THE BLOG
12/29/2006 11:39 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Penis Pump Case Goes Limp, But Serious Issues Remain

Straight Inc. survivor Richard Bradbury won a rare victory yesterday--forcing Mel Sembler, the former chair of finances for the Republican Party and current head of the Scooter Libby defense fund to drop most of a lawsuit he'd filed against Bradbury. Sembler had claimed that Bradbury invaded his privacy and caused "emotional distress" to him and his wife, Betty, when Bradbury sold a penis pump found in Sembler's garbage on eBay.

Bradbury had also picketed against Straight-- an abusive teen anti-drug program which was founded by the Semblers-- in front of their house to express his opposition to the program. He had been forcibly enrolled in Straight as a teenager, despite never having used drugs. He was subject to daily emotional attacks as part of its "therapy" for several years. This "therapy" involved calling Bradbury "faggot" and forcing him to confess that he'd elicited the sexual abuse he suffered as a child.

In a deposition, Sembler claimed that Bradbury's actions had affected him emotionally "very dramatically." He said, "It - it creates distress. It - distress in the family. Distress with my wife. Distress with my children, distress with my associates when he comes on the parking lot - with picketing and with - he causes distress." He then admitted that actually it was his wife who was distressed, saying, "The biggest distress is that it creates distress for my wife....And when one's wife is distressed one is distressed."

But Betty Sembler's distress was equally vague and ill-defined. At one point in her deposition, she claimed that Bradbury's activism caused her to lose sleep-- but later she admitted that she didn't know whether Bradbury had been near her property at night because "I'm not up in the middle of the night, no." She conceded that she hadn't sought counseling or medical care as a result of her distress. She said that any criticism of Straight was "a threat." And, she alleged that an anti-Straight website which she hadn't seen was "false and offensive."

Though she did acknowledge that activists have first amendment rights, she said that even anti-war protestors who marched near one of the shopping centers her husband developed were "very threatening."

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.

Curiously, in the St. Petersburg Times coverage of the Sembler case, reporter Curtis Krueger characterizes the Straight story this way: "Bradbury and numerous other critics charge that the now-defunct Straight used excessive force and other abuses against its clients."

But Krueger himself covered a Florida state audit of Straight in 1993 that said ""there has been a propensity for abuse or excessive force to be used." That is not a "charge" by critics-- that is one that has been substantiated by a state investigation. Such media timidity itself is part of why Straight was able to harm teens for decades-- and part of what drives Bradbury to continue his quixotic quest.

And, while the emotional distress and privacy charges were dropped, Bradbury is still facing a "stalking" injunction, even though the Semblers admit that over the course of decades, he only sent them two letters and called their office once. Bradbury says, "I wouldn't cave in and I won't cave in because of what he did to me at Straight as a minor child. He took advantage of me and I said I would never let that happen as an adult."

What I want to know is: Who should be suing whom for emotional distress and invasion of privacy in this case?

[Those interested in more on the Straight story and the unfortunately ongoing abuse of thousands of children in similar programs that are still open today might want to read my article in this month's Reason here. or check out my book and its website.]