SEXUAL ALLEGATIONS IN DIVORCE THE S. A. I. D. SYNDROME Gordon J. Blush, Ed.D and Karol L.

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--------------------------------------------------------------------- SEXUAL ALLEGATIONS IN DIVORCE THE S. A. I. D. SYNDROME --------------------------------------------------------------------- Gordon J. Blush, Ed.D and Karol L. Ross, M.A. March 1986 --------------------------------------------------------------------- INTRODUCTION A 7-year-old female child reported to her aunt that her sister had been abused by their father during a recent visit with him. She stated, "Daddy rubbed butter and poured milk on Mary's pee-pee." Thus a chain of events was set into motion that was not resolved until more than a year later. The aunt told the children's mother, and the mother immediately contacted resource people to assist in the situation. Because of an ongoing divorce conflict, the most immediate resource person that the mother consulted was her attorney. The attorney filed a motion in court asking that all contact between the children and the father be severed until the court could appropriately assess and evaluate the situation. The children were also immediately seen by a mental health professional who, after beginning to evaluate and work with the children, reported to the mother that she believed there had been sexual molestation, especially of the younger child. A letter was written by this mental health professional to the court indicating this without benefit of anything other than the information reported by the mother and the therapist's observations of the children. The court responded by severing the rights of the father, and he reacted by enlisting the aid of his attorney. For the ensuing months, the two adults were embroiled in an adversarial court room process that pitted experts against experts, caused the children to be assessed and reassessed, and deepened the conflict between the adults. Ultimately, it was found that the story as related by the older child was false. Proof positive of this child's motivation came when, in a separate and and unrelated incident, she reported to her mother that she had been sexually molested by a classmate on a school bus. The similarity of her stories and an investigation by school officials exposed this child's pattern to be related not to the truth of the situation as much as to her pattern of punitive retaliation when she became angry. In working through this particular case, it finally evolved, under professional intervention, that both of the girls would re- establish contact with their father. Several years later there has still been an ongoing relationship between the girls and their father, and there has been no further complaints of physical or sexual abuse. A 13-year-old adolescent girl reported that during a visit with her father he "tickled" her inappropriately and she was sexually traumatized as a result. No mention of this one isolated incident was made until several years after the alleged abuse when the girl complained to her mother that she no longer wanted to visit her father and his present wife. The mother had, up to that point, been fairly insistent that the girl do so. The mother offered the explanation of the "tickling" incident and immediately went to court and requested the judge's assistance because the father had "molested" the girl. The girl herself tearfully lamented to the judge about the incident in question. However, under further investigation, the girl readily acknowledged that the incident had happened only once. Further investigative involvement with this family resulted in the daughter and the father developing a dialogue in which the girl admitted that her real reason for not wanting to visit was her anger at him for the controls that he imposed upon her during her visits and her dislike for his present spouse. The inappropriate tickling incident ultimately became the girl's agenda when the father's household task demands upon her sufficiently enraged her to take action to resist further visits. Eventually, the nonvalidity of the girl's complaints were acknowledged by her in conversations with the father. BACKGROUND These are only two of a growing number of incidents in which we have been professionally involved. They point up the very difficult task that professionals encounter when involving themselves in the role of child advocacy, whether it be as professionals in the legal community, the mental health community, the law enforcement community or the justice community. More and more reports of sexually abused children are being made and directly channeled through these agencies. We readily acknowledge that the awareness of the problem of sexual abuse of children is increasing. However, we have begun to accumulate an undeniable amount of information that suggests that there is a variation on the theme of child sexual abuse to which professionals should be alerted. We have labeled this phenomenon the SAID Syndrome which stands for Sexual Allegations In Divorce. This acronym describes the particular phenomenon which occurs when a sexual abuse allegation develops within a pre- or post-divorce context and when a family unit has become dysfunctional as a result of that divorce process. It is our belief that when sexual allegations in divorce occur (the SAID Syndrome), an entirely different set of dynamics and variables may exist. These Sexual Allegations In Divorce need to be addressed in a discriminately different manner than the sexual abuse allegations in a non-divorcing family. Initially, the data in this paper was a clinical curiosity to us. However, working in the context of child advocates assigned to a family services, court-related clinic, we began to exchange information, compare clinical notes, and work conjointly on some case investigations, a pattern began to manifest itself. The clinic setting in which this data has been gathered is that of a family services clinic that functions primarily as a diagnostic agency within a circuit court. Investigations are conducted at the request of judges once a case is determined by the court to be a matter requiring evaluation on a psychological and social basis. Primary in the evaluation process are those matters in which custody and visitation problems exist and wherein the minor children are the key issue before the court. The investigation procedure mandates that both parents as well as all minor children over the age of five participate in the evaluation. Thus, our population consists primarily of individuals having difficulty during or after marital transition. We are investigators who are essentially child advocates. Since judges often have time-related difficulties and other restraints placed upon their ability to obtain information, our clinic operates in the capacity of gathering and transmitting any and all pertinent information about that family as it relates to the issue before the court. We submit recommendations to the court as well as a written document reporting the data upon which those recommendations are based. During this investigation and evaluation process, it has been our experience that it is very common for one parent to present an uncomplimentary picture of the other parent. Each is trying to present him/herself in a positive light in order to make him/herself believable and trustworthy in forwarding personal advocacy. Both are fully aware of the adversarial role into which their divorce relationship has evolved, and each frequently presents a rather lengthy list of serious concerns. There are numerous allegations that parties make against each other in order to "make their case." However, what we are beginning to note with alarming regularity is either the covertly implied or overtly expressed allegation of some sexual impropriety, misconduct, or abuse on the part of the other parent involving their child or children. This "ultimate concern" is appearing more and more, whereas a few years ago we were hearing these only on rare occasions. Because of the dramatic increase in the frequency with which this allegation is occurring and because of the magnitude and gravity of the allegation, we feel a need to share with fellow professionals the dynamics we are finding in these particular situations. The ramifications of these allegations are far more "lethal" for the individuals involved and the future of the family unit and its potential to function than are those of most other types of allegations. Our experience is that often times the alleged perpetrator find him/herself in a position where suddenly and without due process either socially or legally, his/her access to the minor child or children has been terminated by a court order. The individual finds he/she is unilaterally excluded from an already disrupted family situation, and this dynamic is compounded by the social stigma of the sexual allegation. Additionally, in an increasing number of cases, the perpetrator is also confronted by the judicial system and then has to contend with the potential of a felony charge and being drawn into the criminal justice system. Professionals in positions that cause some of these events to be set into motion need to reassess and refine their roles in cases where the SAID Syndrome may be the primary dynamic. We recognize that our data is drawn from a specialized situation. We further acknowledge that in many instances the handling of a sexual abuse allegation is done in an effective, professional, and ethical way. However, to believe that there are not significant deviations from the norm is to be naive, incorrect, and possibly dangerous to a whole system that espouses child advocacy as its primary concern. Initiating the management of a case based upon misdiagnosis and error carries many negative implications, including professional liability. It also raises the issue of challenging the validity of a victim of a potentially traumatic situation. Our intention is to help fellow professionals identify when they may be caught in the midst of a SAID Syndrome. We hope that the communication of our data will reduce and minimize error factors that could make the child advocate vulnerable. REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE The history of intervention in child abuse cases has been based upon concepts that are seen consistently throughout the professional literature as well as through information disseminated to the public. It is interesting to note how overly generalized and yet firmly believed they have become by lay persons and professionals alike. It is difficult to find in the professional literature, articles which raise the issue that children can and will lie under certain motivational circumstances. It is treated as if it is unthinkable that they would ever do so with regard to such a negative experience as sexual abuse. In a number of pamphlets and educational booklets, the following "facts" are consistently communicated to the parents of potential victims of sexual abuse: Believe the child, no matter how hard it is. (Even if the child made p the incident, help is needed anyway.) (What everyone should, 1983, p.8) Believe the child. Children rarely lie about sexual abuse. (Health and Human Services [HHS], 1984) It is true that children have imaginations and that they sometimes lie, as do adults, but it is very uncommon occurrence for a child to fantasize or make up a sexual assault incident. Avoid the message: "You can't believe a child, they have such wild imaginations." Studies have shown that children seldom lie about sexual abuse. (Illusion Theater, 1981) Observe physical and behavioral signs...Extreme changes in behavior such as loss of appetite. Recurrent nightmares...and fear of the dark. Regression to more infantile behavior such as bedwetting, thumb sucking, or excessive crying...Fear of a person or an intense dislike at being left somewhere or with someone. Other behavioral signals such as aggressive or disruptive behavior, withdrawal, running away or delinquent behavior, failing in school. (HHS, 1984) Information source after information source being presented by various social and health organizations take on this common message format. The hazard in these instructional messages is that overgeneralized statements concerning behavioral signs, which may mean sexual abuse, can just as realistically be symptomatic of any number of other problems occurring in a child's life. Divorce, peer problems, school related problems, and general developmental processes are all equally competing clinical hypotheses for such behaviors and should be treated as such in initial investigative stages. The dilemma is additionally compounded when concerned parents read what the "experts" have to say in these generalized ways and then take the "expert truths" and jump to conclusions to further reinforce their perception of what has occurred. This is not an easily dissuaded belief once it has been perceived as truth by the adult who feels responsible for the safety and well-being of the child. It also cannot be easily discarded or changed once the child has been questioned about the incident on multiple occasions. The literature frequently holds the position that "children do not lie about sexual abuse." In their article in a volume of the JOURNAL OF SOCIAL ISSUES, which in its entirety addresses the topic of the child witness, Berliner & Barbieri (1984, p. 127) summarize the findings of Conte and Berliner and of Burgess, Groth and Holmstrom and they concur with those authors "...there is little or no evidence indicating that children's report are unreliable, and none at all to support the fear that children often make false accusations of sexual assault or misunderstood innocent behavior by adults. The general veracity of children's reports is supported by relatively high rates of admission by offenders. Not a single study has ever found false accusations of sexual assault a plausible interpretation of a substantial portion of cases. Faller (1984, p. 475) states, "...we know that children do not make up stories asserting they have been sexually molested. It is not in their interest to do so." Rush (1980, p. 155) asserts, "Those who have ever worked with children can attest to the fact that their perception of their environment and experience is far more concrete than fanciful. Among the volumes of literature on disturbed children, the problem of lying is almost never discussed. Any nursery or grade school teacher will verify that children differentiate between 'make-believe' and reality often more accurately than adults." Rush also says (p. 17) "When caught in behavior which might elicit adult disapproval, children might lie to protect themselves..." but maintains (p. 156) "But children cannot and do not make up stories outside the realm of actual experience." The problem with this type of reporting in the literature is that it tends to emphasize the positive findings in those surveys that have been made and thus tends to ignore any counterposition or situations under which exceptions might occur. Although almost all of the articles acknowledge (albeit minimally) the potential for children to create false reports, practically none of the literature addresses itself to those circumstances, situations, or conditions under which this phenomenon might occur. It appears that the professions dealing with the sexual abuse phenomenon have been simply given a "most common" dynamic that does occur in accurately reported actual cases of sexual abuse. This has evolved into an unchallenged "scientific fact." There has been no real assistance given to the professional by pointing out the elements of those cases where the "common truth" may, in fact, not to be true. Some of the literature does refute the credibility of children's reports about general phenomena as well as sexual abuse in particular. Goodman (1984, pp. 164-165) offers, "Another problem that can affect legal outcomes concerns children's cognitive ability to construct false reports. Like adults, children sometimes make false reports. These may be intentional lies...or they may be unintentionally fabricated or suggested." Goodwin, Sahd & Rada (1979, reprinted 1980, p. 37) state, "Despite the recent increase in research on incest, the question of false accusation has largely been neglected in the psychological and psychiatric literature. A search of psychological abstracts for the past ten years yielded only one report...which dealt with the problem of false accusation." Although the reported evidence suggests that the number of false reports is quite low (a fact consistent with our experience), it is interesting to note that Goodwin et. al. (p. 41) also report in one case example a situation highly consistent with one of the several themes that we are finding to be true of the SAID Syndrome. In this particular case it is indicated that "...the mother and both daughters said the accusation was a hoax. They said the girls had been coached by unidentified older girls to accuse the stepfather in the hopes that his would make the mother leave him." The emerging presence of the SAID Syndrome is also reflected by Goodwin et. al.(p. 43) when stating "increased enforcement of child abuse laws has made false accusations a more potent manipulative weapon for children and teenagers." And they warn (p. 43) "Failure to recognize a child's fabrication can subject the family to unnecessary legal action and unwittingly support the use of similar manipulative techniques by other susceptible children." In reviewing the literature the first formal reporting of the SAID Syndrome appeared to be made by Kaplan & Kaplan (1981). In this article they reported (p. 81) "...in the authors' clinical practice, they have encountered a situation, not yet reported, which presents the mental health professional and judiciary with a number of technical difficulties. The problem arises during divorce and custody proceedings when a child, for the first time, accuses the parent with whom he/she is not residing, of sexual abuse. This raises the possibility that the parent with whom the child is residing has prompted the child to make the accusation of sexual abuse against the alienated spouse and non-custodial parent." Kaplan and Kaplan present a thorough case history of such a situation and they conclude their article (p. 94), "In cases where the initial accusation of sex abuse occurs after parental separation, and refers to a time when the parents were living together, the possibility that the custodial parent has prompted the accusation toward the non-custodial parent must be considered." More recently, Benedek and Schetky (1984) in their article entitled "Allegations of Sexual Abuse in Child Custody Cases" which was presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law in October, 1984, report "...we have recently evaluated several children and families who have made false accusations of sexual abuse. These allegations arose in the context of child custody and visitation disputes." (p. 1) At the same conference, Schuman (1984) discussed several cases where--in six of the seven histories summarized--sexual abuse allegations surfaced in conjunction with "acrimonious divorce litigation." (p. 11) In this article entitled "False Accusations of Physical and Sexual Abuse" he cites Shipp "In some quarters there is such a degree of sensitivity or outrage about possible child abuse that a presumption exists that such abuse has occurred whenever it is alleged" and then Schuman warns "It is possible for a reverse skew to evolve in which incest or other child sexual abuse can be overperceived and overalleged." (p. 1) Further in his recommendations, Schuman advises the evaluators to obtain information from multiple sources and explains "Domestic relations cases are unfortunately fertile ground for nonvalid perceptions and/or allegations of misconduct of all forms." (p. 26) Paulson, Strouse & Chaleff (1982, pp. 51-52) further confirm these finding by cautioning: " It is also important for the interviewer to remember that sometimes children fabricate incest stories in order to intimidate and blackmail a parent. This is especially so when resolution of and earlier has allowed the perpetrator to return home. The young child, aware of the consequences of a further allegation of incest against the perpetrator, can use this knowledge to threaten, coerce, and defy conformity and discipline demands within the family. The socially precocious, seductive young girl can make normal hugging and kissing between parent and child grounds for further allegations of molestation. The stepparent may be jealously seen by the child as depriving him/her of rightful attention and affection from the biologic parent. For mothers there is constant anxiety and distrust, wanting to trust both the child and the parent, yet constantly suspicious and torn between the child and the mate. " These clinical dynamics that have only just begun to appear in contemporary literature suggest that children caught in a frustrating power struggle may opt to attempt to control the situation via a newly-evolved "offensive weapon"--the sexual allegation. Probably the most meaningful, clinically sound, socially and legally acceptable position in this dilemma would be to reframe the problem of whether children lie or do not lie about these matters. Our position, based upon our actual investigative experience, is most adequately reflected in literature by Sgroi, Poter & Blick (1982, p. 39) who propose, "Every reported case of child sexual abuse must be investigated to determine if the complaint is valid: that is, did abuse of the target child actually occur or not? The process by which this happens is termed validation. It should be conducted in an orderly fashion by knowledgeable individuals who are prepared to deal with the consequences of the outcome." These authors further charge (p. 39) "every clinician or professional person who works with children should be aware of the essential elements of validating child sexual abuse. Investigators or individuals who perform validation of cases may be personnel of the statutory agencies or clinicians or both." Within the text of this article a recommended process for taking an investigatory approach to the initial allegation is proposed. A similar suggestion, to first investigate rather than react to the situation is offered by Jiles (1980, p. 61) who states "...the worker must speak with the child and make some determination about the validity of the report and gain as much diagnostic information as possible." This suggestion that a tempered, rational, carefully thought out and planned strategy for evaluating the entire family situation before any decisions are made is the most obvious and desirable approach for all parties concerned in both actual and false sexual abuse cases. These proposals which emphasize investigation as a first step are highly consistent with our perception of the appropriate attitudes, strategies and techniques which should be utilized at the very outset of a sexual allegation case. BEGINNING STRATEGIES FOR DIFFERENTIATING REAL VS SAID CASES Professional Role Definition When a sexual allegation of any kind is made, a very necessary beginning strategy for professionals is to regard their role as clinician-investigators, not clinician-therapists. If they perceive that their first and foremost task in intervention is to therapeutically deal with the impact of the experience upon the child, they are then focusing their behavior on treatment. Treatment processes are not consistent with investigative behaviors that demand objectivity, skepticism, and open-mindedness in gathering data from all sources involved in the situation. If a therapeutic orientation is taken before all of the conditions and variables surrounding the complaint are known, the therapeutic alignment with the child and/or complaining parent distorts perceptions of the situation and begins to reinforce the reported incident as probably being valid. The perceived validity of the complaint then produces an obligation for the professional to embrace the "victim's" position, creating the undesirable potential for an over-reaction to the situation. When this occurs, elements of fear, anger, and conflict, which are already in existence, are exacerbated. This dilemma points out the inherent conflicts that are produced for the professionals who are called upon to intervene in these difficult situations. Professional therapeutic training dictates being empathic with persons seeking assistance. In sexual allegation situations, the professionals are asked to determine the validity of the allegations, to provide therapy, and to recommend steps to resolve the dilemma for the family. The result is that professionals are asked to do several tasks which are contradictory. Most "helping" professionals are not highly trained or experienced in specialized investigative processes. A further compounding of these conflicting roles for the professional occurs when the justice community seeks "expert" opinions regarding the "truthfulness" of a given sexual allegation. Increased use of mental health and behavioral science people by courts and other dictate that the first major problem for professionals is for them to differentiate between their roles of investigator vs. therapist. Investigative Questioning Sequence Another important beginning strategy in the SAID phenomenon is the question sequence for the professional. Of necessity, this consists of an immediate and complete conversation with the custodial parent or presenting adult. Structured interrogation with this person should initially and specifically focus on the following: 1) Dysfunctional family elements such as a family on the verge of marital breakup. 2) Divorce activity that has already been started. 3) Divorce activity that has been unsuccessfully in progress for some time. 4) Unresolved visitation or custody problems. 5) Unresolved money issues as it relates to the divorce. 6) The involvement by the parent(s) in ongoing relationships with others. Any evidences of the aforementioned "red flag" dynamics are the professionals' first clues to the potential of a SAID case. While phenomenon, these are prima facie evidences that a case is a SAID phenomenon, the professional who disregards these first red flags is potentially in error in his/her conclusions. In addition to maintaining an investigative posture and initially ascertaining whether there are any divorce elements, there are other specific dynamics that are the most symptomatic and diagnostic of the SAID phenomenon. Obviously, the more of these dynamics that one finds in the entire family situation, the more probable it is that a true SAID Syndrome exist. CLINICAL INDICATORS OF THE SAID SYNDROME Family Events Sequence Leading To The Allegation The first critical clinical indicator of a SAID case is the point in time when the allegation is first communicated. In reports of sexual allegations, we have learned to initially take a close look at the allegations and to examine and evaluate how they fit into the chronology of the marital dissolution. The prior family dynamics including who, what, where, when, and how the allegation first surfaced are indicators which need to be investigated. We have learned to carefully examine not only the specifics of what the child has reported but how this allegation came to be known by the reporting adult, which child within a family made the allegation and under what circumstances, and exactly what were the more recent events occurring within the family relationship pattern when the allegation was communicated. Total Context of Allegation: The second clinical indicator can occur only when one examines the whole picture or "gestalt" of the situation; what other legal actions have occurred at the time, what other legal actions were about to occur with regard to child support, potential change of custody maneuverings by the non-custodial parent, or the arrival of a new relationship bringing the potential of a new adult-parent into the family constellation. We examine the whole picture and treat the initial revelations with more of an investigative attention to detail in terms of sequence of events rather than focusing on one single dynamic such as the child's articulations. What everyone has to say becomes part of the overall pattern more than the issue of factual versus fictionalized statements. One of our concerns is that therapists or other intervention "specialists" may become excessively focused on the truthfulness of the child's statements or other isolated information rather than utilizing the investigative method of looking beyond the child's articulations to determine the total context in which the allegation is made. Personality Profile of the Presenting Parent -Female A third critical clinic al indicator in the SAID syndrome is the personality pattern of the reporting parent. When the custodial or primary parent is the maternal figure, our data suggests that this individual may show a profile consistent with that of the hysterical personality. In these instances, this hysterical pattern of the female usually takes on one of the following configurations: I) The female emotionally presents herself as a fearful person who believes she has been a victim of manipulation, coercion, and physical, social or sexual abuse in the marriage. She has tended to see herself as a powerless victim of the other parent's past as well as present behaviors. She also has tended to see the man as being a source of physical threat, economic punitiveness and retribution, or an individual who simply has not understood the physical safety and psychological needs of the children. II) Another type of manifestation is the "justified vindicator." In this instance, a hostile, emotionally expansive, vindictive, and dominant female has directly appealed to "experts" in both the mental health and/or legal communities. She frequently becomes insistent that formal punitive legal measures be taken via prosecution before reasonable proofs have been demonstrated. One of the accompanying phenomena with this type of female parent is that she will frequently have concurrent criminal action pending with her domestic legal action. III) Another personality pattern which requires clinical consideration is when the reporting adult is possibly psychotic. This is relatively rare in our experience. However, we have had several such cases in which the woman initially presented as not being psychotic. A more detailed inquiry of the allegations concerning how the incidents took place made it more evident that their functioning in reality was sufficiently borderline so as to clinically constitute a psychotic or psychotic-like diagnosis and the allegations had to be discounted. Regardless of whether the female pattern has been that of the passive, fearful, apprehensive individual, the "justified vindicator", or even that of the psychotic, she is emotionally convinced of the "facts" and will not be dissuaded from her perceptions. The intensity with which she relates to the world through her emotions significantly overshadows her use of a rational reasoning or problem solving approach to the situation. This emotional appeal can become convincing and very misleading to the inexperienced and/or "well-intended" professional. Personality Profile of the Presenting Parent - Male Our data thus far reflects that the parent most often reporting sexual allegations is the female. This may merely reflect the reality that, in the majority of cases, the female is the primary caretaking parent. However, in those instances in which the male becomes the reporting parent, the following typical pattern has emerged. He is an individual who usually is intellectually rigid, has a high need to be "correct," has been hypercritical of the mother throughout the marriage, and verbalizes in a number of "nit-picking" ways the suspicion that she has been a non-vigilant and borderline unfit mother. He typically makes allegations more against the males with whom she has become involved rather than necessarily making direct allegations toward her as the actual perpetrator of the sexual abuse. The male sees her as the person whose passive or silent endorsement of the perpetrator is her contribution to that situation. He also makes statements about the frequency with which she leaves the children unsupervised, in the care of incompetent or inappropriate babysitters, or generally "at risk" in the home. Personality Profile of the Child The comprehension and clinical understanding of the child/children is also a critical element in correctly diagnosing the SAID Syndrome. In SAID instances, the child/children will typically be found occupying the key position in the adversarial struggle between the parents who cannot directly communicate with each other. The adults then communicate excessively through the child/children. As a result, the child becomes the "communication conduit" making him/her a part of adult insights, feelings and information which begin to shape his/her perceptions. These perceptions evolve into positions of increased control and opportunities to manipulate the non- communicative parents. Thus, the child/children attain excessive power which contributes to their loss of behavioral control. The amount of direction they give to their parents is disproportionate to their capacity to fully comprehend or appreciate the inappropriateness of their position. In a number of instances in which we have seen this pattern of behavior, the child has evolved into a unilateral and arbitrary dictator (even as early as two or three years of age). We have also found that younger children tend to align both their rational or spoken agenda and their emotional allegiance with the dominant parent and will often "mirror" or "parrot" that parent's descriptions and feelings about the situation in question. These younger children appear to do so for several reasons. I) They have a limited verbal ability with which to articulate their own agenda. II) Their immaturity causes them to be unable to test and comprehend the reality of the situation in which they find themselves, i.e., the politics of adult divorce. Also, these children often reflect one or more of the following behaviors: I) They give responses that appear to be highly rehearsed, "coached" or conditioned. II) They spontaneously initiate conversation during interview by quoting the same phrases accompanied with the same affect as did the controlling parent who presented the complaint. III) They use age-inappropriate verbal descriptions with no demonstrated practical comprehension of what they are really saying. IV) They offer a spontaneous and automatic reporting of the act(s) perpetrated upon them in the absence of any direct questions soliciting this specific information. V) They offer inconsistencies in various aspects of reported incidents. These variances may involve specifics (who, what, where, when); frequency (only once or twice, exaggerated to many times); and subjective perceptual experiences (very frightened, not scared, hurt, not hurt, etc.) VI) They lack the appearance of a traumatized individual both emotionally and behaviorally. We have also found that as children approach adolescence, they develop a more vindictive, rather than mimicking, agenda. They tended to speak in absolutes with exaggerated emotional content. For example, adolescents, who in a very intense protest, proclaim that they "never, ever" want to see the other parent because of the perceived wrong that has been perpetrated in their lives is usually indicative of something quite different. We have found that with these kinds of adolescents, the basic agenda is one of not getting their own way. Another issue may be that the other5 parent has been imposing limits on them with which they disagree, and they hope to eliminate that source of frustration by holding to their vindictive agenda. In those instances in which we have seen adolescents who have actually been sexually abused, they tend to be far more emotionally constricted, embarrassed, tearful, traumatized, or sullen as opposed to being outrageously vindictive and profoundly public in their criticisms of the allegedly abusive parent. Personality Profile of the Alleged Perpetrator- Male Another important aspect of the SAID Syndrome is the diagnostic profile of the alleged perpetrator. This person demonstrates the following characteristics: I) He is an inadequate personality with marked passive and dependent features. II) He presents a socially naive perception of the adult world. III) He initially takes a "caretaker" role toward the female during courtship and the early stages of marriage. IV) He needs to "earn" love by yielding to the wants and demands of the spouse. Because of these dynamics, it is this type of male who typically finds himself in a relationship with a more dominant female, regardless of whether her dominance is due to emotional hysteria or self-centeredness and vindictiveness. As a result of these dynamics, the adult-male victim is puzzled and impotent to explain what has happened to him. He is unable to effectively or appropriately respond to the allegations by the other adult, the children, or any other person who has been drawn into the situation. In a relatively helpless and ineffective manner, this individual, to the inexperienced investigator, can look "guilty" merely by virtue of his inadequate response. To a more adequate adult ego, a false allegation such as one made in the SAID Syndrome would bring an intense and immediate response. In many of these cases, the inadequate male does not react this way. This creates a surface level appearance of guilt due to lack of a direct or assertive response on the part of the alleged perpetrator. Victimization is further enhanced by virtue of the male's immature psychosexual development. This immaturity often creates behaviors in the marital relationship which are perceived and reported by the female as being perverse, inappropriate, or just plain "sick." In the SAID Syndrome these perceptions by the female will be offered as "proof" that if her relationship with the man has been disturbed, then his relationship with the children must now be similar. The allegations most often made against the male by the maternal parent include behaviors such as voyeurism, vacillation between his pleading for and demanding sexual contact, and "inappropriate" sexual behaviors in the marriage. The inadequate male is also often perceived as the perpetrator of other inappropriate behaviors with females and occasionally males. These allegations include innuendos about involvement with babysitters, neighbors, people at work, etc. In summary, the males in our data base of SAID cases do exhibit characteristics similar to those individuals who do engage in the actual sexual abuse of children. The literature reflects that an individual who is inappropriately sexually involved with children is often consistent with the inadequate personality with the same features of passivity, dependency and immaturity as is the case with alleged perpetrators in the SAID situations. Because of these similar profiles, the clinical discrimination between the SAID case and an actual incest of sexual abuse situation can be very difficult. Again, this points up the importance of assessing all component elements of a given situation rather than merely focusing on one dynamic such as an individual's personality pattern. Although the frequency of incidents where the female is the alleged perpetrator is minimal, we have begun to see an increase in this type of allegation as well. As indicated earlier, however, the complaints against the female usually take on the generalized qualities of her being an "unfit" mother rather than one who is involved in some kind of sexual abuse of the children./ The Professional as Potential Victim of SAID Syndrome While the alleged perpetrator is one victim in the SAID Syndrome, there is another unsuspecting potential victim. This is the professional who becomes involved in the intervention process. Many times, after a sexual abuse allegation is made, the presenting parent immediately takes the child to a therapist or some other intervention specialist and reports to that person that the child has been sexually abused. This occurs most frequently via the mother making allegations against the father. She expresses not knowing exactly what has occurred but manages to offer information that, because of the serious social and legal implications, takes on a critical importance to which the professional must be responsive. All too often, the intervening professional sees the case on a preliminary basis in a limited and biased perspective and frequently responds to the presenting parent's report rather than viewing the situation as part of the family's marital and divorce conflict. In many of our SAID cases we have heard therapists acknowledge in retrospect that they could not recall obtaining specific information regarding the conditions surrounding the complaint of the presenting parent as it related to the divorce situation. It was not until much later in the intervention process that the professional became aware of some of the existing familial conflicts. The entire clinical focus of the situation all too often appears to be established once the presenting parent raises even the passing suspicion of sexual abuse. It has been our observation that the therapeutic community accepts this "presenting process" and creates a clinical focus on assumed trauma and thus the need for immediate treatment of the child. Since most intervention agents and therapists are trained to believe children and accept what they have to say regarding sexual abuse, the agents then become potential victims by accepting what the child has to say at face value. This process of accepting a presenting complaint as valid and truthful without sophisticated inquiry or clinical challenge creates the vulnerable expert opinion. Once the initial distortions are communicated by an expert and reinforced through further contacts with the child and/or other involved adults, "facts" are created which then shape the outcome of the situation. This can occur to such a degree that the presenting parent, the child, the therapist, social and legal agencies, and any other involved persons accept this "created reality" that has become the truth. Our experience in the field investigation and follow-up of SAID cases reveals that the therapist is reluctant to change his/her perception once their professional opinion has been formulated. This powerful influence on the whole situation by the intervention agent is such that it mandates every effort to arrive at accurate assessments so that the situation is dealt with effectively. Being "safe rather than sorry" is not an acceptable rationale for guiding professional intervention in these situations. A further concern is that the clinical focus has been so heavily predicated upon the belief that "children do not lie" so as to make any other considerations secondary. The ignoring of other information is often justified in the name of "saving" the child from permanent traumatic damage. How ironic it is that the intervention agent or therapist who misdiagnoses a SAID case literally creates a scenario from which the family may never recover. This damage, once done, will, in our opinion, perpetuate itself throughout the rest of the history of the family. It may only partially be undone through skillful intervention of a qualified family therapist who, under the most difficult of circumstances, may bring the family members together and help them understand the dynamics of how the SAID phenomenon occurred. SUMMARY AND RECOMMENDATIONS FOR ASSESSING THE SAID SYNDROME There are certain concepts, policies and procedures that we believe will be most helpful in assisting intervention specialists working with sexual abuse allegations. These recommendations are basically intended to help the professional discriminate between the cases in which sexual abuse has occurred and those in which divorce and family dysfunction have created the probability of false sexual allegations. This differential diagnostic procedure is best facilitated if the intervention professional considers the following: Be Aware of the MOST TYPICAL SAID Pattern It has been our experience that there is a most typical pattern that exists in the SAID Syndrome. This includes one or more of the following dynamics: I) The allegation almost always surfaces only after separation and legal action between the parents has begun. II) There is a history of family dysfunction with resultant unresolved divorce conflict. This usually involves "hidden" underlying issues both spoken and unspoken. III) The personality pattern of the female parent often tends to be that of a hysterical personality. IV) The personality pattern of the male parent tends to be that of the passive-dependent personality V) The child is typically a female under the age of eight who controls the situation. Additionally, this child may show behavioral patterns of verbal exaggerations, excessive willingness to indict, inappropriate affective responses, and inconsistencies in relating the incident(s). VI) The allegation is first communicated via the custodial parent, usually the mother. VII) The mother usually takes the child to an "expert" for further examination, assessment, or treatment. VIII) The expert then often communicates to a court or other appropriate authorities a concern and/or "confirmation"of apparent sexual abuse, usually identifying the father as the alleged perpetrator. IX) This typically causes the court to react to the "expert's" information by acting in a predictably responsible manner, e.g., suspending or terminating visitation, foreclosing on custodial arguments, or in some other way limiting the child-parent interaction. The Role of the Professional Professionals are essentially trained to accept at face value allegations or statements made by children. Trainers and specialists who educate the professionals working with children have established this principle. Thus, the historical precedent which shapes perceptions has continued as clinical "truths." To be effective in the SAID situation, the following guidelines should be kept in mind by the professional: I) Remain neutral. Maintaining an open and objective clinical perception of the situation is the most important first step in guiding one's own behavior in investigating this dilemma. II) Be aware of one's own set of biases. Pre-existing personal and/or professional biases, e.g., "children don't lie; it is better to be safe than sorry;" and other over-generalized principles are likely to elicit from the professional a behavioral response that may be more damaging than helpful. III) Guard against presumption of guilt. Simply because an allegation is made does not mean that it is automatically true (especially in divorce situations). Objective listening, unbiased inquiry, insightful interviewing, and specialized interrogation do not necessarily exclude the always appropriate professional protocol of sensitivity to the situation and a general empathic appreciation for all parties involved. IV) Be aware of the ramifications of the input made to the court. Often times professionals are not aware of the impact that a communication may have on the situation. The effects may include unnecessary foreclosure of family relationships, exacerbation of anxiety and guilt for the child, outrage and despair by the accused perpetrator, false arrest, errant prosecution, and unjustified punitiveness. It appears certain that at some point in the future, professionals are going to have to be held accountable for the allegations that they make, particularly in a public setting. V) The professional should recognize how their alignment with the reporting parent's agenda reinforces the false validity in a SAID case. Frequently,m the presenting parent will use the "expert's" responses to the situation to reinforce his or her perceptions and feelings of validation and justification. The Importance of an Investigative Versus Therapeutic Format Common sense and critical necessity mandate that one must take the role of skillful investigator before evolving any other intervention behaviors in the SAID case. This is because child sexual abuse allegations in the divorce situation are initially more a problem of investigation than of treatment. Immediate and absolute protection of the child/children is not always the most desirable nor effective crisis intervention strategy. Traumatic disruption may create irreparable and permanent breaches among family members. The most critical and obvious investigation process involves interviewing and interrogating the reporting parent with regard to the current status of the family as it pertains to the divorce process; past, present, or future. In addition, specific questions pertaining to the alleged sexual abuse itself need to be asked: WHAT exactly happened, WHEN, WHERE, WHY and HOW. The allegation needs to be scrutinized with intensity and the details carefully discussed with all involved parties. Professionals are traditionally apprehensive about proceeding in this manner lest the child be "traumatized." However, the long range ramifications of these allegations, if misdiagnosed, can be more "traumatic" than the stresses of these initial appropriate inquiries. Without these initial inquiries prior to evaluating, assessing or working with the "victim," the intervention specialist is acting unprofessionally, unethically and naively. The Collection of Data from Multiple Sources After ascertaining where the family is in terms of the divorce process, it is imperative to also gather data from multiple sources before forming opinions, making recommendations, or developing treatment plans. These sources can and should include: The presenting adult The alleged perpetrator The child or children Relatives and other family members who may have played a role in the process of the transitioning family. Any other appropriate social agent who may have had contact with the family, e.g., Friend of the Court investigators, school personnel, medical or mental health professionals, etc. Law enforcement personnel Attorneys Although many mental health professionals and other intervention agents may be reluctant to pursue this strategy, feeling it to be inappropriate or that it may create more chaos and difficulty for the victim(s), obtaining maximal data is an absolute necessity. The emotional "loadedness" of sexual abuse issues does not justify an impulsive, inaccurate, incomplete, or misguided response on the part of the professional, especially the professional who has the CRUCIAL first contact. It is apparent that the courts have become increasingly reliant upon the behavioral and social science community for recommendations in the decision making process of protecting the "best interests" of children. Therefore, we professionals are obligated to develop a more effective data gathering methodology ion order to increase our capacity to assist them in reaching these decisions. The Necessity of Networking Another recommendation is for the utilization of interagency and interprofessional networks. Only through communication with other professionals who work with sexual allegations, but from different perspectives, can we really begin to understand the dynamics of different case patterns. We have occasionally insisted that professionals from medical, mental health, law enforcement and legal communities meet in conference to share and discuss information in some of our SAID cases. As a result, we are convinced that this is the best way to profit from each other's expertise. The Necessity of Sharing Information Our final recommendation is for fellow professionals to record, accumulate, and disseminate information concerning SAID cases. Without continued sharing of data we are professionally vulnerable. The SAID Syndrome is not a phenomenon in which empirical evidence and "scientific" research can be directly conducted. Therefore, it is imperative that we share clinical dialogue to further educate ourselves to the SAID phenomenon as it occurs within the everyday settings of our various agencies and practices. Our professional obligation obviously extends into society as a whole. Our concern is that evidence suggests an emerging national hysteria regarding the problem of sexual abuse of children. We believe the professionals do not want history to reflect that we contributed to the further distortion of this problem. We must instead individually and collectively make contributions that directly and realistically develop effective problem solving processes for families involved in this dilemma. -------------------------------------------------------------------- REFERENCES: Benedek, E.L. & Schetky, D.H. (1984, October) ALLEGATIONS OF SEXUAL ABUSE IN CHILD CUSTODY CASES. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, Nassau, Bahamas Berliner, L. & Barbieri, M.K. (1984) THE TESTIMONY OF THE CHILD VICTIM OF SEXUAL ASSAULT. Journal of Social Issues, 40(2) 125-137 Faller, K.C. (1984) IS THE CHILD VICTIM OF SEXUAL ABUSE TELLING THE TRUTH? Child Abuse and Neglect, 8, 473-481 Goodman, G.S. (1984) THE CHILD WITNESS: CONCLUSIONS AND FUTURE DIRECTIONS FOR RESEARCH AND LEGAL PRACTICE. Journal of Social Issues, 40(2), 157-175 Goodwin, J., Sahd, D. & Rada, R.T. (1980) INCEST HOAX: FALSE ACCUSATIONS, FALSE DENIALS. In W.M. Holder (Ed.) Sexual Abuse of Children (pp. 37-45) Englewood CO: The American Humane Assn. (Reprinted from the Bulletin of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, 1979, 6(3).) Health and Human Services (1984) CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE PREVENTION: TIPS TO PARENTS (DDHS Publication No. 0-454-460:QL 3) Washington DC: US Government Printing Office Illusion Theater's Sexual Abuse Prevention Program (1981) TOUCH AND SEXUAL ABUSE: HOW TO TALK TO YOUR CHILDREN Minneapolis MN: Author Jiles, D. (1980) PROBLEMS IN THE ASSESSMENT OF SEXUAL ABUSE REFERRALS Sexual Abuse of Children (pp.59-64) Englewood CO: The American Humane Assn. Kaplan, S.L., & Kaplan S.J. (1981) THE CHILD'S ACCUSATION OF SEXUAL ABUSE DURING A DIVORCE AND CUSTODY STRUGGLE. The Hillside Journal of Clinical Psychology, 3(1), 81-95 Paulson, M.J., Strouse, L. & Chaleff, A. (1982) INTRAFAMILIAL INCEST AND SEXUAL MOLESTATION OF CHILDREN. The Rights of Children: Legal and Psychological Perspectives (pp. 39-63) Springfield IL: Charles C. Thomas Rush, F. (1980) THE BEST KEPT SECRET: SEXUAL ABUSE OF CHILDREN. Englewood Cliffs NJ: Prentice-Hall Schuman, D.C. (1984, October) FALSE ACCUSATIONS OF PHYSICAL AND SEXUAL ABUSE. Paper presented at the Annual Conference of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, Nassau, Bahamas Sgroi, S.M., Porter, F. & Blick, L. (1982) VALIDATION OF CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE Handbook of Clinical Intervention in Child-Sexual Abuse (pp. 39- 80) Lexington MA: Lexington Books, D.C. Heath & Co. WHAT EVERYONE SHOULD KNOW ABOUT THE SEXUAL ABUSE OF CHILDREN (1983) South Deerfield MA: Channing L. Beta Co., Inc. --------------------------------------------------------------------- --------------------------------------------------------------------- The above article supplied by National Congress for Men via NCM BBS (602) 840 4752 1200/N/8/1 --------------------------------------------------------------------- Edited from previous partial text from HADD, Seattle WA via BBS (206) 742 5089 1200/N/8/1 ---------------------------------------------------------------------

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