Tom Arnold Takes Back His Power From Sexual Abuse

Tom Arnold’s latest film means more to him than a simple paycheck. For Tom, it’s the final step in healing his childhood experience of sexual abuse by a teenage male babysitter. It’s so important that these types of stories become public knowledge so we can begin to understand and deal with the reality of sexual abuse. I applaud Tom for his bravery in coming forward.

As Arnold revealed to People magazine, “[The abuse] started shortly before I turned 4.” He had no choice but to continue to “play the game” with his abuser three or four times a week for three years, until the man moved away. He was too young to know the game was sex, but he instinctively knew it wasn’t right.

Why didn’t Tom tell his dad what was going on? “The guy gave me a candy bar at the end of the game. I wasn’t allowed to have candy at my house, and I felt ashamed that I took the candy. And I was afraid of him. The message was clear he would hurt my dad if I told, and the thought of losing my dad was impossible.”

When he was seven years old, Tom was involved in an incident that should have alerted his father to the fact that his son was in trouble. The babysitter had shown Tom his gun, aiming it at Tom’s dad when he arrived home from work. A few days later, Tom stole his father’s gun, went out in the middle of the street, and pointed the gun at the babysitter’s house-a clear message about the way he was feeling. Unfortunately, no one understood.

The abuse stayed hidden – as it does in most instances – a secret Tom covered up with addiction. It wasn’t until he was completing the alcohol, drug, and sexual inventory before leaving rehab in 1989, when he was 30 years old, that he first said to his therapist: “There was this time I was like 4 or 5, and there was this thing that would happen with my babysitter. . .” In Tom’s mind, the man had been only a few years older than him. The therapist quickly responded. “Wait a minute. You were like 4 or 5, and your babysitter was 6 or 7?” Arnold then started digging up the facts.

Arnold hired a private investigator and found out the man had been 18 when he abused him. The man was still living in Iowa, had become a church leader and the owner of a big company, and was about to adopt his fourth son. So Tom did more than just find out the facts. He went to the police, but they said there was nothing they could do about it. So Tom went back to Iowa to confront his abuser by himself. As Arnold recounts in a Hollywood Exclusive article at, “I remember he put his finger on my chest, and everything came back. I was scared for a second, but then I snapped to it and told him what was going to happen to him if he ever touched me again. By now a lot of his employees had come out of their office because Tom Arnold was there.” When Tom left the man’s office, he felt complete joy at having stood up to his abuser. I know from my own experiences of confronting abuse what a tremendous sense of empowerment Tom had at that moment.

But Tom was worried about what this man might be doing to his adopted children. He went to the state capitol and met with the governor. “I told him what happened and that the guy was about to adopt his fourth child and that he had to stop it. He said it wasn’t something he could get involved with. A few days later, my brother called me and said, ‘You won’t believe this, but the adoption fell through. Something was wrong with the paperwork.'”

As a part of his healing process, Arnold is portraying a child molester in his movie, Gardens of the Night – a risky career move for an actor, especially one known as a comedian. As he says, “It was a tough choice. I was a smart kid, and [my molester] still got to me. So I wanted to portray a pedophile in a way no one has seen before in order to explain how these things can happen. I even wore the same clothes as him in the movie.” It’s an important statement for him. And a little wistful as well. As Arnold said: “… if my dad had watched something like this many years ago, maybe he would have asked some questions about what was going on in the neighborhood. Maybe I’m fooling myself and I just ruined my career, but either way it was a powerful experience. Playing this character was the last piece for me to put it behind me.”

Arnold is more than ready to put his past behind him. He is taking the steps that finally release the painful experience that ruled his life for 45 years, and it psychologically opens the door for him to have his own children.

I know all too well the toll we pay when sexual abuse has been a part of us from a very young age. I was only two when my father began his abuse of me, which lasted until I was twelve. It’s a complex experience, blending shame, fear, guilt, anger, and a host of related emotions in a toxic mix – far too dangerous for a young mind to deal with. Like Tom, drugs and alcohol seemed inevitable in my life, and only a diagnosis of cancer in my 20’s led me to re-examine my life and do the difficult work of healing the abuse. I went on to devote my life to the study of healing from trauma like abuse.

When one in six boys under the age of 18 is sexually molested, there is much trauma to heal, and much information that the public needs to know. One important fact to know is that children of either sex can be abused by someone older of either sex – don’t assume that boys are only abused by men; women are abusers too.

There are signs to watch for in both young boys (and girls) to see if they are being abused. Is the child having sleep problems or nightmares? Is he depressed or withdrawing from friends or family? Is he refusing to go to school? Does he have an unusual interest in or is he avoiding all things of a sexual nature? Is he saying his body is dirty or damaged, or is he scared something is wrong in his genital area? If a child is displaying any of these signs, talk to a counselor or pediatrician.

Most men who were abused never tell. Every time someone, especially a celebrity, reveals the shadow that has led them to addiction and other dysfunction, a light is cast out into the darkness. Sexual abuse is far more prevalent than anyone can imagine. It cuts across all strata of society, ignoring color, gender, race, religion, and socio-economic status. When we become more fully awake to its reality, perhaps we will not hesitate to recognize the signs of abuse and do something to stop it.

Awareness is the key. Tom Arnold has done his part; let’s all follow his example.

(Originally published at Article Dashboard and reprinted with permission from the author, Deborah King).

Deborah King is a health & wellness expert and author of Truth Heals: What You Hide Can Hurt You. Learn more about your own ability to change your life through truth at Truth Heals.