing that, you know, he’s been coming on the property for 10 years and then advertising this medical device … he’s gotten out of control now.’’

One can only imagine the kind of distress the Semblers would experience if they had been subjected to Straight's "therapy." The national clinical director of the program admitted to regulators that kids were kept awake for 72 hour stretches as "a therapeutic technique." He acknowledged that he made teens crawl through each other's legs to be hit in a "spanking machine," that was intended to be "humiliating" and that he forced teens to eat nothing but peanut butter sandwiches for weeks at a time.
Regulators in several states repeatedly documented excessive use of force. At Straight, kids restrained each other by slamming the victim to the floor and sitting on his limbs, often for hours and without providing bathroom breaks. Straight was forced to pay out millions of dollars to settle lawsuits in which dozens of teens and parents testified to beatings, kidnappings, assaults, and hundreds of other repeated violations of human rights.
What I want to know is: Who should be suing whom for emotional distress and invasion of privacy in this case?

Bradbury's fight has cost him dearly. I don't think it would be an overstatement to say that Melvin Sembler ruined Bradbury's life, an was certainly the cause of his quixotic quest for some accountability.

Bradbury never married,  his most trusted companion his 7-year-old cocker spaniel, Gumbo, who is dying of cancer. Other than his parents, he has only himself, and he says the case has sapped him of that. After the trial, he says he’s ready to move on. 
“I accomplished what I set out to do, which was to draw attention to what they did to us kids,” Bradbury said. “But emotionally and financially, I’m finished. It’s ruined me.”

Further reading:

Pump-Gate - Blog Devoted to Court Case

Help at Any Cost - website about Szalavitz's expose of the troubled teen industry


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