Only on People.com

Tom Arnold Reveals Sexual Abuse in Childhood

11/06/2008 at 09:00 AM EST

Tom Arnold Reveals Sexual Abuse in Childhood
Tom Arnold
CLINTON H. WALLACE/PHOTOMUNDO/GLOBE PHOTOS
To portray a child molester in a movie is a risky career move for any actor. But for comic actor Tom Arnold, 49, accepting the role as Alex in the new movie Gardens of the Night was more than a role: It was his attempt to finally put his own past as a sexually abused child behind him.

From ages 4 to 7, while growing up in Ottumwa, Iowa, Arnold says he was sexually abused by a 19-year-old male babysitter. He opens up about the experience in an interview with PEOPLE:

Why did you want to play Alex in Gardens of the Night?
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. Showing this guy meant so much to me.

How did this happen to you?
[The abuse] started shortly before I turned 4. This guy would babysit me three or four times a week. He wanted me to play a game, and he wanted me to learn it so I could play it every time. I knew it was weird and I was scared, but I didn't know what sex was.

Why didn't you tell your dad?
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 did it stop?
There was an incident when I was 7. The guy had showed me his gun and aimed it at my dad one day when he arrived home from work. A few days later, I stole my dad's gun and went out in the middle of the street, waived it around and pointed it at his house. It caused a stir in the neighborhood to say the least. After that, I think it slowly stopped. I remember it as him moving away.

When you were 30, you found him and confronted him.
During my last week of drug and alcohol rehab in 1990, I told what had happened to me for the first time. In my mind, he was only a few years older than me. When my counselor said, 'So you were 5 and you had a 7-year-old babysitter?' I remembered he had a man's body. With the help of a private investigator, I found him and confronted him at his office. Coming out of the building, I felt pure joy.

What's next for you?
I'm ready to put this behind me. To portray him in a movie was the final thing I, as an actor, felt I could do. Forty-five years is a long time to keep something like this in your life. I'm ready to take the chance to be with a good person, and hopefully one day have my own children. That's what I want more than anything.

For more on Tom Arnold, including what happened when he confronted his abuser, pick up PEOPLE on newsstands Friday

RELATED ARTICLES:
1991: Tom helps then-wife Roseanne cope with her sexual abuse past
Read about more shocking sex scandals

Your Reaction

Follow Us

On Newsstands Now

Robin Roberts: How Loved Saved Me
  • Robin Roberts: How Loved Saved Me
  • Emma and Andrew: All About Hollywood's Cutest Couple
  • Prince George! More Yummy Photos

Pick up your copy on newsstands

Click here for instant access to the Digital Magazine

Advertisement

From Our Partners

Watch It

Editors' Picks

From Our Partners



Sign up for our daily newsletter and other special offers.
    Choose your newsletters
Thank you for signing up! Your request may take up to one week to be processed.
    see all newsletters