In recent months I have heard repeated stories where a woman has made false accusations against a man in a spiteful attempt to gain full custody of their child. Our court system handles these cases with the immediate presumption of guilt on the the accused. There are many unanswered questions around this problem in our legal system. Let me start with the obvious; What ever happened to the presumption of innocence?
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and as a child victim, this subject is something that is close to my heart. However my personal experience of this does not cloud my eyes and ears to the many men whom are falsely accused of child molestation.
The opinion expressed herein, and my own opinion on childhood sexual assault in no way lessens the importance of vigilance in the community for preventing such acts. I know first hand the impact it can have on children and the scars they will carry for a lifetime. However we must also accept that our society and legal system is such that women may perjure themselves with little ramifications.
Innocent until Proven Guilty is an Axiom that doesn’t apply in Sex Abuse Cases
– article by Don Mathis
Charges of sexual molestation of a minor removes a man’s right to be viewed as innocent before his trial, Dean Tong, a Certified Forensic Consultant and nationally known expert in child victim hearsay, told 100 attendees of the American Board of Vocational Experts in San Antonio on March 21.
Dean Tong is author of “Elusive Innocence: Survival Guide for the Falsely Accused,” a book which assists parents wrongly accused of abuse. He has been consulted on such high-profile cases such as Elian Gonzalez, JonBenét Ramsey, and Michael Jackson.
He knows first-hand of what he speaks. During a custody battle in 1985, his former wife brought accusations that he molested their three year old daughter. After a week in jail and a year battling the accusations, charges were dropped. He then spent the next ten years and $100,000 to clear his name.
“There were several day-care sex abuse cases across the country in the 1980s,” Tong said. Celebrities such as Woody Allen and Michael Jackson were accused of child molestation in the early 1990s. Such was the case of the hysteria at the time.
“Don’t Blame ME, Daddy,” released in 1992, was Tong’s first book. It provides help in distinguishing between true and false allegations of child sexual abuse. It was written to remind all Americans that not every allegation of abuse is well-founded or made in good faith. Sadly, it’s still relevant today.
Tong is concerned with taint – the use of improper (or tainted) forensic child interviews. “Child suggestibility relates to how vulnerable a child is to suggestion,” he said.
Tong spoke of the scientific studies of children’s suggestibility by Dr. Stephen Ceci, a psychologist at Cornell University. At one time, psychologists believed that the younger the child, the less likely their information could have been fabricated. Dr. Ceci turned this conventional wisdom on its head.
There are other ways evidence can be tainted. “Anatomically correct dolls are actually anatomically exaggerated dolls,” Tong said. “And the more times a child is interviewed, the more likelihood the evidence may be tainted.”
It’s a huge problem, Tong said. “To hire more social workers or throw more money to the government is not the answer.”
Questions should not induce a yes or no response, he said. “Interviews should have open ended questions,” Tong said.
Rarely does a case begin with allegations from a child. Many times the soon-to-be-ex makes the accusations. “The accuser is never given a psychological test,” Tong said, “only the accused.”
Remedial actions performed on a child that doesn’t need it can have long-lasting detriments, Tong said. “Therapy of a child without proof of abuse is harmful to a child. It’s like giving radiation to a kid before a diagnosis of cancer,” Tong said.
The SAID (Sexual Allegations In Divorce) syndrome is another pitfall Tong discussed. “When she said the child said something, this should raise a red flag.”
“Hearsay, outside of a court statement, generally is inadmissible,” Tong said, “But not in cases of molestation. The presumption of innocence is thrown away.”
Tong said a collateral interview is essential. “Why is kid saying what he’s saying? You’ve got to find out why. You need to interview the child’s doctor, the daycare worker, and other kids,” he said. “A forensic interview is most important.”
Practices, such as those from the National Children’s Advocacy Center (in Huntsville, AL) and the CornerHouse Forensic Interview Protocol (RATAC), are acceptable but they are not the best, Tong said.
“Legal and social standards deplete the rights of the accused. The NICHD Protocol is the best practice,” he said.
Tong explained that most cases of child molestation are not false. “They are unfounded,” he said.
“Two to nine percent are false,” he said. “But when you question government experts, you become the enemy.”
Many judges and lawyers do not understand the dynamics of Parental Alienation, Tong said. “To denigrate the other parent in front of the child is parental alienation,” Tong said. “And it is child abuse.”
When a parent coaches a child to make a false statement about the other parent, a part of the child is damaged. “Coaching is a malicious act by a parent,” he said. “It is misunderstood.”
Other times, what a child says may be taken out of context.
“In one case a child revealed, ‘Daddy put his pee-pee on my pee-pee,’ and charges of molestation were brought,” Tong said. “It turned out that the dad urinated in the toilet after she did.”
Charges of abuse can quickly become a Three Ring Circus, Tong said. “That’s when one is facing charges in a Juvenile Court, a Family Court, and a Criminal Court at the same time,” he said.
That’s when they need to call a professional like myself, Tong said. “Gene Abel in Atlanta is another expert on psychophysiological testing,” he said.
Such services are expensive, Tong said. “But it’s essential. If one has a public defender, he can ask the Judge to order the State to pay the fees of a Forensic Expert.”
Tong added that April is Child Abuse Awareness and Prevention Month. More information can be found on Dean Tong’s website, http://abuse-excuse.com/.
This article reproduced with permission of Don Mathis – Author
Photo credit Flickr – Jose Manuel Rios Valiente