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

Should We Legalize Incest?

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 parentingproject@cox.net


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About the Author & Purpose

Parenting Project is a volunteer community service provided since 1996 by Mathewson Street United Methodist Church, Providence, RI, to focus on the needs of children at risk in Family Court custody cases. The coordinator, Anne Grant, is a retired United Methodist minister and former executive director of Rhode Island's largest shelter and service agency for battered women and their children. We research and write about official actions that endanger children and the parents who are trying to protect them. Our goal is to reform this area of government and to establish an effective, transparent and accountable child protective system.

We first reported on this case at http://custodyscam.blogspot.com/

To read the blog more easily, please reduce the width of your column. Some of the pictures can be enlarged by clicking once on them.

Comments and corrections may be sent in an email with no attachments to parenting project @ verizon.net

About "Parental Alienation"

If you are not familiar with Richard Gardner's theory of "parental alienation" and how it is being used in custody courts, scroll down to the earliest posting, "Junk Science in Custody Courts." For more scholarly research, visit  http://www.leadershipcouncil.org/1/pas/1.html

For more on the scandal in custody courts, see: