NORWALK, Ca. – Dr. Michael Perrotti, an expert in the psychology of minors, will retake the stand when trial resumes tomorrow in the case of Edwina McCombs v. Value Lodge, where the plaintiff is suing over the alleged exposure of her two daughters, aged 8 and 9, to sexually explicit material over the hotel's in-room cable TV system.
"The way it worked at Value Lodge is, when you check into the room, and went up to the TV, if you flipped on the TV and you turned to channel 12, you had extreme hardcore pornography, closeup shots of penetration, things like that," explained Eliot F. Krieger, co-counsel for the plaintiff.
According to an investigator hired by the plaintiff attorneys, as well as Alan Snyder, the hotel management expert retained by the plaintiff, the hotel in Artesia, Calif. did not employ a "menu" system as a buffer to prevent unexpected exposure to the explicit material.
"He [Snyder] opined that in his 30 years, he's never been to any hotel of this caliber, a moderately priced family type of hotel, where you had direct access to pornographic material," Krieger said. "So if the last tenant had been watching it on channel 12 and you come in and turn on the TV, it's there."
In Mrs. McCombs' case, she and her two daughters had checked in, gone to the room and put on the Disney Channel for the children while Mrs. McCombs used the bathroom.
"They [the kids] flipped around to switch from Disney to Nickelodeon or whatever, and right in the middle of that is channel 12," Krieger stated. "We don't know how long they were watching, but for some period of time, because mom hears a knock on the door and one of the kids says, 'Mom, there's something terribly wrong,' and they've been watching very hardcore homosexual pornographic movies."
According to Lee Janice Toback, Krieger's partner, the hotel has not denied that the sexually-explicit material is easily accessible.
"First, they were saying it was a mom-and-pop hotel, so they're trying to paint themselves as not having a lot of money, being a poor little mom-and-pop operation," Toback said. "Their second response was, they tried to portray it as a 'short stay' motel where people come in for an hour or two, but the interesting thing is that when our hotel expert was there and when somebody we sent there to see if the TV situation was actually true, they said it's a family hotel; that there are other kids there, other families."
The hotel has also made representations that there were signs present warning guests that the explicit material can be turned off simply by calling the front desk, but according to Krieger, neither Snyder, the investigator nor Mrs. McCombs saw any such signs.
Krieger and Toback are arguing that the children were psychologically damaged by seeing the sexually explicit material.
"Dr. Perrotti talked about the fact that the kids' perceptions of the world really changed after that event, and has indicated what kind of treatment the kids are going to require in the future," Krieger said.
"Their response has been, well, even you saw it, there's really no damage," Toback noted. "It's like, 'So what? The kids saw it. Why are you making a big deal out of it?'"
"Mrs. McCombs is not really in this to make money on it," she added. "What she's looking for is to pay the psychologist's fees and the expert hotel person, to pay her attorney fees and to pay the cost of the future psychological treatment for the kids and some family therapy. That's what she's looking for. She's not looking to make a killing. This is not her aim here."
Since there currently exist no peer-reviewed studies of the effects on young children of viewing sexually explicit material, the amount of damages, should the plaintiff be successful, will be up to the jury – but Dr. Perrotti has predicted that the children will likely need another two years of therapy.
But for Krieger, the case isn't about the material itself; it's about how easy it was for the children to see it.
"Nobody's saying anything against what anybody wants to view by themselves if they're adults," Krieger noted. "It's a question of access."