San Diego Report on Child Sexual Abuse, Assault, and Molest Issues (A Report by the 1991-9
San Diego Report on Child Sexual Abuse, Assault, and Molest Issues
(A Report by the 1991-92 San Diego County Grand Jury)
INTRODUCTION TO SEXUAL ABUSE ISSUES
Through expert testimony and case studies, the Jury obtained a wide
range of information in the area of child sexual abuse. This
controviersial and highly complex subject has suffered from excessive,
sometimes bordering on hysterical, media attention, reporting of
inaccurate or questionable statistics, and the failure to define and
identify child sexual abuse accurately. Within the limits of the expert
testimony received by the Jury, and a study of cases brought to the Jury's
attention, this report will provide an overview of some child sexual abuse
issues existing with the dependency process.
ALLEGATIONS OF SEXUAL MOLEST
Allegations of in-home molest/abuse seem to cause the most severe
conflict with the system. There are many reasons for this. Child molest is
a societal taboo. It causes extreme emotional upheavals in the family,
internally, and for family members in relation to society at large.
Allegations of molest provoke bias in everyone with the system. Molest can
rarely be proven. Molest leaves no physical evidence. Because it can
rarely be proven, the system seems determined to err on the side of
assuming guilt - that which cannot be proven to be false must be true.
This is an aberration in our system of justice. (Appendix A defines sexual
abuse; sexual assault; sexual exploitation within the Criminal and
Child sexual molest is real, it happens, and it is terrible. Whether
or not it is as prevalent and widespread as the media would have us
believe is subject to considerable debate. The current trend in
therapeutic treatment is to accept reports of molest as true,
notwithstanding that they may be inherently incredible, made for motives
of harm or gain, or the product of months or years of "therapy". The
justice system, particularly the dependency process, has "bought into"
this therapeutic model. The legal system's traditional truth-finding tools
- witness confrontation, cross-examination, restrictions on hearsay and
"expert" testimony - have been abandoned in a rush "to protect". However,
when truth suffers, as it has, the system fails to protect and ultimately
harms the innocent child as well as parent.
In many cases, those who deny molest are guilty. However, in many
other cases, those who deny are, in fact, innocent. Ironically, "denial"
is taken as evidence of guilt unlike any other area of our judicial
system, in Juvenile Court the alleged perpetrator of in-house molest does
not have to be proven guilty in order to achieve a true finding. The
dependency process focuses on the child as an object of molest or abuse.
Precise issues relating to the alleged abuser and the abusive incident
lose their focus and become nearly irrelevant. The Jury has witnessed the
court take jurisdiction on the basis of a true finding that "the child
believes she has been molested." Once the system musters sufficient cause
to suspect molest, the child becomes a ward of the system and the family
is forced to comply to its dictates or suffer the loss of the child.
If the court believes a molest occurred and the family member could have
been responsible a "true finding" is made and wardship declared. If a
father denies molest and a true finding is made, he suffers the ultimate
Catch 22 - he can either admit and take a chance that the department will
allow him to begin reunification with his family or he can deny and no
reunification will occur.
But the irony does not end there. If the spouse supports her husband's
denial, she is "accommodating his denial". If she accommodates this
denial, she cannot be trusted to protect the child and she too will not be
allowed to reunify with the child. Even when the mother believes the
molest occurred and wants to protect the child, a current assertion is
that the mother must have known all along and failed to protect. That then
becomes a protective issue and reason to remove the child from the mother.
Still worse, if the child denies the molest, this can be seen
as part of a "child abuse accommodation syndrome (1)" and
an additional reason why the child should have no contact with the
parents. The child may be diagnosed as "multi-phasic" dissociative, or
"in-denial" and thus unable to remember the experience. (while this
does happen on occasion, the Jury has been convinced by numerous
experts in this field that this is infrequent and should not be
treated as the norm.) Thus, all members of the family can deny a false
molest allegation and, in each instance, the system uses the denial as
evidence of guilt.
In the case of Alicia W., the father persisted in denying allegations
of molest, but the mother was repeatedly told by her attorney and the
social worker that her only chance to reunite with Alicia was to say that
she believed her husband did it. The child, who persistently described a
stranger perpetrator, was not believed. In order to allow her "the
freedom" to "remember" without trauma, visits with her parents were
terminated until she could come up with "a more believable story." This
child was kept in court ordered therapy for two and a half years, twice a
week, "dealing with the molest".
The Jury has heard reliable expert testimony that it is a mistake to
force a child to relive and keep talking about an alleged traumatic event.
Further, there is little evidence that a child will repress a traumatic
event. There is good evidence that a traumatic event tends to etch itself
indelibly on the mind.
After a true finding of molest, and the establishment of wardship, a
reunification plan may be put in place. The reunification plan will
inevitably require that the offending spouse complete Parents United.
Parents United is a self-help group for in-home perpetrators of sexual
abuse. The only way to complete Parents United is to admit the molest. If
Parents United is not completed, there is failure to comply with the
reunification plan. Not complying with the reunification plan is grounds
for termination of services to the family and termination of parental
Parents united has not always required admission of guilt to complete
the program. In fact, it is still not required in some Parents United
chapters. All psychologists testifying before the Jury were unalterably
oppose to this requirement. Testimony was also received indicating that
the recidivism rate for heterosexual child molest is 7-14%, irrespective
of the treatment received.
A consensus of experts found that: parents and children need to learn
to establish boundaries; children need to learn to protect themselves; an
admission of guilt should not be required for reunification; the present
system does not distinguish between degrees of molest; and removal of the
father is not always in the best interest of the family. The Jury
has heard testimony from parents who have "admitted" molest only in order
to reunify with their children. A permanent bitterness and distrust of the
One of the most profoundly disturbing discoveries by the Jury was an
extensively used test which is highly touted by many professionals for its
ability to predict "age-inappropriate" sexual response. This test is
called penile plethysmography. An attachment is made to the male penis,
various sexually arousing slides are displayed, and the subject is asked to
fantasize. The penile erection reaction is measured. Experts hotly debate
the validity of this controversial test. In San Diego County almost every
man accused of sexual perversion of any kind will take this test
Due to the inherent difficulty in determining the truth in sexual
molest cases, the Grand Jury recommends that the standard for a "true
finding" be changed from "preponderance" to "clear and convincing"
evidence. The effect of such a finding is so profound, on the offender,
the child, and the family unit, that this heightened standard of proof is
When an allegation of sexual molest is made, the accused parent's
contact with the child is usually terminated. The majority of the
psychologists who testified before the Jury maintained strongly that this
was not healthy for the child and that the child should at the least have
conjoint therapeutic visits with the accused parent. The Jury concurs
with that recommendation.
FALSE ALLEGATIONS OF SEXUAL MOLEST DURING CUSTODY DISPUTES
There is no dispute within the Juvenile Dependency System that false
allegations of sexual molest during custody disputes occur and that the
system fails to deal with them properly. There is, however, considerable
dispute about how to handle these cases. The Jury has found that a parent
making a false allegation of abuse or molest during a custody dispute is
very likely to achieve the desired result. These accusations are made
primarily to avoid visitation and joint custody provisions and the accuser
Particularly with allegations of molest, visitation will almost
certainly be at least temporarily terminated. The longer the accused
parent goes without visitation, the more difficult resolution of the case
becomes. The Jury has studied numerous cases of allegations of molest in
custody disputes which have never been at Juvenile Court and where the
father has had no further visitations. Parents who knowingly make false
allegations generally seek to contaminate the child's relationship with
the other parent. The children are subjected to a range of contamination
starting with simple personal deprecation and escalating in the worst
cases to brainwashing. Parents who do this are not stable, not protective,
and are doing permanent harm to the child.
The Jury has studied many of these cases. Not one of them has been
resolved despite years of conflict. Because all of these cases involve
mothers who made allegations against fathers, we will speak in those
Family Court Services has recognized the seriousness of this problem
and has instituted the Family Court Case Study Team to try to help resolve
some of these long term cases and to reestablish fathers' visitations
wherever possible. Unfortunately, by the time a case gets to that point
the child is usually so contaminated that (s)he fears the father and
psychologists are loathe to force the child to see a feared parent.
Furthermore, only a fraction of such cases stay in domestic court where
they reach the attention of this team. Most of the cases end up in
Juvenile Court where there are no resources to redress the problem.
This situation is best illustrated by a brief overview of three cases
with which the Jury is most familiar. (The Jury received a large number of
similar complaint.) The summaries of these cases were written in January,
1992. The updates, as of June 1992, are in the footnotes.
Case 1:Michael P and Calle P.
A young military couple with two children were divorced in 1986. There
was no custody dispute though there was bitterness as the genesis of
the divorce was the wife's affair with a neighbor. The wife ultimately
married this man and had several more children over the course of
years. The father was almost immediately transferred East. During the
next 18 months he visited the children several times on very short
trips to San Diego solely for this purpose.
On a Christmas visit in 1988, he called the mother because Calle was
complaining of pain in her vaginal area. He applied hot compresses and
returned the child home. Three months later after a phone visitation
with the children he told the mother that he was arranging for the
children to have an extended summer visit with him and with his
extended family. The father reported that the mother said no and that
if he proceeds with his plans, she will find a way to stop him,
including making allegations of molest. Such allegations were made.
CPS became involved.
Calle was interviewed and reported her daddy touched her. A medical
evidentiary was done which showed extensive ongoing molest
inconsistent with the child's statement of just touching. The father
was contacted in the East. He came to California, hired a lawyer, and
began a battle which continues to the present. He subjected himself to
polygraphs, penile plethysmographies, psychological profiles, etc.
Upon his lawyer's advice he cooperated completely with everyone. The
mother was, by all accounts, uncooperative with everyone and had a
hard time following through on anything. It was discovered that there
were other CPS reports on the mother and her new husband. These
included reports of neglect of the children and reports of battery.
Because the father had no contact with the children, there was no
Juvenile Court jurisdiction and the case stayed in Family court.
Family Court Services provide years of counseling, mediation, and the
father still has no visitation. The father was concerned that Calle
might have been subject to ongoing molest as evidenced the medical
finding of molest. Michael, by that time, reported satanic abuse. Each
child was sent an individual therapist. The stories esculated
dramatically. They have not seen their father for years. They saw him
a couple of times this year in supervised therapy for the purpose of
The child who reported satanic abuse was less than two when he last
had an unsupervised visit with his father. Interestingly, while he
expressed fear at the thought of seeing his father, he immediately
relaxed and enjoyed these visits. All therapists and evaluators seem
certain that the mother has contaminated the children but still are
unwilling to assist in putting the children back into a relationship
with their father.
The father requested temporary placement of these children in a
neutral foster home to allow them to recover from the alienation and
to see whether it would be possible for him to reestablish a
relationship. Never reevaluated in this case was the original physical
finding of sexual molest. The Jury has information that this doctor's
findings are no longer being accepted as the basis of petitions filed
with Juvenile Court. This case is now with the Family
Court Case Study Team. (3)
Case 2: Melissa F. and Kimberly F.
Melissa and Kimberly's parents were living an apparently normal life
in North Carolina. They had lived there several years and were well
established in the community with many friends. The mother left
abruptly in December, 1990 without warning to the father. She was
eventually located, with the children, living with the maternal
grandmother in San Diego.
In April, 1991, the father left North Carolina and relocated to San
Diego in the hope of maintaining regular visitation with his children.
He had several visits with the children in San Diego always in the
company of the mother and the maternal grandmother. The children had
begun seeing a therapist who was just starting his internship. The
father asked to meet with the therapist. The therapist refused.
Five weeks after the father's arrival in San Diego, a molest report
was made. The record show that this was not the first attempt to file
a complaint of molest in this case. Five weeks later a petition was
filed in Juvenile Court alleging sexual molest by the father.
Ultimately the children testified to a wide range of abuse. This abuse
was described in fantastic detail during the jurisdictional hearing.
Kimberly provided graphic descriptions of oral, vaginal, and anal
intercourse. All of the physical evidence was inconsistent with this
The referee in the case found that the stories were "incredible,
potentially exaggerated, and maybe even sometimes fantasized." He
found the physical findings inconclusive. Nonetheless he concluded
that the children had exhibited "acting out" sexual behaviors and that
these behaviors were learned. The petitions were sustained.
The father took a polygraph administered by a respected polygrapher
who said he would trust the father to babysit his grandchildren. The
father went through many psychological tests. He passed them all. He
had a psychological evaluation done by a court-appointed
psychological evaluator. It is differed dramatically from every other
evaluation done. Notably, it said nothing good about the father and
quoted the mother extensively.
Social worker notes in this case are exhaustive. The maternal
grandmother and mother moved the children to several different schools
and have now changed the children's first and last names Social
workers have investigated reported inappropriate discussions of the
molest by the mother and grandmother in front of the children, and
concerns expressed by teachers, etc. Nonetheless, the social workers
have continued to support the mother.
The original minor's counsel did no independent investigation and
supported the Department in all motions. In January, 1992, there was a
substitution of minor's counsel. The request for an independent
psychological evaluation of the children was finally granted. A change
in therapist for the children was also ordered. These psychologists
now are convinced that the children have been heavily coached.
However, because the children now fear their father these
psychologists are opposed to forcing the children to visit with him.
If indeed the children have been so heavily coached that they can no
longer tell truth from fantasy then the Department of Social Services
and Juvenile Court have played a pivotal role in this tragedy. These
children should not be left in the custody of a parent so severely
disturbed that she would do this to her children. She needs help and
the children need time to recover.
Case 3: Shannon S.
Shannon's mother was hospitalized for severe manic depression.
Initially, she had other emotional problems which led to a divorce.
The parents lived close to one another.
The child attended a private school a
block from her father's and a couple of blocks from the mother's. She
spent approximately half the time in each home. It seemed to be going
as well as these things ever go in a divorce. The child was in weekly
therapy for over a year to help her adjust to the parent's separation.
The therapist reported that she was happy and well-adjusted despite
the divorce and mother's illness.
Shannon also had the added benefit of a large, extended, paternal
family. She had always been very close to her paternal grandparents
and they continued to play a major role in her caretaking.
The mother decided to move to the San Francisco area to be closer to
her family. The father agreed but wanted extensive visitation. The
mother and father began a protracted custody dispute which eventually
cost everything both parents had.
It led, immediately after Shannon started with a new therapist in the
bay area, to an allegation of sexual molest. Minor's counsel was
appointed in Family Court and determined after an extensive
investigation and psychological profiles that a molest had not
occurred. An order was entered for a new therapist for the child.
At the continued instigation of someone, most likely the San Francisco
therapist, CPS became involved and a petition was filed. When the
petition was heard in Juvenile Court, the appointed minor's Counsel
from Family Court appeared to explain the findings in Family Court. He
was told by the judge that he had no standing in Juvenile Court and he
was dismissed. A panel minor's counsel was appointed. He examined the
existing records and also recommended that the case be returned to the
jurisdiction of Family Court. The Judge dismissed him too. A third
minor's counsel was appointed. The third minor's counsel agreed to the
judge's jurisdiction and stayed on the case. There was a five-month
trial in Juvenile Court with little resolution. (Mid-trial, the
parties agreed to stipulate to a "true finding" which stated that the
"child was saying she had been molested.") The child continued with
the same therapist who is convinced of the father's guilt.
There is very probable contamination of the child by the therapist.
The Jury spoke with the professionals involved in the case who are
convinced that the child has been manipulated and contaminated.
It is not likely that this child will ever have a normal relationship
with her father. Her therapist is adamantly opposed to a resumed
relationship. The first time she saw her father in over a year she
gave him a huge hug and immediately sat on his lap. The savings to
provide for Shannon's college education are gone. The mother was
receiving a large property settlement and substantial alimony and
child support. That is gone too. Everyone lost because no one within
the system seemed willing to challenge the therapist's allegations and
what was likely a child's distorted story. (8)
In all three of these cases the children have been deprived of their
fathers for extended periods of time. Their relationships with their
fathers are probably irreconcilable. The professionals have backed away
from the hard decision that contamination occurred, that contamination is a
protective issue requiring at least temporary removal from the
contaminating parent, and giving custody to the accused parent or neutral
family member until the accusing parent can receive help.
Included in the Jury recommendations is the establishment of a
protocol which recognizes that without prompt attention in these cases
they will continue to be the source of many of the most serious, ongoing
problems in the dependency process. This protocol could include the
establishment of a multi-disciplinary court team, like the Family Court
Case Study Team, with a highly trained counselor appointed to coordinate
these teams and to facilitate cooperation between the Domestic and
It is also recommended that visitation not be stopped when an
allegation of sexual molest is made, but that visitation be continued
under therapist supervision. Where a false allegation is suspected, the
complaining party should be warned that contamination of the child's
relationship with a parent is sufficient grounds for a change of physical
custody, and visitation should not be altered while an investigation is
SEXUAL MOLEST CRIMINAL PROSECUTION AND THE DISTRICT ATTORNEY
Guilt or innocence is not determined in Juvenile Court. That is a
standard of criminal court. Perpetrators of in-house molest are sometimes
charged in criminal court and tried by a jury. A verdict of not guilty in
a criminal court will not effect the "true finding" in Juvenile Court
because that finding is based on a different and lower evidentiary
The jury finds that the criteria for criminal prosecution is also less
than objective and consistent. Law enforcement submits cases to the
District Attorney for prosecution. The District Attorney has a special
Child Abuse Unit. The official criteria for filing a criminal case is
whether the evidence will support a determination of guilt beyond a
reasonable doubt. However, in the case of Alicia_W., the case was ranked
as very weak by the District Attorney and prosecuted anyway. Other
prosecuted child abuse cases were also very weak and seemed to have more
of a personal flavor to them than an objective decision to take the worst
cases and prosecute. (6)
In sexual abuse cases there appears to be a prosecutorial reliance on
the likelihood that a charge will produce a plea to a lesser offense. The
penalties for conviction are very high, and the cost of a defense
prohibitive. Further, a criminal proceeding against a father keeps the
reunification process from proceeding. Pleas are often structured to
salvage a "minor" guilt admission for the prosecution.
Numerous defense attorneys testified that they allow and even
encourage their clients to plea to a minor charge even when they are
certain of the client's innocence in order to facilitate the reunification
of the family and to avoid a trial. Defense attorneys feel it is in the
client's best interest to avoid a trial because of public sentiment about
allegations of molest.
In one case investigated by the jury, the father was accused of 13
felonies. After 18 months in Juvenile Court and personally bankrupt, he
decided, upon the advice of counsel, to plea to a single misdemeanor.
After reunification with his family, he asked to have his case reexamined.
He contacted a ranking detective in the Child Abuse Unit and asked how he
could do this. It was suggested that he take a polygraph exam. He did. He
followed other procedures recommended to him. The detective began to
believe that this man was innocent. He talked to the Deputy District
Attorney on the case who treated the exonerating evidence as irrelevant
and refused any action.
In the case of Alicia W., the first DNA results returned indicated
that the father was not the perpetrator and that the identified and
previously convicted serial attacker was within the 5% of males who could
be the perpetrator. A repeat test to confirm these results was pending.
The Department of Social Services had responded rapidly to a Grand Jury
request to look at the new evidence and stop the pending proceedings in
Juvenile Court. In response to a motion from DSS, the court ordered the
hearing for the termination of parental rights vacated, ordered
unsupervised visitation with the mother and supervised therapeutic
visitation for the father. The District Attorney refused to lift the "no
There was apparent proof that the father had not raped his child.
Moreover, there was very strong evidence pointing to the person who had.
Instead of "letting go", even the District Attorney's office looked for
unsubstantiated scenarios in which the father could be involved.
The most specious statement was made by the head Deputy District
Attorney of the District Attorney's Child Abuse Unit. "We have a
believable child saying her Dad did it." This child gave a very credible
description of another man for over a year. A detailed description was
given to law enforcement on the day of the rape. That description was even
used by a another Deputy District Attorney to obtain physical evidence to
aid in the prosecution of another sexual assault perpetrated by the man
described by this child. During the intervening year Alicia was in twice a
week therapy with a therapist who believed the father was the perpetrator.
She was isolated from anyone who would believe her other story. The
therapist and the social worker blocked defense efforts for her to see the
judge on the case, have an independent psychological evaluation, and
be placed with relatives.
This same head Deputy District Attorney had provided the Jury early in
its investigation with a copy of the Child Victim Witness Protocol which
she had helped develop. This protocol clearly states that the earlier
uncontaminated statements are the most reliable. It cautions against
employing multiple interrogations. Why was the child not believed when she
told her early story but believed implicitly more than year later when she
told a story implicating her father?
The Jury believes that personnel within the District Attorney's Child
Abuse Unit subscribe to many myths about the dynamics of sexual molest
which were described in this report under Allegations of Molest. The
District Attorney's Child Abuse Unit needs to maintain strict objectivity
in its decisions to prosecute and to maintain a protocol of cooperation,
but a distinct separation from the Child Protection system.
SEXUAL ASSAULT VERSUS SEXUAL MOLEST
Alicia W. was treated as a case of alleged sexual molest. This was a
violent sexual assault. While incestuous sexual molest is relatively
common, particularly with step children and within extended families, it
is extremely rare to have a sexual assault on a natural child. It is even
more rare for that sexual assault to be a first time sex act.
If there was one major flaw in the way Alicia W. was handled, it was
this initial assumption by the system. Alicia W. was a sexual assault and
should have gone to the sexual assault team instead of to social workers
conditioned to assume that it was sexual molest.
One of the tragic ironies of this is that Alicia's detailed
description of the perpetrator was actually used to obtain the physical
evidence necessary in another case to convict Alicia's own rapist. The
case of Nicole S. was handled by the sexual assault team which is the team
which should have handled Alicia's case. The Jury heard evidence that the
sexual abuse team was called in on Alicia W. because it happened to be
available. This employment of the sexual abuse team had a long term and
serious prejudicial effect on the case. It is the Jury's recommendation
that all sexual assault cases be handled by the sexual assault unit.
The social worker, the investigators at the Center for Child
Protection, the physician, and the therapist all agreed to the sexual
molest theory and all evidence to the contrary was ignored as unessential,
unreliable, or irrelevant. Even the detective to whom Alicia gave a
detailed description later decided it was not believable.
Evidence of this bias is found in written reports of the initial
evidentiary interview of Alicia done at the Center for Child Protection.
When asked what Alicia would tell her brother to keep him safe, Alicia
responded, "tell him to keep his window locked." That statement was
omitted from the narrative report because it didn't fit with what the
interviewer wanted to hear. Far more damming, Alicia was asked with whom
she would feel safe. She clearly stated, as attested by the Grand Jury's
Viewing of this tape, "my mom, dad, and brother." This is reported in the
narrative of this interview as, "my mom and brother." It was later cited
by the evidentiary interviewer in her narrative, the social worker in her
social study, and the Director of the Center for Child Protection in his
letter to the court. This statement was used to show Alicia's exclusion of
the father as a person with whom she felt safe. The best that can be said
is that these people heard what they wanted to hear. The worst is that
they committed perjury.
The Jury has heard expert testimony that rape or sexual assault on a
natural child is unlikely. In fact, any harmful act against a natural
child is 100 times less likely than is such an act against a non-blood
relative. There was no evidence in the father's family of any previous
history of abuse much less molest. The professionals involved in this case
considered no such evidence or research, and made decisions based on their
These biases were activated by "red-flag markers". The "red flags"
present in this case were freely revealed by the parents in initial
interviews. The mother said she had been molested as a child. The father
had recently completed an obesity program with the Navy and had decided to
stop drinking at that time. He volunteered that he had occasionally, when
away from home, consumed sufficient alcohol to black-out. The son was
hyperactive. The mother didn't drive. The father was an enlisted man in
the Navy. Both parents were over-weight. They didn't know many people in
Jurors have heard testimony and seen evidence that these "red flags"
are used regularly as diagnostic, risk-assessment indicators. This is
appropriate. However, there has also been testimony and evidence has been
seen that such "indicator" information is actually employed as evidence.
Such information is set out in social study reports without any balancing
information and proffered and accepted as evidence of abuse.
For example, the social study in Alicia W. detailed all of the above
indicators in detail. It did not mention that the father's drinking was
not a source of a problem in his family. It did not mention the father's
superb rating and a history of excellent performance reports and rewards
in the Navy. It did not mention a family with extended paternal relatives.
It did not mention that the mother managed all of the household finances
and was very independent with a day care business in her home. It did not
mention that there were no reports of any problems with her day care
service. There was no interview of the parents of these children. It did
not mention that Alicia was an "A" student who had just won Student of the
Month. No one at her school was interviewed. It did not mention an active
participation in church and community activities despite a relatively
recent transfer to San Diego.
DO CHILDREN LIE ABOUT ABUSE AND SEXUAL TRAUMA?
Psychological experts testified that children lie about these issues.
Recent literature reflecting studies conducted by the American
Psychological Association not surprisingly concluded that some children
lie and others don't. Studies also indicate that young children can be
very easily contaminated to believe that things happened which, in fact,
did not occur.
Witnesses from DSS and the District Attorney's Child Abuse Unit told
the Jury that children rarely lie about abuse and sexual trauma. It was
disturbing to the Jury that these same witnesses often concluded that a
child was in denial or being protective if they denied abuse by a parent
but were never lying when they accused.
The Jury examined cases where children made allegations of abuse and
then later wanted to retract them. The children said they had lied and
were sorry. The same social workers, therapists, prosecutors, and judicial
officers who believed the stories of abuse, refused to believe the
children when they admitted to a lie.
Jurors observed a teenage girl testify to molest by her step-father.
She reported to a school counselor that he had touched her once on the
breasts and genital area while she was clothed. She denied any previous
occurrence. Evidence presented at trial included love letters she had
written to an older maternal uncle with whom she was romantically
involved. In these letters she wrote graphically about her sexual
attraction to this uncle. She also wrote that she was trying to get her
mother to strike her so that she could report the abuse to CPS and live
with the grandmother. (Not coincidentally, the uncle also lived with the
grandmother and the mother was trying to limit contact.)
Prior to the introduction of the letters the teenager had testified to
a good relationship with her mother and no conflicts. The letters clearly
indicated that this was not true. Despite contradictory testimony from
three adults who were awake and present within 15 feet, and a sibling who
was awake in the next bed, at the time of the alleged abuse, a true
finding was made. At no time was the teenager cautioned about telling the
truth. Everyone in the courtroom was solicitous of this child to the point
of ignoring contradictions in the girl's testimony.
The Jury investigated a case brought by citizen complaint. The natural
18-year old son of a foster mother was accused by a 10-year onld foster
child of sexual molest. The child was immediately removed, the foster care
license pulled, and the 18-year-old prosecuted for felony-sexual assault.
The only evidence in the case was the child's allegation. The 18-year-old
adamantly denied the charge. The 18-year old pled "nolo" to a misdemeanor
charge with the understanding that this would be removed from his record
in one year.
The foster mother had not been informed prior to the placement of this
child that the child had a history of sexual molest, multiple placements,
and false allegations against various parties. While in this home the
child made allegations against his social worker and classroom teacher.
The DSS file includes a long history of psychological problems and
psychological evaluations which reported that the child was a pathological
liar. The District Attorney and DSS had this information, the defense did
not. There was no physical evidence and the decision to prosecute was
based solely on the child's allegation. Defense costs bankrupted this
family. The Department lost a foster care provider.
A professional family adopted an abused, very petite, four year old.
She did well in this home until p;uberty. She began to act out, lie, not
come home, etc. She told a counselor at school that she was being abused
at home. She told the counselor that she wasn't being fed and that was the
reason she was so small. The family investigated. The family cooperated
and agreed to services in the hopes that the child and family could be
helped. The child wasn't pulled but social worker contact continued. The
child made allegations to her social worker of sexual molest by her
brother. The parents became alarmed and agreed to her placement in foster
care in order to protect their son. Each person who believed the stories
told by this child ultimately regretted it. The social services record
show a trail of gullible adults. Even a Deputy District Attorney tried to
adopt this child. She returned the child after several serious problems.
This deeply troubled child now has an extensive record as a delinquent and
no family to turn to. The adoptive family no longer feels capable of
coping with her problems.
There are dozens of these stories. Some children lie. Failure to
recognize this as fact is ultimately not in the child's best interest.
Each one of the children in the stories above has suffered as a result of
the system's gullibility.
SATANIC RITUAL ABUSE
In October, 1991, a Grand Juror was present at a meeting of the San
Diego Commission on Children and Youth when a report on ritual abuse was
adopted. This report, entitled Ritual Abuse Treatment, Intervention and
Safety Guidelines, was the result of a a task force effort and made
numerous recommendations for handling ritual, and, of particular concern
to the Jury, satanic abuse. The following definition of "satanic" appears
in this report.
Satanic - Satanists may infiltrate other types of cults, or remain
separate. Satanic cults may range from an extra-familial collection of
methamphetamine abuses who torture for excitement, to decades old,
multi-national sects, with established political systems, revenue
mechanisms, etc., which indulge in the deification of Satan. Numerous
cults exist which have sophisticated suppliers of sacrificial persons,
from kidnapers through "breeders" (women who bear children intended
for sexual abuse and sacrifice).(7)
Within the week Jurors were present at a dependency proceeding where a
referee was presented a detention petition involving allegations of
satanic abuse. The referee followed the recommendations in the social
study which were almost verbatim from the recommendations made for
handling these cases in the Commission on Children and Youth report. The
children name in the petition were placed in confidential placement with
no family contact whatsoever. They were also placed with a therapist
"well-versed" in ritual abuse.
Citizen complaints of social workers pursuing satanic ritual abuse
cases began to come to the Jury. Four families were from the same church
congregation; the other complaints were unrelated. In one case the County
Counsel filed a petition actually alleging that the child would be
sacrificed on his birthday. All of the cases tested rational credulity.
Each involved the same set of social workers, therapists, and detectives.
At this time, all cases with which the Jury is familiar have been
terminated. The emotional cost to the children and families cannot be
calculated. In at least two cases, lawsuits against the County have
Jurors contacted expert witnesses across the country. The ritual abuse
report was sent to various experts for evaluation.
Police detectives involved in these investigations, members of the
task force who wrote the report and an involved therapist were
interviewed. Jurors attended a conference workshop by another therapist
who served on the task force which prepared the report and was being used
as a recommended ritual abuse therapist. Witnesses were asked to provide a
factual information or evidence they had available which would
substantiate the existence of satanic ritual abuse in San Diego County or
elsewhere. No such information or evidence was provided. The Jury found
that there is no physical evidence of satanic ritual child abuse in San
Diego County. There is evidence and considerable professional testimony
that the existence of satanic ritual abuse is a contemporary myth
perpetuated by a small number of social workers, therapists, and law
enforcement members who have effected an influence which far belies their
numbers. These "believers" cannot be dissuaded by a lack of physical
The Jury had extensive contact with Ken Lanning, head of the FBI
Behavioral Sciences Investigation Unit. Mr. Lanning has spent ten years in
nationwide search for reliable evidence of satanic ritual abuse. He has
found none. It is his position that if satanic ritual abuse were occurring
his unit would have found some concrete evidence during their exhaustive
Mr. Lanning advised jurors that epidemic allegations of satanic abuse
frequently follow conferences where social workers and therapists are
exposed to a "survivor" or speaker on the subject. Jurors attended one of
these sessions at a national conference on child abuse held locally and
coordinated by the Center for Child Protection. "Survivors" told about
their abuse in detail. One "survivor" had memories of sexual abuse on the
day she was born. This same survivor reported memories of her mother's
attempts to abort her. Another "survivor" told a detailed story of satanic
ritual abuse which included a large number of prominent citizens from her
Mr. Lanning also stated that the blurring of the diagnosis of
dissociative disorder and a resulting logically false conclusion is at
least partially responsible. This opinion was confirmed by other expert
witnesses. The DSM-III defines Multiple Personality Disorder under
Dissociative Disorders. Multiple Personality Disorder is an unusual
condition with childhood abuse (often sexual) as a predisposing factor.
Therapists who have expanded the parameters of the dissociative disorder
diagnosis to include any form of dissociation have fallen prey to the
logical fallacy followed that all of these patients also suffered severe
childhood trauma. Proponents of this theory believe that with a
sympathetic therapist, if any dissociative disorder is found, memories of
childhood abuse will follow.
According to professional testimony, there is some evidence that many
patients who receive therapy from a therapist who ascribes to this theory,
will eventually "testify" to such memories. In fact, the "memories" may be
the product of the therapist. The therapy itself may be the abuse. John
Money, Ph.D. of Johns Hopkins University has labeled this abuse in therapy
as nosocomial abuse. (8)
Grand Jurors viewed a Calvacade video circulated by a County official.
This video shows "therapy" being given to very young "victims".
Professionals advised that the type of therapy used in this video could be
defined as nosocomaial abuse.
The alleged satanic abuse cases which have surfaced nationwide during
the past ten years share many common elements. No matter how incredible
the allegations, the "believers" believe them. No physical evidence is
found,. The "believers" have complex theories to explain the absence of
physical findings and evidence. The "evidence" presented is the testimony
of children. The children testify to fantastic tales which can not be
confirmed. The children have spent a considerable time with therapists.
Most often, religious fundamentalism is an element. Frequently, a
"survivor" or someone who has "memories" of having been ritually abused as
a child is involved either as the therapist, the social worker, the
prosecutor, or the reporting party. Criminal trial juries find it hard to
believe that children can tell such incredible stories if nothing has
happened to them. They find themselves faced with either believing the
children are lying or the perpetrator is guilty. In some cases they have
chosen to believe the children. Another option is to choose to believe
that the child"s narrative memory has been contaminated by the therapy.
Of particular interest is the information the Jury received about the
Little Rascals pre-school case in North Carolina. Eighty-five percent of
the percent of the children received therapy with three therapists in the
town; all of these children eventually reported satanic abuse. Fifteen
percent of the children were treated by different therapists in a
neighboring city; none of the children reported abuse of any kind after
the same period of time in therapy.
Experts have told the Jury that the first story a young child tells is
most likely the true one. Testimony given by very young children after a
year in therapy should be treated with great caution. Testimony given by
children after a year in therapy with therapists who are "believers"
should be treated with deep skepticism.
The Grand Jury is aware that the Department of Social Services has
reevaluated the investigative protocols on ritual and satanic abuse. The
social worker who investigated in this area has been reassigned and the
Ritual Abuse report is no longer being distributed by the Commission on
Children and Youth. This is as it should be.
SB 1771 (Russell) is currently before the state legislator. If passed,
it will create a state-wide task force on ritualistic child abuse. By
statute, this task force will be made up of fourteen members chosen by two
groups, one of which is the Los Angeles County Commission for Women Task
Force on Ritual Abuse. Much of San Diego County's Report on Ritualistic
Abuse was borrowed from materials compiled by this group. The purpose of
this state task force is ostensibly to determine the extent of the problem
of ritualistic abuse. It would appear that the selection process makes
this task force less than objective. The Jury strongly urges the Board of
Supervisors and San Diego's Department of Social Services to oppose this
Child sexual abuse issues are complex. These issues bring out the
strongest bias in the dependency system. There is little attempt to view
or treat sexual abuse on a spectrum of severity. All molest issues are
treated in much the same way. The system has made little distinction
between molest and assault.
At the time "Families in Crisis" was issued, procedures still dictated
pulling children whenever sexual molest was alleged. Frequently, children
were re-victimized by being pulled from their homes even when there was a
protective parent, and removal of the perpetrator was an option.
The Grand Jury recognizes the need for careful investigation in these
complicated cases due to the risk to the child if left in a dangerous
situation. It is necessary that investigation be done by highly trained,
Bias in the system frequently prevents an objective observation of the
case, particularly cases which have originated as custody disputes in
Children "in denial" who are placed in therapy for sexual abuse should
be with highly-qualified therapists who will not contaminate the child.
The Department of Social Services has recently instituted a task force
on Sexual Abuse issues. The Grand Jury recommends that this task force be
expanded to include formerly impacted parents and psychologists who
specialize in Family Court evaluations. This task force should be asked to
provide recommendations to the Department of Social Services, the Juvenile
Court, and Family Court Services.
1) Child Abuse Accommodation Syndrome has been used excessively to
explain "denial", "recantation", "disclosure" by
children after they have spent months in therapy. The Pennsylvania
Supreme Court in Com vs. Dunkle 604 A.2d 30 1992 reversed the lower
court and found that admission of expert testimony on this syndrome
was reversible error. The Court noted that the expert did not relate
any of her testimony to the child in question. Finding that "abused
children react in myriad ways and that abused and non-abused children
often exhibit similar behavior problems, the court fount that "(T)he
existence of a child abuse syndrome as either a generally accepted
diagnostic tool or as relevant evidence is not supportable "and
therefor inadmissible. The court also determined that the expert's
testimony failed to meet the threshold determination of relevance and
Finally the Court found that the expert's testimony concerning the
reasons abused children delay reporting an incident of abuse to family
members, why children omit details of the abuse and why a sexually abused
child may be unable to recall dates and times of abuse were "not beyond
the realm of the average layman" and, thus, were inappropriate subject of
2) The system has responded with therapeutic
"deniers groups" designed to induce admissions. However, as one father
quipped, there is no denier group for those who are truly innocent.
3) This case has been with the Family Court Case
Study Team (FCCST) during the entire tenure of this Jury. There were
numerous delays in the evaluation process. These delays were all
attributed to the mother's failure to follow through and to her
intentional obstruction of the process. The evaluation has been
complete for three months but the mother now has refused to pay her
half of the $3,000.00 owed to the psychological evaluator. The
evaluator refuses to release the report until he received
payment. Michael and Calle had several joint sessions with their
father during the evaluation process. Michael was at ease with his
father. Calle was angry at first but relaxed during the visits. A
psychologist on the FCCST strongly recommended that these children be
sent to live with their father for a three month summer vacation He
felt that this would allow the children to readjust to their father
without contamination. There was team consensus with this
recommendation but given the current deadlock over the release of the
evaluation it is doubtful that anything will occur anytime soon. The
father has had no visits with the children since the evaluation
process was completed.
4) An independent psychological evaluation of the
whole family was requested by father's counsel and then ordered by the
court after the new therapists for the minors reported
contamination. The court-appointed psychiatrist prepared this
evaluation to be ready for the contested disposition in February. This
evaluation was favorable to the father and confirmed the therapists in
their concern about contamination by the maternal family. The mother's
attorney informed her of the conclusions of this evaluation several
days before the trial. The mother did not appear at disposition. It
has subsequently been learned that the entire family has disappeared
and is probably relocated in Chile. A bench warrant was issued for the
mother's arrest. Since Chile is not a signatory to the Hague
Convention guidelines, there are no remedies available to this
father. The father has been granted a rehearing before a judge. The
father has also appealed the jurisdictional decision of the lower
court on numerous grounds. Interestingly, minor's appellate counsel
has agreed with the elements of the father's appeal. Note: 6/11//92 In
the rehearing the trial judge determined that there was new evidence,
that the referee had erred in not allowing evidence exculpatory to the
father, and hence reversed the true finding against the father.
5) There has been little change in this case. The
father now has only supervised visitation once a month with his
6) The following studied cases are offered as
examples. *A school teacher was tried for child abuse after pushing a
child. A jury found her not guilty. It was acknowledged by the
supervising Deputy D.A. that this was a weak case, prosecuted "to
teach a lesson, test the parameters of the law, educate the public."
*A teenager was prosecuted for felony child molest upon an allegation
by a foster child in his mother's home. There was no physical
evidence. The D.A.'s office prosecuted despite its awareness that this
child's DSS file contained references to previous unfounded
allegations as well as psychological evaluations of the child as a
pathological liar. *A step-grandfather was prosecuted for the felony
child molest of his 11 year old granddaughter. He and the family
adamantly denied the allegations. Again, DSS files available to the
D.A. contained contradictory information and evaluations of the child
as a pathological liar. There was also a child molest report involving
the natural father and the child. None of this information was
revealed to the defense. The child testified at the preliminary
hearing but was not cross-examined. At the time of trial, the
D.A. stated that the child could not be located. The preliminary
hearing testimony of the child was entered. The step-grandfather was
convicted. Between conviction and sentencing the defense became aware
that the child's whereabouts was known, and had been know, by the
D.A. The defense asked for a re-trial; it has been granted.
7) Ritual Abuse p.5
8) The False Memory Syndrome Foundation, located
in Philadelphia, was established in February, 1992. The Advisory Board
of FMS Foundation includes twenty Professors of Psychology and
Psychiatry from the University of Pennsylvania, Harvard, UCLA,
Stanford, John Hopkins, UC Berkely, Carnegie Mellow University. The
Foundation is deeply concerned about the growing phenomenon of false
accusations coming out of therapy. The Foundation is concerned that
this dangerous phenomenon will ultimately impact the profession's
credibility. Already they attribute inappropriate therapy with
destroying families and creating abuse in the minds of children and
NOTE: The original report had attached the following which are only noted
California Child Abuse Reporting Law; Penal Code, Article 2.5.; Child
Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act. Sections: 11164, 11165, 11165.1, 11165.2,
Sexual Assault; Penal Code; Sections 261, 264.1, 285, 286, 289, 288, 288a,
Sexual Exploitation; Penal Code Section 311.2.
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank