Sexual abuse claims a nightmare for the falsely accused

Q: What is your take on a mother who, allegedly, is told by her daughter in June 2004, at age 12, that her dad had touched her "inappropriately" the day before, and, while telling her mother about this incident, then remembers two other incidents that allegedly occurred when she was age 6; but this mother failed to report this until January, 2007, some six months after her divorce? The family still lived together another 14 months until the dad moved out, and the mother still failed to report these alleged "inappropriate touching" incidents, and it was never an issue in the divorce proceedings. — C.H., Rogers, Ark.

A: My take is I am so not psychic. Sounds to me like you have doubts about this story.

For the past 2,000 years or so we have ignored, dismissed, disbelieved, shamed and even punished children who tried to cry out for help because an adult was sexually exploiting and abusing them. It probably goes back further than that.

But, has the cultural pendulum ever swung!

In 1971, "Sesame Street" introduced the character of Snuffleupagus. For years, only Big Bird could see him. Adults did not believe Big Bird.

In 1985, the story line changed. Adults finally met Snuffy and agreed Big Bird had been telling the truth. In the wake of increasing awareness of childhood sexual abuse, the producers decided it was high time we believed children.

Seventy-five years ago, we believed no one. If you were a child, and an adult was having sex with you, good luck. Today, we believe everyone. If you are an adult falsely accused by a child, good luck.

What follows are three indisputable, colliding truths:

* Childhood sexual abuse remains terrifyingly more common than you could possibly imagine, still grossly underreported, and, when reported, still it often is the case that not much happens. And that’s if the story is believed. Some are called liars. Some of my patients report being beaten for daring to say such things.

* Sometimes angry divorced parents (usually the mother) turn on their ex (usually the father) months or even years later with false charges of sexual abuse.

* Modern, media-saturated children are, by as young as 8 years old, sophisticated enough to know that nothing is more damaging to an adult than the accusation of sexual abuse. There are known cases of children falsifying these charges to get even with a parent, step-parent, teacher, coach, etc.

Twice in my life I have been thus accused, once by a 9-year-old at a grief camp, who recanted about four minutes later. The second time was when I was coaching my son’s seventh- and eighth-grade basketball team.

I was instructing the kids about rebounding. Been doing it for years. More than 40 kids present, including my own son. And six other coaches. And a fair handful of parents lining the walls, watching my every move.

Butt-to-gut, we call it — you block your man’s access to the ball by sticking your can in his abdomen and keeping your legs wide. If you can get away with it, you cheat by raising one hand to distract the ref and wrapping the other hand behind you around the hamstring of the guy you’re sealing off.

I was accused of inappropriate touching by a player who didn’t like me getting in his face, for insisting I was the coach and he wasn’t. The father told the headmaster, "Well, he is a priest, you know." I was encouraged to "take a year off" from coaching; meaning, I was thrown under the bus by the administration. Then my bishop opened an investigation into my life — not because any child or family accused me, but because some other coward reported it to her several times removed!

Did I get to face my accusers? Nope. Was I exonerated? Not even close. Her letter says, "There is insufficient evidence to merit further investigation." Great. Guess that means I got away with it. This time.

That letter is on permanent record in my personnel file.

Can you imagine it? You’re a mother, and the child you love tells you the man you love has in some way sexualized her. And the man denies it, and the child insists, and there is zero corroborating evidence, and you — what? — move to Tibet? Because you can’t not choose. Do nothing and you could face criminal charges. Wrongly disbelieve the child, and you’ll never forgive yourself. Wrongly side against your husband and you ruin his life.

This one is a nightmare for me — professionally, ethically, socially … and personally.

I am an adult victim of childhood sexual abuse.

Steven Kalas is a behavioral health consultant and counselor at Clear View Counseling and Wellness Center in Las Vegas. His columns appear on Tuesdays and Sundays. Questions for the Asking Human Matters column or comments can be e-mailed to skalas@reviewjournal.com.

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