Here it is 2010. It’s been over 20 years since the McMartin Preschool, Fells Acres and other scandals sent innocent people to prison for sexual abuse of children that never took place. The primary weapon used against them was the manner in which children were induced to make up fictional abuse and then testify to it in court. Essentially, adults questioning the children were so imbued with the righteousness of their cause that they ignored the children’s persistent answers that no abuse had occurred. Through relentless suggestive and leading questioning, the adults got the answers they wanted.
And what they wanted was nothing less than the most lurid, salacious accounts imaginable. Small children tied to trees and sexually mutilated by adults wielding large carving knives was a favorite of the Fells Acres mob. Sexual perverts? You’d better believe it. But they weren’t the children’s teachers; they were their inquisitors.
By the early 1990s, social science and law enforcement had combined to produce protocols for the proper questioning of children in cases of alleged physical or sexual abuse. One of the signal features of Tonya Craft’s recent case is that those protocols weren’t used. That failure was a key element of Craft’s successful defense. It likely will also be a key element of her civil suit against her accusers.
The fact that the protocols for questioning children are so well established, makes this case out of Scotland all the more outrageous (The Scotsman, 7/16/10). To put it in a nutshell, a father was attempting to gain some form of custody of his two children. To combat his claim, his ex-partner’s attorney,
advised her of “dirty tricks” that she might use to secure residence with the children and cut off contact with the father completely.
And that’s just what the mother did. She reported to the court that the father had sexually abused their five-year-old daughter. An “investigation” ensued in which the child’s questioners did exactly what you’re not supposed to do when questioning a child.
The court found there was a catalogue of inappropriate direct questioning, including leading and closed questions.
According to the judgment, the interviews broke almost all the rules set out in the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Protocol which is regarded as the gold standard of interviewing children.
Here’s how that “investigation” is now being characterized by the sheriff who’s been investigating the “investigators:”
He described the second interview as “one of the worst I have seen”.
He continued: “Dr R (a child psychologist] considered the interviewing of (the girl] to be worse than the interviewing of children that led to the Orkney inquiry because here it was so deliberate.
It alarmed them that all these years later there was direct questioning of the child because she was not saying what the interviewers wanted to hear. (The witness] was concerned at the driven nature of the interviews in drawing things out of the child and putting things in the child’s mind.”
The Orkney case happened in 1991 and, like our own McMartin Preschool and other cases, it spurred Scottish authorities to establish their own protocol for questioning children. It’s one of the signal features of this case that, nineteen years later, those protocols were forthrightly ignored.
And, as with all such cases, it’s not just the father who’s the victim of the zealots, it’s the little girl too. Here was a five-year-old who was coerced into saying the most outrageous and false things about her father whom she presumably loves. What did that do to her psyche? And, having finally knuckled under to her inquisitor’s demands, she was then subjected to a pelvic exam by a stranger. Nice.
A full investigation, including joint interviews with police and social workers, led to an intimate examination of the girl, a move the child psychologist said was “unjustified”; had been a “significant event” for a girl of that age; and one she was uncomfortable with.
Who were the sexual abusers here? It begins to look like the lawyer, the mother, the police and the social worker. The father, after all, was completely exonerated.
But there’s more – much more.
According to the sheriff investigating the matter and many other experts, the problem is not just in this one, isolated case; it’s system-wide.
In a devastating court judgment – which experts said highlighted “serious systemic problems” of malpractice throughout the child protection service – their conduct was described as worse than in the interviewing of children that led to the Orkney child abuse inquiry in 1991.
The country’s leading expert on the forensic interviewing of children said the case exposed a problem at the heart of child protection that was harming youngsters’ welfare…
In an article published in the Scots Law Times today, Dr David La Rooy of Abertay University and advocate John Halley said they wished to “highlight a serious systemic problem which is harming the welfare of children”.
They wrote: “The failures in this case are not dissimilar to the kinds of malpractice [we]regularly encounter in our respective practices in other cases of joint investigative interviewing of children in Scotland.”
The senior advocate said: “There is a problem that the social worker allocated to a case controls the narrative and I see frequently in child contact cases and child referrals, that they find themselves seeking to prove an allegation – often in a haphazard way – and that isn’t in the interests of justice or of the child.”
So what happened in the case reported on happens frequently. The result is that adults are accused of heinous crimes that never occurred and children are subjected to the type of abuse by social workers that took place here. And why? Not because they don’t know better. After all, the rules are written down in black and white. Anyone may read them.
But the type of zealotry that certain police officers and social workers bring to their perceived mission of proving the validity of any and all child abuse allegations regardless of how specious, apparently knows no bounds. In vain do the more responsible among them attempt to do the thing that is known to be right. The zealots will have none of it. What does it matter that the perils of their approach to child abuse allegations have been known for some 20 years? What does it matter if innocent people are jailed and children subjected to needless trauma and indignity? Why worry that their approach abuses the very children they’re supposed to protect, children who have not been previously abused?
Face it; there is a mindset that we see time and again in these situations. It holds that all allegations of child sexual abuse are to be believed, even in the absence of any evidence to support them. Does the child deny that he/she has been abused? No matter; he/she must be embarrassed, covering for a loved/feared adult, ignorant, unable to describe the abuse, etc. This mindset has no room for due process of law, for the presumption of innocence, for hearing the other side of the story. This mindset is unnaturally attracted to the idea of child sexual abuse.
It is not enough to establish rules for the proper questioning of children. That was done long ago and yet, by the very people who should know most about those rules and their proper application, they are ignored. If rules did the trick, the abuse of Scottish children by child “protective” authorities would not be ongoing. But it is.
No, rules are not the answer for these people. The answer is to fire the offenders and subject new hires to a rigorous vetting process that weeds out applicants with the mindset described above. Another answer is to subject them to civil suits for damages of the type Tonya Craft has filed. I don’t know if that remedy is available in Scotland, but it should be. It is in this country and can be an extremely effective deterrent.
And on that note, be advised that the sheriff investigating the case called for the two police officers and the social worker to be taken off of child abuse cases until they’re properly trained. The police department did just that,
But Edinburgh City Council insisted, despite having removed Ms Black from the case in question, it retained full confidence in the social worker and she remained on child protection duty.
A council spokesman said: “We are satisfied that our social worker was acting in the best interests of the child and they continue to work in child protection.
Thanks to Malcolm for the heads-up.