Fairfield, California – A psychologist working at Travis Air Force Base near Sacremento has been arrested for sexually assaulting his patents after multiple patients accused him of misconduct and claimed that they are now “even more traumatized” because of the abuse they endured at the hands of the man who was supposed to help them.
According to a report from CBS Sacremento, Dr. Heath Sommer was working with rape victims who were sexually assaulted while deployed in the military. But instead of helping them, he added to the abuse.
Sommer reportedly used “exposure therapy” as an excuse to victimize his patients under the pretense of an experimental treatment. Exposure therapy is a psychological treatment where people are forced to confront their fears or traumas, and while this technique has many great applications, sexual assault is obviously not one of them.
It was revealed that the abuse occurred between 2010 and 2016, but it is not clear how many victims there actually were. Sommer now faces charges of sexual battery, rape, and oral copulation, to which he pled not guilty earlier this week.
Sommer’s attorney, Thomas Maas said in court that the sex was consensual and was a part of his client’s “therapy work.”
However, at least nine women have come forward to testify in the case against Sommer, including Caitlyn Sampson, who recently spoke with KCRA about her experience.
“I had a traumatic experience at my first base. I had some residual and was diagnosed with PTSD. After that, every base that I went to, I sought treatment at,” She explained.
Sampson then detailed how Dr. Sommer would aggressively manipulate women during the sessions.
“It was apparent that he had read over my entire medical history. He was telling me everything about who I was and what I thought, what I felt. I think he took a lot of information from those notes to tell me who I was and how I felt to almost like gain credibility maybe. He was telling me all kinds of other things about myself that were not true at all. Saying that I didn’t love my husband… that I wanted to cheat on him or that I had sexual desires,” Sampson said.
“If I told him no, he would tell me I was lying. And he would ask the question again and again until I gave him the right answer. Or once in a while, he would move on to the next topic: (Very personal questions like) ‘What’s your wildest sexual fantasy?’ or ‘What’s the wildest thing you’ve ever done sexually.’ Anything I had to tell him wasn’t good enough. It wasn’t wild enough. I was uncomfortable very early on. Even before he started getting into the really personal things, he was just telling me all about me and wasn’t giving me a chance to express myself. And when he started telling me that I was lying about my own perspective, I knew there was something wrong,” she added.
Sampson said that Sommer’s tactics eventually caused her to panic and shut down, which is a common response for victims of trauma who have encounters like this, something that Sommer likely knew and took advantage of at the time.
“Throughout the whole appointment, I was pretty uncomfortable—but I wasn’t really sure that what he was doing was malicious. By the end of the appointment, he goes and says that I have feelings for him and that I find him sexually attractive and that I want to be with him sexually. When I realized that he wasn’t taking my answers and he wanted his own answers—he was very determined on getting a specific answer from me—I think I kind of just shut down,” she said.
Sampson also explained how Sommer attempted to pass his behavior off as a therapeutic technique.
“I wasn’t quite sure. Maybe he was just a provider that was using some different tactics. You know, trying to make me feel uncomfortable for like a therapeutic reason. That’s horrible. It’s a hard time. You’re not thinking straight. If he says to you this is how you’re going to get better. Exposure therapy works for getting people to slowly try the things that scare them. So yes, if you’ve been sexually assaulted, sex might scare you. And to say that the solution is to have sex with me—as your provider, the person that you’re supposed to trust—it is like the most serious abuse of power I’ve encountered,” Sampson said.
A Spokesperson for Travis Air Force Base said that they do not officially support exposure therapy for these types of cases. Sommer is currently being held at the Stanton Correctional Facility in Fairfield, with a bail of $750,000.
The U.S. military is an extremely unsafe place for women, and many of the threats that they face are from within. U.S. officials say reports of sexual assaults across the military jumped by nearly 10 percent in 2017 with 6,769 reports of sexual assaults.
Military Times reported that defense officials actually praised the increase, because it is an underreported crime, and they believe that an increase in reports “shows there is more confidence in the reporting system and greater comfort with the support for victims.”
A report published in September 2017 also revealed that the suicide rate for female veterans is 250 percent higher than the suicide rate for female non-veteran civilians
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