Rhode Island taxpayers have contributed an enormous sum to wage a war that most of us know nothing about. The systems our state established to protect children have instead subjected many to danger and trauma that will profoundly shape the rest of their lives. Who will help to build public awareness and political consensus to protect children from those who prey on them or who profit from their abuse? How should government respond in ways that are transparent and accountable?
Sunday, May 11, 2008
As of today, Mother’s Day 2008, the State of Rhode Island has held "Molly," 7, and "Sara," 11, (not their real names) in custody for 766 days and nights, nearly eleven months longer than Iranian militants held Americans hostage during a tense standoff from 1979 to 1981. Should we compare these two events and the political agendas they represent?
In one, 52 adults were held together under armed threat for 444 days before being released and returned to their loved ones. In the second, two young sisters have been removed from their mother and life-long home, and then isolated from each other for 766 days and nights. They have not yet been released or returned to their home and loved ones.
Today is their third Mother's Day without the mother that both adore. You decide if Molly and Sara are "hostages" to a political agenda that violently assaults their freedom and rights as Americans.
Police removed the girls from their schools on April 7, 2006, when they were 5 and 9 years old—at a time in life when one week at summer camp can be traumatic. Given no other explanation, the older girl wrote that a foster mother told them their mother had "mental problems." It was a lie, and the children knew it.
More than two years later, the girls, who once did everything together, are permitted to see each other and their mother for only two hours a week at the DCYF office. While voices of wisdom plead for parents to listen to their children, Rhode Island has made it impossible for these sisters to have any meaningful contact with their mother or with each other.
Why? How did it happen?
To their neighbors, friends, and especially their mother, these days, weeks, months, and years have brought a sense of horror that such a thing could occur anywhere in the United States.
Their mother is neither abusive nor neglectful. Quite the contrary, she is an extraordinary parent who wrote and illustrated whimsical journals for each girl since birth, a series that grew into more than ten handwritten books.
She wrote mostly in Swiss-German, the birth language that state authorities now forbid the girls to speak, for fear they will speak against their father. She recorded their adventures . . .
and ordinary things like gardening and handcrafts, the things they noticed in nature, the comments they made, and early childhood experiences they might otherwise forget.
Their life changed in 2003 when Molly, at the age of three, began to protest the "sausage games" that she said her father insisted on playing when her mother was at work and her sister at school. She drew graphic pictures of him, and reenacted male masturbation so convincingly that DCYF investigated and issued a finding of sexual molestation against the father.
This was not the first time his family faced allegations of child sexual abuse. On June 17, 1981, the District Court in Winterthur, Switzerland, convicted his own father at age 55 of molesting three boys, two of them in foster care and mentally handicapped, and one a deaf mute.
The Swiss newspaper, Landbote (June 18, 1981), said the defendant was a psychoanalyst and served as part-time caretaker for one of the boys. He professed his shame and remorse, insisting that the boys were not seriously handicapped and he only meant to help them. He considered himself a "frustrated rebel" with self-destructive tendencies and possibly split personality. The court found that he had abused a position of trust and sentenced him to eighteen months in prison plus five years on probation.
He left prison and soon offended again, facing charges of child sex abuse and child pornography. His family hid incriminating photographs and helped him escape, but he was arrested in France and returned to prison. He now lives as an admitted pedophile in the Philippines, where poor families have few alternatives to accepting money from those who molest their children.
After his granddaughters were born in Rhode Island, the aging pederast came to visit. Eventually his status as a convicted sex offender barred him from entering the United States. Rhode Island records show that the grandfather had molested other children--not only unrelated boys in Switzerland, but also his own sons. His family apparently never reported this to Swiss authorities.
One of his sons is now a leading divorce lawyer in Zurich, where websites quote him as an advocate for fathers. He complains of the hysteria of mothers using sex abuse allegations to keep children from fathers. Society’s fear of pedophiles is too extreme, he says, and the Swiss courts' failure to assure joint custody for fathers "almost invites you to play blackmail."
Erpressungsspielen is the German word the brother used for blackmail, and it may have begun in earnest in 2003, when he gave his brother in Rhode Island a Swiss article about American psychiatrist Richard Gardner’s success accusing mothers of "alienating" their children against their fathers.
According to the girls' mother, her husband threw the page at her, saying, "This article describes you exactly," as she and the girls were leaving home on the morning of March 3, 2003, for their drive to Providence.
That summer the girls and their mother flew to Zurich to visit her elderly parents, who eagerly welcomed their only grandchildren. Their mother documented the trip in a special journal.
Now in their late 80's and too frail to travel, the couple have not seen their grandchildren since that visit in 2003.
Back in Rhode Island, an angry father met his wife and daughters at the airport. His wife remembers him saying: "You’ll pay for this." By Christmastime their younger daughter complained of the sausage games, and early in 2004, DCYF issued its finding of sexual molestation against him.
Yet he was never criminally prosecuted. His brother, the Zurich lawyer, came to Rhode Island to fight the finding against him. They met with police, DCYF staff, and others.
The brothers' earliest defense strategy was to use photos of their father with Molly to suggest that he could have molested her. In the Philippines, the grandfather insisted he had not done this, for he is solely interested in boys.
Molly never wavered from insisting that it was her own father who played the sausage game. She re-enacted and drew it emphatically.
More than two years have passed since neighbors began to bring this case to the attention of Rhode Island officials. Why was the case never prosecuted? Why are the girls now deprived of each other, their mother, and their home?
Molly and Sara are not the only children suffering in a system that offers ample opportunity for blackmail. How can we discern the whole truth in a system of adversarial litigation that lawyers and clinicians pump for billable hours? The process itself, functioning under the cloak of confidentiality and virtually devoid of rules, splinters cases down to meaningless motions for years on end. Working together, lawyers for the defense and for DCYF keep judges from grasping the entire story in its fullest context.
Which Rhode Island officials will use their subpoena power to investigate and find out which side has waged the campaign of misinformation that still travels like a virus through this case?
Confidential comments may be sent to Anne Grant at email@example.com
"Sara" and "Molly" had eagerly prepared the hamster cage for a new tenant. On April 7, 2006, they waited excitedly for school to end and their mother to drive them to the pet shop.
Instead the guardian ad litem produced an emergency motion to remove the girls from their mother for psychiatric evaluation. Police went to their schools and took them into state custody. They were 5 and 9 years old.
At a foster home, they met their foster mother, Alice. Always an organizer, Sara worked out a plan. She would write messages to Mami (which means and sounds like "mommy") in her notebook. She would ask Mami to bring another notebook just like it when she visits, so they could write to each other all week long and exchange notebooks (secretly if necessary) to read what the other had written, then write some more.
"Mami, I asked Alice why I am a foster child," Sara writes. "She said that the father is 'not guilty.' Then she said that you have 'mental problems.' I can’t believe it."
Sara signs her name with an arrow pointing to a drawing of herself crying.
Mami writes to reassure Sara:
"Alice has never seen me, has never talked to me, she has no idea what happened in our family. Forget about what she said, don't worry."
Mami decorates her message with hearts, a smiling sun and flower:
"I am normal. I am simpler, more fun to be around than most people. If I were sick in my head, I wouldn't have so many friends, and all those friends would have noticed a long time ago."
Molly and Sara will be allowed to see their mother under strict supervision in a DCYF office building for two hours each week. Mami brings music, food, flowers, games, crafts a day ahead to be thoroughly searched.
Molly makes a drawing of them all smiling, with their cheerful Swiss balloon floating nearby. Under the circumstances, it is a happy time just being together: "I am having a wonderful Mami-visit," writes Molly.
"I can't wait till I see you again next week," writes Sara, "till I can stay overnight. Until I can live with you again. Alice said that she doesn't believe [Molly], that the father has done the sausage game with her. Then I asked, 'How could a child make something up like that?'
"Then Alice said, 'They do it all the time!'"
Is this what DCYF staff told the foster mother? Other staff later reveal that they, too, are being told false information about Molly "recanting."
Mami reassures Sara: "Believe what you have seen and heard. Be honest & true to yourself."
"I stand by [Molly]," writes their mother. "She has a rough time. She needs you and needs your trust, [Sara]. You are strong together . . . .
"My life is broken," writes Sara, "and I can't stand it anymore. . . . [Molly] doesn't seem to eat much."
"[Sara], you are never alone," writes her mother. "Pray, pray, pray. God has a plan for you, and for [Molly], and for everyone."
"Be strong and full of confidence that everything will work out in the end. I can’t wait till both of you are with me again."
"I think of you all the time: What are you doing? How are you doing? I am looking so forward till you are here with me. I love you. Tell [Molly] many hugs and kisses. Your Mami."
"Good night, Mami. You are the best! See you tomorrow in my diary. You are the best Mami in the world."
They are strictly forbidden to speak Swiss-German, which their father calls their "mother tongue." His lawyers say Mami uses Swiss-German to tell them bad things about him. They are moved from one foster home to another, and finally into a shelter before school starts.
By Christmas Eve, they have been in custody for 262 days. They are not allowed to sing Christmas carols with Mami, because they only know them in Swiss-German. But Mami brings a Christmas tree, candles, food and gifts anyway.
The Children's Museum receives federal funds to provide free supervised visits for parents and children under the government's "reunification" policy. But DCYF does not approve the girls and Mami for the Families Together program. Instead they intend to remove Molly and Sara from their mother and to "reunify" them--or at least Molly--with her father.
If Mami wants extra visits, she can hire the Families Together director as a private contractor at $75 an hour, including travel time for her girls and the director. Mami will also need to pay their cab fare from the shelter--about $24. Less than a two-hour visit could easily cost $200. There is no way Mami can afford it.
Sometimes people take the girls for a weekend away from the shelter. But always, they bring them back. Molly draws this picture of herself and Sara waving goodbye to the people who are leaving them behind. It is a nightmare they cannot escape.
Confidential comments may be sent to Anne Grant at firstname.lastname@example.org
By August 6, 2007, the girls' 487th day in custody, ten-year-old Sara struggles to remember the home she had lived in all her life. She draws it from memory and creates an enormous diagram, detailing each room with a numbered key listing furniture, doors and windows.
Her drawings are straight, but her handwriting runs downhill, a common sign of depression.
Her kitchen diagram is accurate, but it longs for the human dimension and nourishment that her mother had drawn in their journals:
To keep her spirits up, Sara makes a list of THINGS TO DO ON OUR FIRST DAY HOME.
Her dream-activities contrast to life in the shelter, where staff use television for rewards and punishment, profanity is a constant, and strangers say her mother has mental problems. The first item on Sara's list is "Wash clothes so they smell good." Here is the list:
Wash clothes so they smell good
run around in back yard
play piano together
play a game
do arts & crafts
flop on our bed
go for a walk @ the beach
go to Home Depot to get stuff to build clubhouse
plant in garden
Sara's 11th birthday arrives before that month ends. After more than 500 days in state custody, DCYF moves the sisters out of the shelter. They give Molly to her father in another state, and they send Sara to yet another foster home.
DCYF seems intent on breaking Sara's spirit, convincing her that her mother has mental problems, forcing her to visit her father. Why?
From now on the sisters will see each other during their mother's visits at the DCYF office for two hours a week.
Confidential comments may be sent to Anne Grant at email@example.com
Later they read my op-ed about the damage being done to children through allegations of parental alienation and asked if I would look into this case. "Family Court Devastation: Discredited 'Parental Alienation Syndrome'," (The Providence Journal, June 27, 2006) is online at http://www.projo.com/opinion/contributors/content/projo_20060627_ctgrant.184a360.html
During years spent researching custody cases at no charge, I developed a procedure to identify those parents who are genuinely protective. Before I agree to investigate a case, I request documents, photographs, school papers, police and medical records, whatever will help me understand the history of this family. Although agency staffers are forbidden to disclose their own information, any parent is free to share their documents with me. Psychological evaluations are not confidential when prepared for court.
This is a test. When litigation is underway, it becomes impossible to speak to both parents. Will I be given only those documents favorable to one of them? Or will I also get those that affirm the other parent? Will either one's demeanor suggest a motive of self-aggrandizement, revenge, or a desire to use children for retribution?
This mother passed the test. She immediately provided the full range of documents. She was eager to do anything to protect her children. I interviewed people who knew the family. We photographed their home. I felt confident from all the information that the mother is not just a good parent, but an outstanding one. She loves her work as a neuroscientist, but places her first priority on her children.
I organized these documents chronologically with others from the court file and tracked the mention of "parental alienation" and the build-up of a defense strategy. One trail led from the Zurich lawyer to his brother in Rhode Island, who hired a criminal defense attorney, who hired a private investigator, who reached out to an elderly home child care provider, whose biased opinions got seeded into the court record through an array of reports that included those of the private investigator, the DCYF hearing officer, the guardian ad litem, and the clinical psychologist.
Ethical standards should assure that there are no conflicts of interest, but adversarial litigation is fraught with conflicts due to the extensive use of privately hired contractors who, especially in a small state, have personal and professional relationships with each other. They may hesitate to challenge errors and ethical lapses that occurred earlier in the process.
In this case, as in many I have researched, credentialed "experts" not only overlooked mistakes in the record; some repeated and even amplified hearsay and misleading opinions as if they were true. The lack of objective information and evidentiary integrity in these documents would be ludicrous if it were not so devastating to vulnerable children.
LICENSED CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGIST #1
For example, on September 15, 2004, a court-ordered licensed clinical psychologist speaks on the phone with the child care provider, who describes the girls' mother as "a very odd person" and says the mother was "at times jealous that [Molly] was closer to her father."
Three pages later in his January 2005 report, the psychologist repeats this from the report of the private investigator: "[Child care provider] says that [mother] was resentful and jealous of the fact that [Molly] was much closer to her father than to her mother."
The psychologist repeats it again on the next page, quoting the DCYF hearing officer's report, who appears to be quoting another report: "The child's daycare provider was interviewed and stated that [mother] was jealous of the loving and warm relationship between [father] and his children."
Later, similar words come from the father, himself, who tells the psychologist: "[My wife] was just jealous of me and resentful that [Molly] was close to me. She was also envious that I made more money than her and got to present workshops all over the world."
The psychologist does not seem to pick up the fact that the father's exact words, "jealous" and "resentful," are those used by the child care provider and repeated in other reports. He does not question whether the father is "coaching" the elderly woman.
Providence is a small city, and it was not hard for me to locate members of this woman's family who also knew Molly's family. Seeking an independent reality-check, I met with them separately and showed each the quotes attributed to their relative. Each one stated that the woman probably said those words, but that the quotes do not accurately describe Molly, Sara, or the girls' reactions to their parents.
Each relative told me that the girls relied emotionally on their mother and avoided their father. They credited the mother with these girls' extraordinary brightness and creativity. One of the relatives wept openly when I told him that Molly and Sara were in a state shelter.
"That's unbelievable!" he said repeatedly, affirming that the girls' mother is "unusual," but "she is a very good mother." The relatives each told me that the girls' father constantly visits this woman, whose unsubstantiated opinion became critical to the case. In the end, the father’s defense team may have realized her testimony could not hold up in court, for they never called her as a witness.
But the harm was done. The psychologist not only believed her, but placed her support for the father at the top of his list of reasons for concluding: "To a reasonable degree of psychological certainty, [the father] did not sexually or physically abuse" [Molly and Sara] and that [their mother] "coached the children to make negative and false statements against their father."
Amazingly, the psychologist assigns greater credibility to this simple phone conversation than to the detailed reports of trained therapists who met with the girls for dozens of sessions at Day One, the Sexual Assault and Trauma Resource Center. He notes that these therapists "are firmly convinced that [Molly] was sexually assaulted by her father and that [Sara] was physically abused. They do not feel that [the mother] coached the children."
The psychologist stops these therapists from working with the girls during his evaluation, even though he admits a possibility that Molly’s paternal grandfather may have molested her. He reports that both girls told him disturbing things that he later discounts, as when "Molly," 4, says: "My dad bumped my head on the floor because he don't love me." Here are more quotes from his report:
When [Molly] was asked why her father does not live with her, she made the following statement: 'He made bad stuff to us like sausage game, and I did not like it at all'.
[Molly] was asked to draw a picture of the sausage game, and she drew a 4-inch long oval shape. In the middle of the oval, she drew scribbling lines. She described the oval as a sausage and the scribbling lines as the hand of her father, but refused to elaborate.
When [Molly] was asked if she had bad dreams, she replied, 'About the sausage game'.
The psychologist asks Molly to show the sausage game on an anatomically correct drawing of a male figure, and she marks the penis. When he asks her to show the sausage game on a female figure, she is "not responsive" and soon complains that he is asking her "too many questions."
In Molly's last session, the psychologist asks her again about the sausage game, and she says: "My dad does the sausage game and he touches." The psychologist continues: "As she made this statement, she touched her vagina and the vagina of a doll. She laughed and giggled and showed no sign of alarm, but refused to discuss the issue further."
The psychologist fails to recognize the giggle and laughter as a likely sign of embarrassment for a 4-year-old girl to say these things when she is alone with a grown man who may have a sausage of his own. Instead he discounts all her disclosures, because [Molly] "never seemed frightened or upset. She always smiled and was positive."
The clinician describes Sara the same way: "She told me she had never had a positive experience with her father, but said this with a smile on her face. She did not appear to be distressed, anxious, or concerned."
He does not seem to grasp what the girls, themselves, know. A year later, Sara tries to help her troubled little sister by pretending she is her teacher. She gives Molly an assignment from a workbook about feelings. She asks Molly to draw feelings that she sometimes hides under a mask.
Molly understands the assignment. She identifies the feelings she does not like to show: scared, mad, and worried. She sees herself replacing them with these masks: happy, normal, silly. Like a good teacher, her big sister affirms her work with an A+. It does not require a PhD in psychology to comprehend these things.
Yet, this clinical psychologist is a leading evaluator of sexual molestation cases for the Rhode Island Family Court.
DCYF HEARING OFFICER
A cauldron of misinformation was bubbling as the psychologist prepared his report during the same months that the DCYF hearing officer wrote her decision late in 2004. Explanations diverged from one report to the other.
For example, both reports mention the father and daughter bathing together as more significant than just parental concern for cleanliness. The psychologist reports that the father told him Molly had asked twice to join him in the bathtub before he let her. Meanwhile, the DCYF hearing officer reports that the father said he bathed with Molly "because he wanted to be close to his young daughter."
The hearing officer wrote that the father blamed the mother for "influences of what he termed Parental Alienation Syndrome." The hearing officer knew about the father's own father, who has a criminal record as a pedophile; about his brother's work as a lawyer specializing in cases like this; about the opinions of the elderly child care provider. She knew there was other evidence. She could have insisted on seeing it, but she did not.
DCYF gave her no exhibits, not even its original report indicating the father for sexual molestation. She heard from no other witnesses except the father and the child protective investigator, whom she chastised for failing to translate the mother's journals. She never met the mother, who did not realize this hearing was being held.
The hearing officer flipped the case from a finding of sexual molestation against the father to a charge of "parental alienation" against the mother, which is neither a crime, nor a provable allegation.
Without meeting the mother, the DCYF hearing officer labeled her "behavior and conduct … highly unorthodox and rather suspicious." She stated: "This maternal behavior casts a shadow over the reliability of the child’s statements . . . ."
Clinicians and court officers, including the guardian ad litem, repeated her assertions to the judge in their own reports, as if these were findings of fact.
DCYF had never considered the children in any danger with their mother. Molly and Sara stayed with her for sixteen more months while the father's legal team built his case to remove them.
The hearing officer's unusual name appeared online in April 2007, when she published an essay, apparently to attract fathers to her private law practice, and her bias against mothers became clearer than ever:
It is amazing in today's modern society that many women revert to touting their traditional roles of cooking, cleaning, laundry and being the tender hands of motherhood to elevate their argument to a pedestal of holy motherhood.
In a later article she mocked "the pedestal which still elicits a knee-jerk reaction to the hallowed image of mother and child."
LICENSED CLINICAL SOCIAL WORKER
As the legal process subjected the children to constant interviews with clinicians, they began to express frustration and anger.
Children in this situation get asked the same questions by so many different adults that they begin to sound rehearsed, giving rise to allegations that the mother is quizzing and coaching them. They fret over their answers afterward, especially when they begin to hear their own words thrown back at them as evidence against their mothers.
The guardian ad litem contacted and worked closely with a licensed clinical social worker who used the silent treatment to enforce her authority. She would sit in silence with the girls and their mother, until the mother finally asked why they were there. The social worker remained silent, as if to taunt them: You are nothing. I cannot even hear you.
Sara distrusted her, and the clinician's report suggests the feeling was mutual.
DCYF contracted with this clinician to "reunite" the younger girl with her father. The social worker writes, "it does not seem possible . . . to make a determination of whether and/or how there was sexual abuse . . . ."
Nevertheless, she takes Molly, by then five years old, into a room alone with her father. The girl is horrified. She turns her back on him and screams "for 20 or 30 minutes." Exhausted, the child accepts a glass of water from the social worker, who soothes her feverish face with a wet cloth and begins talking quietly. She gets the child to enter a conversation about "small topics" with her father. Exactly the same procedure might be used to "groom" a child for molestation.
Molly's drawings show the effect this had on her. After one of her forced visits with her father, she portrays herself as handless, helpless, and bereft.
GUARDIAN AD LITEM (LAW GUARDIAN)
My earliest clue that this case might be a custody scam came from the guardian ad litem's 2005 report, a short and paltry document that failed to meet the most basic standards in the manual she helped to write and teach, Guardian ad Litem Practice in Rhode Island Family Court. It included no interviews of neighbors in the community where the girls had spent their entire lives; it strung together cheap beads of innuendo and hearsay as if they were facts.
At $200 an hour the guardian ad litem charged $1,000 for her home visit, including $400 for travel alone. She barely mentions the home, except for these strange remarks that make her report resemble petty gossip:
In [mother's] study/office, two things jumped out. The first was that this is the only room that there was adult-sized furniture. The second thing was that almost all of the books were in German or French. Two books that stood out written in English were entitled something to the effect of, 'How to win your divorce case' and 'How to win your child in a custody battle.'
She makes only one further reference to the home: "The children share a small bedroom. [Their father's] opinion is that it would have been impossible to enter their room without awakening both children."
Perhaps the guardian felt a need to comment on the bedroom, since the DCYF hearing officer's decision favoring the father noted his comment that the bedroom was too small for him to enter at night without waking the older girl.
But their bedroom is not small. Moreover, the question of entering it at night is pointless, since Molly protested "sausage games" during the day in several areas of the house, when her mother and sister were gone. This is the type of irrelevant information that occupied hundreds of costly hours by countless professionals.
The guardian ad litem never mentions the sunny handcraft room, the walls full of vibrant children's paintings, the shelves of art books and games, the piano, or the absence of a TV. (The mother kept one in her bedroom, but said that the girls had neither interest nor time for television.)
Contrary to her description, the furniture throughout the home is a family-friendly blend of adult and child-sizes--a futon low to the floor, full-sized rocking chair and piano.
Bookshelves hold hundreds of books in English, art books for an abundantly artistic family, and academic books of a scientist who speaks five languages.
The girls' creativity, zest and humor have left their mark everywhere.
"Hi Mommy!" says the window. "Switzerland is cool!"
But the guardian ad litem's bias seemed to infect even the state's Child Advocate, who knew little about this case when I inquired, but clearly had been told, and seemed to accept the view, that this mother had "coached" her daughter to lie. I could see that the Advocate faced more pressing concerns, for her budget had been slashed, she was being forced to move her office, and she had just initiated a major class action suit against DCYF for failure to protect 3,000 children in their care.
Having approached every imagineable official with no results, I began putting my research about the case online at http://custodyscam.blogspot.com/ and urged legislators to examine it. The DCYF lawyer secured a strangely-worded court order to suppress the blog, though they knew and later admitted that Family Court has no authority over me.
The father's attorneys subpoenaed me to bring my documents to court. This gave me a unique opportunity to enter the closed courtroom and observe how the father's defense team huddled around him, including not only his civil and criminal lawyers, but also the DCYF attorney, and the guardian ad litem, who sat deep in his corner, as far from the mother as possible. By then, the father had paid the guardian about $12,000. She considered herself part of his team, and she threatened the mother with prison if the mother could not pay her thousands more.
The guardian was someone I had once respected as a champion of progressive causes. But she used her enormous influence with little regard for these children or for the truth. When I sought an attorney to argue my right to produce the blog, a prominent one agreed to help, until (as he apologetically explained) the guardian warned him not to get involved.
Even the American Civil Liberties Union refused my request for help. I knew the guardian volunteered with them, along with many of her friends. Ironically, the ACLU website reports that its Massachusetts affiliate's support for the pro-pedophile group, North American Man/Boy Love Association (NAMBLA), was based on a "robust freedom of speech for everyone."
CHILD PROTECTION PROGRAM PHYSICIAN
The Child Protection Program at Hasbro Children's Hospital reports evidence of sexual assault on children, but too often, in our experience, misses the far greater prevalence of adults forcing children to participate in masturbation. Since this leaves no physical signs, it can only be detected through the child's words, behavior, and emotional preoccupation.
But it has become dangerous for mothers to report such evidence, for a range of gullible clinicians and court personnel may yield to persuasive attorneys and blame these mothers for "alienation." The mothers' increasingly frantic behavior appears bizarre and self-incriminating.
This happened in Molly's case, where the CPP doctor was an intern who stepped far beyond her medical role (which she summarized in less than a page of narration). She went on to devote nearly a dozen dense pages to something like the parlor game of "Telephone," piling up hearsay and opinions that other clinicians told her on the phone. The outcome is garbled, unintelligible and completely unscientific.
She repeatedly spells out concerns expressed to her by the guardian ad litem, the social worker, and psychologist #1, who is of the "opinion that there is 'parental alienation' by the mother and that the mother 'blatantly went out of her way to accuse this man of molesting her daughters.'"
The CPP intern draws a strong conclusion:
It is our opinion that BOTH . . . children need protection. Their current environment is quite likely not conducive to mental health, growth, and development.
. . . it appears that this mother is having a toxic effect on the children. She should be required to have a thorough psychiatric evaluation. Her actions are not benign or protective. Even if the children were originally abused by the father, it would be impossible to protect them because of the mother's erratic and bizarre behavior leading to the impression that she has fabricated these allegations and manipulated the children.
The CPP doctor sends her report directly to the guardian ad litem, on Wednesday, April 5, 2006, without it being reviewed by her CPP supervisor. On Thursday, the guardian takes the report to court to secure an emergency motion. On Friday, police go to their schools and take the girls into custody.
LICENSED CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGIST #2
The guardian had removed clinicians from the case who strongly disagreed with her blame of the mother. After a long search (described in her itemized bill), she recruits more support from Boston, where a clinical psychologist writes that the guardian has suggested "parental alienation" to her. This clinician proceeds to list in her report the "eight primary symptoms" set forth by Richard Gardner. She clearly does not know that his theory has been discredited as junk science and is considered legally inadmissible under nationally recognized rules of evidence.
STRONG CLINICAL WARNINGS IGNORED
In spreading the virus of parental alienation, the guardian ad litem ignored strong warnings from three clinicians who disagreed with her and also from two who served her purposes overall. Their warnings are significant.
For example, even psychologist #1 (mentioned above) urges that the girls' father should "for the foreseeable future . . . not have unsupervised visits with his children for the protection of all concerned."
The licensed clinical social worker warns:
The emotional complexities of this situation are so overwhelming as to be crushing. Each person involved will be dramatically impaired if progress through this is not achieved. The youngest participant will be the most damaged. Every effort should be made to support her staying connected with her relationships in a way which will insure her own safety . . . .The guardian ad litem and DCYF ignore both of these warnings and use only those comments that support their plan to give the younger girl to her father.
Weaving their arguments together, these lawyers and clinicians adapt the logic of psychiatrist Richard Gardner, the creator of "Parental Alienation Syndrome," who committed suicide in 2003, the same year that the girls' father began to accuse their mother of "alienating" them from him.
But Richard Gardner listed numerous standards that would have validated this case as a "genuine" instance of child sex abuse, not one that had been fabricated. For example, Gardner wrote that children who actually experience sexual abuse have these characteristics, among others, as Molly does:
have a fairly clear visual image of the experience
will usually provide specific details, and they will be consistently the same on subsequent interviews.
will describe settings that are. . . likely and reasonable
provide a credible description of the ejaculate . . . .
fearful of the perpetrator. . . . This fear may result in the child's making every attempt to be away from home as much as possible, especially when alone with the offender
prefer more a fantasy world that is safe and free from the traumas of their real life.
Gardner's description of fathers of children who are actually abused also resembled Molly's father in these areas among others:
tendency to regress in stressful situations, especially heterosexual disappointment. They then regress to sexuality with a child—the less threatening sexual experience
Sexually abusing fathers are more likely to be social isolates.
rigid and controlling
Gardner depicts characteristics in the drawings of sexually abused children that closely resemble both Molly and Sara's drawings, such as
shading in or covering sexual parts
drawing attenuated hands and fingers that may relate to the manual fondling that these children have been exposed to
Compare Gardner's description to these drawings of their father by Molly:
and by Sara:
Gardner considered one sign to be a strong indicator of genuine sexual abuse, and this was true of Molly and Sara: their father and his siblings had all been molested by their own father, who was twice imprisoned for sexual abuse of other children. This fact was known and admitted by the hearing officer, the guardian ad litem, and clinicians, who nevertheless reported the father "did not present with the profile of a sexual offender." Was this because he sometimes fantasized himself as a woman? But that, too, was a red flag for Gardner.
I began to see how "parental alienation" custody scams use only those parts of Richard Gardner's analysis that blame mothers. Then they adopt Gardner's strategy, removing these children from their mothers and giving them to their fathers.
Confidential comments may be sent to Anne Grant at firstname.lastname@example.org
In June 2007, the Associated Press reported that international surveillance techniques used to fight terror have rescued 31 infants and children in England and Canada from "horrific sexual abuse" that was being broadcast in real-time over the Internet. Authorities identified over 700 suspects, with more expected in the U.S. Officers investigating these crimes reported the emotional toll of watching and listening to videos gathered as evidence of infants and children screaming in terror and pain during sexual assaults.
Pedophiles not content with watching sexual terror on their computers go wherever there are vulnerable children.
It took decades of painful denials and reminders for us to admit how many vulnerable children were being molested and raped by priests while bishops gave sanctuary to known pedophiles among the clergy and sent them into unsuspecting parishes.
Similar rules of confidentiality and professional privilege have tolerated the abuse of children by state agencies. Michael D'Antonio revealed appalling details at the Fernald State School in Massachusetts, The State Boys Rebellion (Simon & Schuster, 2004). Programs that continued into the 1970's in nearly every state removed more than 250,000 children, tens of thousands of them fraudulently, from their families and subjected them to unconscionable abuse.
Texas, where hundreds of children were removed on one day last month from a Fundamentalist Mormon compound, is "grappling with the fallout from reports of long-term sexual abuse at its facilities, where, since 2000, more than 90 Texas Youth Commission employees — roughly one a month — have been sanctioned or fired for sexual misconduct with adolescents…."
With the failure of adequate oversight in Rhode Island, the risk to vulnerable children may increase when well-meaning, law-abiding adults report suspected abuse to the DCYF hotline as all are legally mandated to do. DCYF lawyers too readily team up with defense lawyers and guardians ad litem in overturning findings of sexual molestation, delaying cases and preventing crucial evidence from reaching judges. On their recommendation, children are sent for unsupervised visits and placed with the very people they identify as their abusers.
As a pastor and former director of a shelter for battered women, I have been astonished by the extent of incest in both rural and urban communities, by the duress suffered before victims gather the strength to protest, and the lifelong damage of keeping silent about such personally invasive forms of coercion and assault.
In the early 1970s Warren Farrell and I were active in the National Organization for Women (NOW). Flying back to New York from a conference, he told me his research suggested that incest might be beneficial.
Long after Farrell left NOW and joined the vanguard of Fathers' Rights, I found his December 1977 Penthouse interview online where he worried that "millions" of parents who are not "genitally caressing" their children "are repressing the sexuality of a lot of children and themselves." He saw such contact as "part of the family's open, sensual style of life. . . ." In the "most glowing positive cases," Farrell said, mothers "know and approve" and even "join in."
By then I had seen the harm done to children—like a boy and girl whose father woke them in the middle of the night to show them pornography and made them act it out. When their mother protested, he ridiculed her, saying she was "old-fashioned," from the "old country."
"We’re in America now," he said. "They do this in America."
Their mother brought the children to a shelter where they thrived for several weeks until their father, a man of means, subpoenaed his wife to Family Court. He brought a psychologist and lawyer, who said: "If you divorce him, he will get the children."
She packed their bags and went back to him, knowing she must not risk being separated from her children.
My husband and I have pleaded for decades with a convicted pedophile in our own family who complains about the "hysteria" of mothers intent on protecting their children from sexual abuse. For years, he insisted that he loved children better than their own parents did. As he grew older, he was drawn to ever younger children and travels to countries where they are easily procured.
His arguments ignore the scourge of HIV, AIDS, and other sexually transmitted diseases. Pedophilia would not harm children, he insists, if society did not turn them against loving adults.
Contrary evidence rushes at us with heart-stopping regularity. The news has been full of reminders that undetected pedophilia claims a high price.
Charles Roberts, an obscure Pennsylvania milk-truck driver, hauled guns, chains, and genital lubricant into an Amish schoolhouse in October 2006. His final phone call and note told of being haunted by dreams of sexually attacking young girls.
The embittered silence of Seung-Hui Cho, who killed 32 victims at Virginia Tech, then shot himself, in April 2007, gave way to a videotaped diatribe against those he accused of "raping my soul." His two short plays focus on pedophilia--by a stepfather in one and a teacher in the other.
While many Americans applaud international efforts to track down pedophiles, we may have been too trusting of professionals, including clergy, teachers, and others who organize their lives around being in close proximity to children for reasons kept secret.
State officials with primary responsibility for protecting children may discount credible evidence of molestation by parents, because they fear law suits that could jeopardize their own careers. Official negligence gives tacit permission to sex abusers and puts children at greater risk.
Shrouded in secrecy, child protection agencies sometimes become magnets for pedophiles with professional credentials. When legislators fail to establish agency standards, accountability, and oversight, our child protective systems facilitate sex crimes against children.
The most common legal strategy in these cases in Rhode Island is "parental alienation," developed by psychiatrist Richard Gardner in 1985. He said that children who complain about sexual abuse at the hands of their fathers are typically lying.
Gardner accused mothers of turning the children against their fathers by "alienating," "brainwashing," and "coaching" them, allegations we now call the "Batterer's ABCs." He recommended removing these children from their mothers, forcing them to recant, and placing them with their fathers. This protocol has been practiced by DCYF and Family Court, eviscerating families in order to "reunify" children and fathers.
Gardner's strategy proved profitable. He served as expert witness for hundreds of fathers in custody cases before committing suicide in 2003. As for child sex abuse, he had sent mixed messages.
Gardner's views are fundamentally the same as the North American Man/Boy Love Association (NAMBLA), but he sometimes tried to moderate those views. In Sex Abuse Hysteria: Salem Witch Trials Revisited (1991), Gardner wrote (pages 117-118):
It would be an error for the reader to conclude that I personally support pedophilia. I do not. I personally believe that such behavior is an exploitation of children and introduces them prematurely into a level of sexual activity that they are not cognitively capable of dealing with appropriately. What I am against is the excessively moralistic and punitive reactions that many members of our society have toward pedophiles. The Draconian punishments meted out to pedophiles go far beyond what I consider to be the gravity of the crime.
…I still believe that those who are subjected to [adult-child sexual encounters] in our society are likely to develop psychiatric problems. It is a form of exploitation of an innocent and defenseless child. . . . It can result in premature involvement in sexual behavior . . . . It can create a pathological tie with the abuser that may then make it difficult for the abused individual to relate in healthier ways to age-appropriate peers. However, we have to develop much more pity than scorn for the pedophile.
. . . The greatest likelihood of success will occur in the situations in which all pertinent family members are involved, that is, the victim, the perpetrator, the spouse of the pedophile, and even other family members.
In other words, he wanted the pedophile to remain in the family, which compounds the trauma to children. But the federal policy of "family reunification," as practiced by the Rhode Island Department of Children, Youth and Families, becomes even more extreme than Gardner's position when it has the effect of removing the protective parent altogether.
This happens in Family Court when defense attorneys hire psychologists to testify that an accused pedophile does not "fit the profile" of a sex offender.
These reports are meaningless. Everyone would have agreed that Charles Roberts was exemplary until his premeditated slaughter of Amish schoolgirls. If not for his own admission and supply of genital lubricant, we might never have known the extent of his sexual preoccupation in planning his attack.
Custody courts must stop compromising children's safety with meaningless psychological "profiles." In April 2007, Rhode Island and fourteen other states earned an "F" from the national children’s advocacy organization, First Star, for our failure to provide abused children with genuine legal representation. In June, the state's Child Advocate filed a class action suit against DCYF for failure to protect the children in its care.
Three organizations working to end systemic child abuse are Justice for Children, the Leadership Council, and Stop Family Violence. Their websites provide basic resources for communities and professional associations to educate ourselves on these issues:
Confidential comments may be sent to Anne Grant at email@example.com
Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson stumbled onto secrets that Anna Freud urged him to forget. She had given the young psychoanalyst and researcher free run of her father’s final home. There he found letters and notes showing that Sigmund Freud, father of modern psychoanalysis, harbored misgivings about some of his most famous conclusions. In 1984, Masson documented this history in his ground-breaking book, The Assault on Truth: Freud's Suppression of the Seduction Theory.
In 1895 and 1896 Freud, listening to his women patients, learned that something dreadful lay in their past. Doctors who had heard these stories before had called their patients "hysterical" and had dismissed their memories as mere fantasy. Freud was the first psychiatrist who publicly admitted that he believed his patients were telling the truth: These women were sick because something terrible and secret had been done to them as children.
Freud disclosed this to his colleagues when he delivered his lecture on "The Aetiology of Hysteria" before the Society for Psychiatry and Neurology in Vienna on April 21, 1896. He theorized that significant mental illness in adults comes from sexual abuse and violence perpetrated on them as children, often by their own fathers. Freud called it the "seduction theory."
The gentlemen who sat before him belonged to the same upper middle class as his patients. Freud frequently encountered those patients at parties, theatres, and exhibitions; he sometimes knew their fathers. His theory elicited icy silence. He felt himself instantly frozen out of that society.
Masson obtained a letter Freud wrote to the one friend and colleague who stood by him: "I am as isolated as you could wish me to be: the word has been given out to abandon me, and a void is forming around me."
Recoiling from the isolation, Freud realized a change was needed. By 1899, perhaps influenced by his friend's emerging views of infantile sexuality, Freud propounded a new theory, the "Oedipal complex." Instead of parents seducing and violating their children, as his patients had described to him, he now hypothesized that children merely imagine this seduction and then respond to their own fantasies with aggressive impulses against their parents. This leads to hysterical neurosis.
The psychoanalytic community breathed a sigh of relief, announced that Freud had recanted, and became heavily invested in ignoring his earlier findings.
Ironically, Freud and the friend he kept writing to--ear, nose, and throat physician Wilhelm Fliess—shared their own guilty secret of horribly botched surgery testing theories of female sexuality. Furthermore, Fliess' son, Robert, born in 1895, would devote his career to describing "ambulatory psychosis," whereby highly regarded professionals, including scientists, could be nonetheless psychotic. He left no doubt that he had suffered at the hands of his own father. For him, it was no fantasy:
"…the child of such a parent becomes the object of defused aggression (maltreated and beaten almost within an inch of his life), and of a perverse sexuality that hardly knows an incest barrier (is seduced in the most bizarre ways by the parents, and, at his or her instigation, by others)" (Assault on Truth, p. 142).
Masson blames Freud for a failure of moral courage and has no qualms about accusing this "father" of harming his "child"--the entire field of psychoanalysis. When Freud abandoned his original insight, writes Masson, he "began a trend away from the real world that, it seems to me, is at the root of the present-day sterility of psychoanalysis and psychiatry throughout the world."
This turning away from the real world is exactly what happens when family courts seek out mental health "experts" to deal with children who complain of abuse and with those parents who try to protect them. Like victims of abuse who sought healing from psychoanalysis, those who seek justice in the courts often discover too late that they made a tragic mistake in doing so.
Masson writes that Freud appears to have gained some of his original insights from lectures at the morgue in Paris describing horrific evidence of abuse committed by parents and teachers against children that was discovered in the autopsy of their corpses.
Repulsed by the harshness of the real world, some mental health "experts" today settle into leather chairs for 50-minute sessions that allow violent batterers to chemically balance their moods and appear stable. In the serenity of their offices, they may deduce their hypotheses and produce their reports ignoring the raw terror of children's lives. Few clinicians spend any time in the homes they are supposed to examine. Some court evaluators never meet the children, whose "best interests" they claim to understand. They may recommend that the court award custody to whichever parent pays their bill.
As Masson discovered, Freud learned his lesson. Once shunned for raising the subject of parents sexually abusing their children, Freud steadfastly avoided the subject. Masson reveals the complete absence of this topic from later volumes that Freud edited and from the cumulative index of the Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association through 1974. In 1988, The New Harvard Guide to Psychiatry included only one reference to "incest"—under "delusional disorders" (Assault on Truth, 2003, p. 341).
Asked to report his findings in 1981, Masson, like Freud in 1896, felt the disdain of his colleagues in the psychoanalytic community for raising this uncomfortable subject. A series about his work in the New York Times led to his dismissal as director of the Freud Archives.
One colleague pleaded for just one more psychiatrist who would concur that Masson was mentally ill so they could commit him to a psychiatric hospital.
Eventually Masson left the profession altogether. In his book, Final Analysis: The Making and Unmaking of a Psychoanalyst (1990), he writes: "while I admire much of what Freud taught us, I do not admire the fact that he turned astute observations about human nature into elements of a vast and profitable profession with all the trappings of a jealously protected guild. The price for joining this fraternity is silence. . . . Corruption is incorporated, not exposed; prejudice and bias have been accepted, even embraced" (Final Analysis, p. 4).
Masson condemns the lack of professional ethics, noting it is well known that some analysts even have sex with their patients. He expresses dismay that "sexual abuse of one form or another was the core trauma of many women's lives, yet there was total silence about it. There was no taboo on the commission of incest, only a taboo on speaking about incest" (Final Analysis, p. 176).
In contrast to his own colleagues, many outside the psychoanalytic profession welcome the work of Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson. A year after The Assault on Truth appeared, his second edition credits "the feminist literature of the 1970s that finally broke the silence about the incidence and prevalence of incest."
In 1992 Masson writes:
Few now deny that [child sexual abuse] happens frequently . . . across all lines of class, income, and education. Ten years ago this was not the case. Then there was a lonely contingent of courageous feminist researchers--among them Louise Armstrong, Florence Rush, Judith Herman, and Diana Russell--whose works were ignored, by and large, by the mainstream media and especially by psychiatry, the very profession women who were abused as children often turned to in their tragically mistaken belief that they could find help. Psychiatry was largely responsible for the climate of disbelief that surrounded those women who braved the scorn of male professionals and spoke up about their own experience of abuse. ("Postscript to the 1992 Edition," Assault on Truth, 2003, p. 311).
"How has psychiatry reacted?" Masson asks in 1992, "As if all along these professionals were the ones fighting to have an unwelcomed truth recognized. And now they were prepared to accept their reward in the form of being called upon as experts" (Assault on Truth,p. 312).
Early in his career, psychiatrist Richard Gardner may have made a genuine attempt to discern the truth. But like Freud and Fliess, he found far greater acceptance and reward when he argued that children only imagine being abused or simply lie about it. He built his career testifying that these children have been brainwashed and programmed by vindictive mothers, who "alienate" them from their fathers.
Gardner's tolerance for incest and pedophilia was documented long before his 2003 suicide.
The last lawyer to cross-examine him in court was Louisiana lawyer Richard Ducote, who currently represents a Rhode Island mother accused of "parental alienation." In 2003, under Ducote's questioning in Paterson, New Jersey, Gardner admitted that he had not spoken to the Dean of Columbia University's medical school for over fifteen years. Gardner had no hospital admitting privileges for over twenty-five years. He had not been court-appointed to do anything for decades. He lacked the professional standing he had been claiming as an expert witness.
But Gardner's "parental alienation syndrome" (PAS) has been a windfall for many. A 2007 graduate in computer science from the University of Alabama, advertises online as a forensic expert offering to analyze custody cases for PAS at $75 an hour.
On July 3, 2007, authorities arrested Seattle, Washington, psychologist Stuart Greenberg, a nationally renowned expert on child sexual abuse and former president of the American Board of Forensic Psychology, for videotaping women colleagues and clients in his office restroom. Police charged that Greenberg would later masturbate to these images.
Greenberg confessed to the secret taping and committed suicide on July 25. He had worked as a consultant to the Archdiocese of Seattle in their defense against sexual abuse by priests.
His arrest and death have raised questions about a huge volume of child custody cases in which Greenberg served as a "parenting evaluator" to assess claims of abuse. Judges often rely uncritically on evaluations and recommendations provided by contract clinicians.
Many of those now building their careers in PAS are women attorneys and clinicians, who are actively recruited to produce reports condemning mothers--as if their gender makes them more credible in their attacks on other women.
Confidential comments may be sent to Anne Grant at firstname.lastname@example.org
About the Author & Purpose
We first reported on this case at http://custodyscam.blogspot.com/
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About "Parental Alienation"
For more on the scandal in custody courts, see: