Experts: Hopkins' Case Fits Pattern of Abuse

By Robert McClendon
August 10, 2008

Traveling evangelist Anthony Hopkins isolated his family from the outside world, according to authorities, neighbors and former friends.

The children weren't allowed to play with other kids on their central Mobile block. They didn't go to school. Hopkins' wife, Arletha Hopkins, didn't work and had few friends.

When the mother quietly went missing about four years ago, police said, few took notice and none notified authorities.

Late last month, police discovered her body in a freezer. They also found porn, "sex gel" and male enhancement cream in his house and a nearby trailer, according to court documents.

One of Arletha Hopkins' daughters, alleged to have been raped at the hands of Anthony Hopkins since 2000, knew her mother's fate and didn't tell a soul until last month, police said.

Those circumstances, though shocking, fit patterns seen in cases of prolonged familial abuse, according to experts who study the criminal mind.

Dr. Dawn Hughes, a forensic psychologist based in New York, said it's quite common for abuse victims, particularly those who have suffered at the hands of a close relative, not to come forward for years.

A father figure, she said, who is supposed to embody safety and protection, can use that role to convince the child that his sexual gratification is the right thing to do in return for his favor and protection.

"Sexual abuse for a child is incredibly confusing," Hughes said, especially if the child has been isolated from the outside world. With no exposure to healthy family dynamics, the child knows only his or her relationship with the abuser.

Hopkins' occupation as a roving evangelist and preacher could also have been a potent source of coercive power, Hughes said. As he preached fire and brimstone to eager congregations around south Alabama, his children often accompanied him.

In cases of clergy abuse, Hughes said, pastors sometimes tell their victims that God approves of the relationship. They might also threaten the child with God's judgment.

A daughter seeing her mother's dead body would have sent a strong message, Hughes said.

"Fear is very motivating," she said. "It's the most primal emotion we have."

Kirk Heilbrun, a forensic psychologist at Drexel University in Philadelphia, was reluctant to comment on the case without first-hand access to the people involved, but he warned against those who would judge the daughter for not coming forward sooner.

"There is a lot of sadness and pathos in this whole situation," he said. "This is not a (daughter) that should be considered to be pathological. People should say to themselves: 'I should be thankful for the upbringing I had.'

"Many people put in that situation could respond the way she did," he said.


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