ITHACA, N.Y. — Ithaca College President Shirley Collado was convicted of misdemeanor sexual abuse in 2001 after having a sexual relationship with a person who’d been her therapy patient. She pleaded no contest to the charge the following year, which is not an admission of guilt, but legally treated the same as being found guilty of a crime by a jury or judge.
Late Tuesday, Ithaca College’s student newspaper The Ithacan published a story detailing the conviction after receiving documents related to the case anonymously in the mail. The documents were also sent to other colleges and their news outlets in December, Collado said in a statement.
The Ithacan writes that Collado was acting as a therapist to a woman who was a patient at The Center at the Psychiatric Institute of Washington. Collado was 28 years old at the time and had recently graduated from Duke University with her Ph.D. The patient she was treating suffered sexual abuse from a doctor when she was a child, according to court records obtained by The Ithacan.
The Ithacan reported from court documents that the women fondled each other multiple times while she was legally acting as the person’s therapist under the supervision of a licensed therapist. Collado was working toward earning her own licence during that time frame.
Then, Collado took a leave of absence from The Center following the suicide of her husband on July 9, 2000.
Collado said in a news release, “He was my best friend and my rock, and I could not understand why he did this to himself and to us. I was devastated, and took a leave of absence to try to work through my overwhelming grief.”
Shortly after taking the leave of absence, Collado said the former patient contacted her seeking help and saying she did not have a place to live.
“Worried for her safety, I invited her into the home I shared with my roommate, but after a brief period I realized that I could not provide the support she was looking for while I myself was trying to heal. So, I let her know that she could no longer stay with us and helped her move out,” Collado said.
The patient, however, stated that a sexual relationship developed between the two women from the time she moved in until she was asked to leave in November.
Collado denies that the sexual relationship occurred.
“In light of the resurfacing of this legal action, I want to unequivocally state now, as I did then, that the accusations in the court documents are simply not true,” Collado said in a statement. “If I had had more resources and was not dealing with my significant loss, I probably would have fought the charge. But I did what I felt was in my best interest at that time and followed my lawyer’s advice.”
She said that she pleaded no contest to the charge after “a lot of soul searching.”
According to The Ithacan, however, the prosecutor in the case said in court documents that Collado took advantage of “a vulnerable, sexual-abuse survivor with mental illness” who did not suffer from hallucinations. Two other psychiatrists who treated the patient confirmed the latter. However, the defense said the patient did in fact have hallucinatory episodes and a brain tumor.
Outside relationships with former and current patients, however, can be illegal and unethical, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Sharon Marcus-Kurn, the case’s prosecutor.
The Ithacan reported that Marcus-Kurn wrote the following in the Government’s Memorandum in Aid of Sentencing:
“The laws and ethical rules prohibiting sexual and outside relationships with former or current patients are designed to prevent the very activity that occurred in this case…The law recognizes that individuals that are wards of psychiatric institutions are extremely vulnerable to being abused and taken advantage of. The laws are designed to protect them and punish anyone who violates the therapist/patient relationship.”
Though the details of the charge were news to the community, Collado has referenced the incident publicly before in an interview with campus publication, IC View. It was published in March, a few months before she officially became president of the college. During the interview, she discusses her former patient making claims against her and called them false. She said, “Unfortunately, this is the risk that many therapists and practitioners face when working with trauma patients or individuals challenged by serious psychological disorders.” She did not, however, say that she was convicted of a sex abuse charge as a result of the incident.
The Ithaca College Board of Trustees is standing by Collado and Ithaca College officials were aware of the charge when hiring her, but still decided she was the right person for the job. In a statement, the board of trustees said Collado was “extremely forthright” about their questions.
The statement says, in part, the following:
“We were provided with detailed information regarding this situation, and Dr. Collado was extremely forthright in answering all our questions. Then, as now, she vehemently denied the allegations that were made against her. She discussed at length the incredibly difficult circumstances she was facing at the time, and we came to understand the courage with which she navigated the tragic loss of her husband and the devastation of accusations leveled in this vulnerable moment. We know that her decision to resolve the legal action quickly was an extremely difficult one, made on the advice of legal counsel, to try to gain a sense of closure at a very fraught time for her.”
The Ithacan reported that Collado was sentenced to a 30-day suspended sentence, 18 months of probation and 80 hours of community service. A stay-away order was also issued on behalf of the patient.
To read The Ithacan’s in-depth investigation on this issue, click here.
Correction: This article initially stated the wrong day The Ithacan first published their story.
Featured photo by Kelsey O’Connor/The Ithaca Voice