Playtime Is Over

The state has barred a child psychologist from using adult sex toys in therapy sessions.

But because of the boy's behavioral problems, Mabin -- who knew of Dicke from his work with another sexually abused child the department had seen -- suggested that Karen take her son to the Child and Adolescent Psychotherapy Institute (CAAPI), which Dicke had co-founded the year before with Ralph Fisch, a psychologist and associate professor at the University of Denver's Graduate School of Professional Psychology.

A couple of weeks into his therapy, Dallas described an incident to Dicke that he hadn't told his mom about; this one allegedly took place on Christmas Day 1999. When his mom was in the shower, Dallas reportedly said, he and his dad, who was at Karen's Brighton home for the holiday, touched each other's "winkies." He also told them that his father had touched his butt with his penis. Dicke immediately notified Mabin of the allegations, and after consulting with Detective Mark Rule of the Brighton Police Department, Mabin asked Dicke to begin videotaping the sessions so that the police could gather evidence they might need to pursue a criminal case, and the investigation started anew.

According to her case notes, Mabin warned Dicke not to ask Dallas leading questions that might jeopardize that investigation.

John Dicke believes he's found a way to help children who have been victims of sexual abuse.
John Johnston
John Dicke believes he's found a way to help children who have been victims of sexual abuse.
Karen believes Dr. Dicke's therapy was helping her son, Dallas.
John Johnston
Karen believes Dr. Dicke's therapy was helping her son, Dallas.

However, after Dicke handed over the tapes of the next few sessions to caseworkers, the focus of the ACDSS and the police shifted away from whether Dallas had been abused in the past to whether Dicke's treatment constituted abuse itself. In fact, the social services workers and the Brighton police officer who watched the tapes were so uncomfortable with what they saw that they handed the tapes over to police in Denver, where Dicke's office is located.

No one, it turns out, had ever heard of a therapist using adult sex toys -- or "anatomically correct penises," as Dicke prefers to call them -- to treat child sex-abuse victims.

And that's no surprise, since Dicke -- who has now been barred from using what he believes is a groundbreaking new technique -- may have been the only therapist in the country to do so.

When the five-year-old Dallas first came to see Dicke in February 2001, he was like a "whirling dervish," recalls Dicke's wife, Cari Day, who runs CAAPI's business operations. He "raged" through the therapist's office, trying to knock pictures off the walls and shaking bookshelves.

"He was feral, primitive," Dicke adds, pointing around his office to indicate the path of the boy's destruction. "He wasn't very verbal. The abuse had occurred at a stage when he had no skills to conceptualize what happened to him."

The therapist didn't mind the havoc, though. He wanted the boy to get used to the office and feared that if he chastised him for his behavior, Dallas might never open up. In the meantime, Dicke and Karen, who was present during every session, talked about Dallas.

Thirty minutes into the session, Dallas crawled beneath Dicke's chair, reached up and touched the therapist's penis. "I said to him, 'What are you doing?' and he recoiled," Dicke remembers. "I'd never heard about that happening to any psychologist, so right away, I knew he'd been sexualized.

"So the mom and I go on talking, and he comes up to me and does it again, and I say, 'What are you doing?' and he recoils again. The third time he does it, he doesn't just touch me -- he tries to massage my penis," Dicke says. "I said, 'I wonder if that's what you and your dad do,' and he goes crazy. He's hysterical, and he runs around screaming. I'm thinking to myself, 'Here's a case where a kid has been horribly abused and the ball's been dropped.'"

Dicke is dumbfounded that the ACDSS failed to discover what he calls an obvious case of sex abuse, and he now believes the department decided to go after him instead to mask its own failure. "I got on the phone with Diana Mabin after the session and told her that it's my opinion that he's been sexually abused, and probably by the father, and I said I wasn't going to do a forensic evaluation -- that I was going to do therapy," he says. "All they could talk about was trying to get the dad. If they wanted to get a prosecution, fine, but I was going to treat the kid."

And so he did. Throughout the course of the therapy, which consisted of fourteen one-hour sessions two to three times a week until mid-March 2001, Dicke kept Mabin apprised of everything he did. Although Mabin has since left the department and couldn't be reached for comment, the notes she kept bear this out.

Over the next couple of sessions, Dallas was aggressive and upset, particularly, Dicke says, after visits with his dad. In mid-February, after Dicke reported the boy's allegation about the Christmas incident to Mabin -- and the social services department renewed its investigation -- the caseworker told Thomas not to have any further contact with his son, and he agreed, according to Mabin's notes.

But Dicke says the signs of past abuse increased with each session.

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