The Crucifixion of Courtney Stodden

·19 min read
Emily Berl
Emily Berl

“I have seen some gnarly truths that I wish I could unsee,” reveals Courtney Stodden.

If you recall, Stodden first made headlines in 2011 when, at the age of 16, they wed Doug Hutchison, a 50-year-old acting coach best known for his sadistic prison guard turn in The Green Mile. (Though underage, their mother signed off on it.) What followed was a media firestorm wherein Stodden, branded the “teen bride,” became an object of widespread scorn and ridicule due to their aberrant behavior, revealing outfits, heavy makeup, and large breasts. Anderson Cooper compared them to a stripper on CNN; Dr. Drew examined their breasts in front of a live studio audience; and celebrities even urged them to kill themself. (Stodden identifies as non-binary.)

But Courtney Stodden was just a teenager. And now, in the wake of the documentary Framing Britney Spears, which captured the media’s cruel treatment of the pop superstar in the 2000s, Stodden’s plight is worthy of similar cultural reassessment—a point Magdalene Taylor raised in a column for MEL Magazine, writing that “the media and the viewer turned a child-abuse victim into a sleazy spectacle.”

It took many years for Stodden, 26, to see themself as a victim of Hutchison’s predation. After much soul-searching, and some shocking revelations concerning Hutchison, they finally initiated divorce proceedings in 2018, and their divorce was finalized in March 2020.

“It was hard getting away—but I got away,” Stodden says.

Then the pandemic hit and Stodden was forced into lockdown, alone with their thoughts. The result is a memoir that they hope will be finished by year’s end.

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“It’s been really healing,” shares Stodden. “I still have a lot to write, but it’s been surprising how many experiences I’ve had in Hollywood. It’s just a cesspool of hounds. And if I can help one person then I’ve done my job.” In addition to their memoir, Stodden has kept busy recording a new album, releasing a cosmetics line, and running their OnlyFans.

During a recent Zoom interview, Stodden opened up about the abuse they say occurred under Hutchison, the way they were treated by the media, and much more.

It’s been a crazy year. How have you been handling things?

It’s definitely been a crazy year. I got a divorce last year, and then right when I started to kind of feel free, the pandemic hit. Like everyone else, I was quarantined and inside the house, so that’s how it felt to get the taste of freedom—finally. It was hard for me, as someone who struggles with depression anyway, to find a normal. It was really, really challenging.

Because your divorce was finalized in March of 2020, which is right when this hit.

It was right there. And it took me a long time to even get the divorce finalized, so right when it was finalized, just my luck: the pandemic.

What took so long to get the divorce finalized? Was he fighting you over money?

It was a lot of things, but mainly it was that I was still being groomed. It took me a really long time to understand what “grooming” even meant, because if you would have asked me what grooming meant when I married Doug, I would have said, “Take your dog to the groomers?” I didn’t know what it meant. But as I grew into a woman, I started realizing what happened to me. I didn’t wake up to it until he ended up leaving to Michigan while I stayed in West Hollywood. I was over the relationship and wanted to move on, but when he left, I was terrified to be on my own. I didn’t know how to be on my own. I still don’t have a license. I depended so much on him and he knew that, so when he left it was almost a manipulative way of going, “OK, let’s see if you can survive without me here.” Thankfully, I have—and I am still surviving without him, even through the pandemic. It took me a really, really long time to understand what happened to me, and I’m still going through the repercussions of being groomed.

<div class="inline-image__caption"><p>Courtney Stodden and Doug Hutchison attend the VH1 <em>Couples Therapy</em> reunion at GMT Studios on August 8, 2014, in Culver City, California. </p></div> <div class="inline-image__credit">Jesse Grant/Getty</div>

Courtney Stodden and Doug Hutchison attend the VH1 Couples Therapy reunion at GMT Studios on August 8, 2014, in Culver City, California.

Jesse Grant/Getty

Was there a moment where you realized, wow, this guy has been manipulating me for so long?

There were several different moments when I felt something wasn’t right, and there were several different moments where I felt abused and disrespected. I felt crazy almost, and he was great at gaslighting me—I know a lot of groomers are great at that. He’s a severe alcoholic, and I didn’t know that when I met him. He told me everything a young girl would want to hear from somebody she’s craving love from, and when I got married to him, he changed. And he knew he had me where he wanted me, because he’s a master groomer. A lightbulb went off probably about six months ago. A stepmother of a 15-year-old girl contacted me and told me that Doug was grooming her. This was about a month after we got a divorce that I found out he was communicating, sexually or otherwise, with a 15-year-old girl from the U.K. It was so devastating, because not only did I realize who this guy really is and what happened to me, but that I wasn’t special.

[Ed. note: The Daily Beast has observed written correspondences and voicemail recordings between Hutchison and the alleged underage girl that are romantic in nature; Hutchison could not be reached for comment.]

So many people were like, “How could your parents let this happen to you?” I don’t think people understand the skillset of these predators. They can also groom parents. Peter Nygard, for instance, he tried to pull some stuff with me. Thank God my mom stepped in in that situation and said, “You’re not going to go to the Bahamas with Peter Nygard.” I ended up speaking out against Peter Nygard, the billionaire fashion designer—who’s now known sex-trafficking young girls on his island—and his own son reached out to me last week and thanked me for speaking out against his father, because it helped put him behind bars. It’s amazing how many predators are out there. I know a few as I sit here, and I don’t really know what to do about it.

I’d read that you had friction with your mother and were bullied in school. Do you think Doug took advantage of the instability you were experiencing in your life and sought to present himself as almost a stable father figure?

Absolutely. It definitely helps when you have a young person who doesn’t feel like they fit in anywhere, to take advantage of them. My father wasn’t present a lot; he was always working and away from home, and that allowed for some male figure to come in and kind of take his place. But yeah, I was bullied in school and didn’t feel like I fit in anywhere. Like a lot of young people, I was hoping for the skies to open up; for something in my gray, boring town to happen. I had dreams and aspirations, and it was easy for him to prey on those aspirations. And it wasn’t just him. I had a lot of older men trying to woo me at that age.

Anyone I would have heard of?

You’re going to have to wait for my book.

I’d read that with Doug it began as internet grooming, which I understand is quite common for predators like him. How old were you when Doug started communicating with you, and how long was it before it took a turn, and his talks became sexual?

It was almost immediately. I was 16 years old when I received his first email, and from the second or third email, I knew that he was interested in me. I believed everything he told me, and I will forever be confused by it.

Going back to your parents for a second—how did he groom them?

When my father heard about the situation—he came home one weekend, and my mother said, “Courtney’s in love with someone who’s older than you, and he’s coming to visit”—he was livid. He was like, “I’m calling the cops. This isn’t happening.” And my mother was monitoring the email exchanges and was in support of it. She said, “Let’s just meet him and see what he’s like.” I feel like there were so many things going on in my parents’ marriage that they were in an easy place to be groomed. My mom wasn’t happy in the marriage, my dad knew my mom wasn’t happy, and my dad and I weren’t that close, so I feel like my dad was hanging on to me and my mom really tight, and when Doug flew in to Washington to meet me and my family in person, he was lovely. He was so charming and so charismatic, and for this man to be so charismatic to give this protective dad his consent to marry his daughter, at the time I was kind of confused about it. I thought, “Oh, my dad gave his consent. He must be a great guy.” They thought I was going to be saved and protected, and that it was this big love story. But that couldn’t have been further from the truth.

How do you feel about the way your mother handled that situation?

I know that my mom loves me, and that I have a really amazing bond with my mom. As a matter of fact, me and my father don’t talk. He completely disowned me. But I love my mom. Is she perfect? No. Has she experienced ups and downs in her own personal life? Yes. But she’s a strong woman, and she’s been a fighter her entire life. There have been things that have happened in her life that break my heart. I will defend her until the end of the Earth, because I love her. But there were very difficult times where I thought I would never speak to my mom again—and Doug loved that. He didn’t want her to be in my life at all or give her any regard. He would even email my mom from different emails saying that I don’t love her anymore. Just crazy, manipulative tactics he used to isolate me. Once I got Doug out of my life, my mom and I patched a lot of our issues up.

With your father, how difficult has it been for you to have him cut you off completely?

I feel like I’m eternally heartbroken because of the way he’s chosen to handle the situation. I feel like, from the outside looking in, you can tell a predator was involved here and that it wasn’t the kid’s fault—maybe the parents had some kind of reasonability. But my father blames me for everything. He blames me for my Mom divorcing him. Even two days ago, I called my dad and listened to his voicemail just to hear his voice. I hope that before something happens to him or me, we can be able to say “I love you” again.

The media’s treatment of you at the time was incredibly ugly. When I was researching to prepare for this interview, I came across your appearance on Dr. Drew’s show. You were 16 at the time, and Dr. Drew performed an ultrasound of your breasts on his show to prove they were real. And you were a minor. It’s insane to even say out loud.

Yeah… Even just hearing you say that I feel like crying. I have a lot of trauma from that entire chapter in my life, and that’s the time where you’re developing—your brain’s developing, you’re becoming a woman. And as I’m forming, I am being mocked, overtly sexualized, abused—not only in my home, but internationally—and it really did a number on my self-confidence and my sense of worthiness, which I struggle with today. The first step to healing is to talk about it, and the way that I was treated on national TV by Dr. Drew, I look back on it and I just feel sick to my stomach. That wouldn’t happen today, but we still do have children being overtly sexualized. Look at that congressman, Matt Gaetz. As a society, we need to recognize where things went wrong.

Another thing that stands out to me is, when I was 17 years old I went on Funny or Die!’s The Donny Clay Show with Jason Alexander. And on the show, the skit was me in a bathing suit—I was a minor—and Doug was sitting next to me, but Jason was in the middle and he was feeling my breasts with his cellphone. It was supposed to be a funny thing, where he turns to the camera and goes, “Come back on the show when you’re 18, and I can have my way with you behind this couch.” I remember looking around and the cameraman and everyone was laughing. I was this joke. A giant, sexual joke. And looking back on all of this stuff, nobody wants to say anything about it. Apparently, it’s OK to treat minors this way.

It’s gross and terrible. I’m sorry you went through it. One thing that got a lot of attention was the ABC News interview with you and Doug. You’ve spoken of this in the past, that it seemed like you were almost trying to affect an Anna Nicole Smith-type persona.

I remember that day very clearly. I was never in front of a camera before. I watched Lara Spencer growing up and here I am in my own living room, and my 50-year-old husband is there, and there’s Lara Spencer. It was too much for me to go through, or for any child to go through at that age. I felt like I had to stick up for Doug, and that’s what that interview was for. It was to make Doug look better and make him look like he’s not a predator. That was my role that day, and I like to say that I malfunctioned sitting there because it was too much for my brain to handle. It was traumatizing. I hadn’t eaten anything for three days up to the interview because I was so nervous, and because I felt so much pressure to put on the show that everyone wanted to see.

What an insane scenario for a 16-year-old to be in. I remember how Anderson Cooper and many others mocked you for your facial movements during that interview. You said you were very nervous—did you self-medicate prior to the interview to help you get through it?

No. I didn’t drink then or had ever taken a pill. Later on, I developed a Xanax and alcohol dependency. But I was sober. I was just drunk on fear and being taken advantage of in that interview.

A number of celebrities were also quite cruel to you during that time. I saw a video you made recently where you called out Chrissy Teigen for the way she treated you.

She wouldn’t just publicly tweet about wanting me to take “a dirt nap” but would privately DM me and tell me to kill myself. Things like, “I can’t wait for you to die.” And not only her, but Joy Behar had a field day with calling me a “slut.” Courtney Love told me I was a “whore.” People came out of the woodwork to beat up on a kid because she was in a situation that she shouldn’t have been in. There were a lot of celebrities acting like playground bullies. Some of the worst treatment I got was from women, and we’re not going to get anywhere if we keep holding each other back.

Have any of these celebrities or folks in the media apologized for their treatment of you?

You know, one of the biggest surprises is that all of the celebrities who shamed me—other than Perez Hilton, who stood up and was kind—they have not sought to apologize or sent any kind of love my way. The majority of love and apologies have come from reporters and also people online who tell me that they appreciate me and love me, and that I’m a source of strength for them. And that means everything to me.

How bad did it get? I saw that you wrote on Instagram that you thought about taking your own life.

There have probably been five times that I’ve felt like I wanted to kill myself—and made the actions to go ahead and do it. So, there’s been a lot of dark moments in my life. There have been a lot of evenings where I’ve felt—and still feel—alone. The way my life has been is so tragic that I just feel empty, and I think a lot of that stems from my father not being around. I think that if my father was around, I wouldn’t feel so helpless in these circumstances, with so many of these Hollywood predators. But he’s not there. This might sound corny to some people, but I like to look to my Heavenly Father and get strength that way. You’ve just got to take it day by day.

As far as your marriage to Doug goes, what was that like for you?

He is a very, very lost man. When I met him, he was just amazing. He was so kind, so loving, and so beautiful. Even to this day, I’m still in love with that person. But as I started to get to know him, he was extremely abusive. He never hit me—and a lot of the reason why was because the paparazzi were always outside of our house—but he would be psychologically and mentally abusive. He would get wasted every day and then corner me for hours, spitting and screaming in my face. I couldn’t move. I would be in a corner for hours. And I was so scared, and so young. He was absolutely terrifying. It wasn’t until I got out of it and started getting into other relationships that I realized: this was abuse. And he would do it nightly.

While you were with Doug, a sex tape was released of you by Vivid. Did Doug pressure you into doing that?

You know, it’s funny—I was in the shower the other day and that memory came back to me, because so much of this stuff is a blur, and I thought, “Vivid… Oh my gosh, why did I do that again? Oh yeah, Doug. And money.” I’m just so happy that I’m away from him, and I’m growing away from his influence, because he was somebody who would take a young girl, manipulate her, and use her.

<div class="inline-image__credit">Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty</div>
Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty

From an outsider’s perspective, it seemed like he was someone who was in the twilight of his acting career and was almost using you to make money and revive his own career.

He would tell me that he “lost everything for me.” He would always say, “I gave everything up for you—my managers, my agents, my family—so you owe me.” Sometimes I would hear people say, “I think he used you to get attention, get on shows, make money,” and I would say, “No, no—he lost everything for me. I owe him.” But that’s the grooming. That’s what he told me, and that’s not the truth. It’s most likely the other way around. He pushed me to go on shows, and he controlled all the finances. It was almost like Britney Spears’ conservatorship. He referred to me a few times as “the Golden Goose.”

So, he would give you an allowance with your own money?

Yup. He would put some money on the credit card and allow me to use that money. When I came back from Celebrity Big Brother U.K., I felt like I’d gone off to college and was a different person. I remember I took a credit card out of the house and said, “I’m going to Louis Vuitton.” So, I went to the Beverly Center and got myself my first Louis Vuitton bag. Oh my God, he was so mad at me. And it was my money! People have this misconception that I was with him for money, but I was the sugar mama—or rather, the sugar child.

Now that you’ve extricated yourself from this controlling, abusive man whom you’ve been with since you were a teenager, what has it been like to date other people?

Dating is tough for me. I don’t know how to even approach it. I went from Doug to a guy I met when I was trying to get out of the marriage, and he’s not in the media. We’ve been on and off for the past five years or so now. But I still feel like I’m stuck. Even though I’m out of that relationship, I still feel heavy. I don’t feel light. I don’t feel like things are so much better. I hope that eventually I’ll be able to find genuine happiness and shed the traumas of my past, but I just feel very pessimistic.

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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