Here’s a repost of my December 2018 follow up article about Heath J. Sommer with more information I uncovered. Again, I am reposting this because I may write about another doctor who abused patients.
A couple of days ago, I wrote a rant about comments on a news article I read. The Air Force Times had printed a piece about former Air Force psychologist Heath J. Sommer (also known as Heath Jacob Lind), who was just found guilty of six felony sexual assault charges. Sommer had been working at Travis Air Force Base, treating women who had been sexually assaulted and were looking for help getting over their traumas. The psychologist’s prescribed treatment of the sexual assault victims was what he called “exposure therapy“, which is, in fact, a legitimate approach to healing people with trauma and helping them move past anxieties. However, Sommer’s brand of treatment also included having his female patients have sex with him. In one case, he even told a client that if she didn’t submit to his “therapeutic intervention”, she would likely commit suicide within a year.
I read some of the comments left by readers of the Army Times, which had also disseminated the Air Force Times article. Sommer’s actions were disgusting enough, but there were also people commenting on how “dumb” the victims were to fall for Sommer’s assertion that they needed to have sexual contact with him in order to get over their traumas related to sexual assault. Although I’ve been around military folks my whole life and am used to some of the callous attitudes some servicemembers have, I must admit that sometimes I get really tired of some of the ignorance perpetuated by certain people in the military population. The military culture is imbrued with macho bullshit, and sometimes people in the culture don’t think beyond the obvious.
Anyway, once I ranted about dumb comments from Army Times readers, I decided I wanted to know more about this Heath Sommer character. After a couple of Google sessions, I quickly learned that Sommer, who has a Ph.D. in psychology, also fancies himself an author of “mental health” thrillers. He’s written several books, which are all for sale on Amazon.com. In fact, I found a blog post about Sommer’s writing that is somewhat revelatory. He offers his thoughts on terror, along with the interesting opening line “Horror is worse when it has pigtails.” Interestingly enough, one person who commented on that post wrote that Sommer doesn’t include graphic sex scenes or gore in his books. And yet, as a psychologist, he was quite graphic when he victimized his female clients. One woman was asked to perform fellatio on Sommer twice. He even complimented her on her technique.
Most of the rest of the information about Sommer, at least in the first results, was related to the crimes he has now been convicted of committing. I decided to hit Facebook to see what else I could learn. Sure enough, he has a page. At first blush, it’s innocuous enough. But then I noticed a picture of Sommer with a huge passel of children. I had read that he is a father and a husband… and, by the looks of his Facebook, it appears that he has at least nine kids. But the large family is not really what set off my “Modar”. It was his shorts.
I noticed that Sommer and his children were all wearing shorts that came at least to the knee. The only people I know of who regularly wear those kinds of shorts are people of the LDS persuasion. This is not to say that I necessarily believe Sommer’s religion has anything to do with his criminal actions. In fact, when I first saw pictures of him online, it didn’t occur to me that he was religious at all. In his mug shots, he appears kind of scruffy, with unkempt hair cut in an unattractive bowl style, a double chin, and facial hair. It’s not exactly the Mormon look. In other photos, he looks very different. He’s clean shaven and has a neat haircut, though remains a little creepy looking. I still wouldn’t have recognized him at first blush. In fact, after looking at his author page and comparing it to his mug shot, I even wondered if the two photos were of the same person.
I did some more digging. I found connections to the church via his Facebook friends, as well as his academic credentials. Two of his three degrees come from Idaho State University, and he also has ties to Pocatello, which is a very Mormon area. And then, I found Sommer listed on a Wiki page about LDS authors. Even with all of those ties, I still wondered if the psychologist and the author were the same people, since Sommer’s booking photo looks so different than other pictures I’ve seen. But the name “Heath Sommer” isn’t like “John Smith” or “Tom Brown”. It’s a somewhat unusual name. What are the odds that there are two Heath Sommers who are (or were) practicing clinical psychologists in California, both having lived in Idaho?
I write this knowing that some people might accuse me of bigotry for noting that this convicted sex offender is also a long shorts wearing member of the “one true church”. Just to be clear, once again– I don’t think that Sommer’s religion necessarily has any bearing on his criminal activity. He could have been just as creepy as a Catholic or a Jew… or as an atheist, for that matter. On the other hand, religion can play a part in damaging a person’s psyche. I have hung out on Recovery from Mormonism long enough to see the damage that the church can wreak on some people. There’s a big emphasis on looking and living the right way. In fact, the emphasis on appearance is pervasive enough that never Mormons like me can often spot them at ten paces.
The LDS church is very patriarchal and definitely shapes the attitudes of its members. There’s also a strong emphasis on sexuality and remaining “clean” and “chaste”. For example, while homosexuals can be church members, they are expected not to act on their same sex attraction. Members are expected to refrain from masturbation and are asked questions by church leaders about their sexual habits. From what I’ve read so far, it doesn’t appear that Sommer victimized any of his non Air Force affiliated patients. But it could be that none of them have stepped forward yet. According to news reports, Sommer’s victims were all female Air Force officers. In fact, one victim was a colonel, which is a pretty high rank. It makes me wonder if he had issues with powerful women in leadership positions. Now that I think about it, the church also has issues with women in powerful positions.
Also… I notice that when the news is good, some news outlets in heavily Mormon populated areas indicate whether or not a person in the story is LDS. Take, for instance, this article about two LDS men who were in a church meeting when they saved two girls’ lives after their car overturned in a canal and became submerged. The Facebook comments that followed the article are all about how the paper mentioned the Good Samaritans’ religion. Some people thought it was wrong, while others had no issue with it. A long argument ensued. Meanwhile, the newspaper is getting more readers as more folks weigh in on the controversy. When the news is bad, people would rather the news outlets not mention the religion. And yet, religion does shape attitudes, opinions, and lifestyle choices. So… I don’t know. Maybe Sommer would have been a molester regardless. Maybe not. But I did find it interesting, if only because I now pick up on the clues without even thinking about it much.
I feel very sorry for the victims, but I also feel sorry for Sommer’s family. Especially his children.