False Theories, Courts’ Denial Silence Victims
The Washington Lawyer’s June 2012 cover story concerning child abuse reporting laws addressed an important question arising in the wake of the Penn State and Catholic Church sexual abuse scandals. However, the article makes, in passing, troubling statements that require a rebuttal.
In a section titled “False Accusations,” the article trots out the old saw about “[d]ivorce proceedings, custody disputes, and other family and relationship battles” as “hotbeds of false accusations,” a sentiment attributed to an attorney who specializes in the defense of accused child abusers and to a professor at the University of Virginia Law School. In fact, the myth of rampant false child abuse accusations in custody litigation is both pernicious and false.
The only substantial empirical research on the question found that only 12 percent to 14 percent of child sexual abuse allegations in custody litigation were intentionally false. Of these, custodial mothers and children were the least likely to fabricate claims (only 14 percent of fabrications), and noncustodial fathers were the most likely (43 percent of all fabrications) to make intentionally false reports. In fact, the researchers suggested that “high rates of unsubstantiated maltreatment” was the greater problem. (N. Trocmé and N. Bala, False Allegations of Abuse and Neglect When Parents Separate, Child Abuse & Neglect, 2005.)
These data perfectly reflect what those of us working to end abuse know from experience. My organization specializes in appeals on behalf of adult and child victims of abuse. The vast majority of pleas for help we receive (from the District of Columbia and across the country) are from mothers desperate to protect their children from an abusive father while fighting a family court system that refuses to believe the allegations. Often this disbelief persists in the face of multiple expert opinions and additional factual corroboration, even including, for example, genital warts on young children.
Fraudulent theories like “parental alienation syndrome” are routinely used to silence both children and protective parents, leading courts to chalk up abuse claims to a “vengeful” or pathological mother and a “brainwashed” child. Courts’ denial of genuine child abuse and of the impact of domestic violence on children is ubiquitous—and it exists in the D.C. Superior Court as well. The phenomenon of “battered women losing custody” based on this systemic denial of abuse has even reached the ears of the U.S. Department of Justice, which last year hosted two roundtables on the subject, and is currently funding several technical assistance and research projects seeking to reform family courts in this respect.
Sophisticated media like Washington Lawyer should not disseminate the predictable cry of defense lawyers about false abuse claims, but should listen instead to the cries of children and their protective parents who are being silenced and sacrificed by our own justice system’s denial.
Director, Domestic Violence Legal Empowerment and Appeals Project, and George Washington University
Law School professor
Reproductive Technology and the Catholic Church
Anna Stolley Persky’s July/August cover story “Reproductive Technology and the Law” highlighted a number of the challenging legal issues raised by the increasingly common use of assisted reproductive technology (ART), while also exposing areas where current law is inadequate.
Persky did not, however, make a sufficient effort to describe the moral objections to the use of ART. Although aware of the Catholic Church’s opposition to certain practices, she did little to explain the basis for the Church’s views. This was an unfortunate gap in an otherwise engaging article.
Civil law provides the structural principles for how we live in society. Moreover, laws often play a decisive role in influencing our patterns of thought and behavior. As we consider how to modify the legal framework governing the “flourishing science of creating babies” described by Persky, we would do well to first thoroughly understand the moral basis for objections to the use of ART.
The Vatican’s instruction concerning ART, Dignitas Personae, which is referenced in Persky’s article, begins its analysis with recognition that “[t]he embryonic human body develops progressively according to a well-defined program” from conception to birth, and is, at every point of development, a human being. This established, Dignitas Personae then evaluates the use of ART on the basis of whether or not it violates the philosophical imperative that every human being be fully respected, whether near death or prebirth, and treated with the dignity proper to a person.
Whether or not we agree with other Church teachings, such as its conviction that men and women are created in the image and likeness of God, the Church’s cogent analysis provides a valuable template for evaluating ART and the laws pertaining to it.
—Thomas A. Wilson
The Law Office of
Thomas A. Wilson, PLLC
In the September 2012 issue, a “Legal Beat” article about D.C. Superior Court Chief Judge Satterfield’s reappointment contained a reference to a candidates’ forum cohosted by the D.C. Judicial Nomination Commission (JNC). The JNC was the sole host of that forum.
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