Matt C. Abbott
Sexual abuse is, obviously, a terrible evil. So while allegations of sexual abuse must always be taken very seriously, they shouldn’t be deemed credible unless thoroughly investigated/scrutinized. Yes, many allegations turn out to be credible, but quite a few turn out to be bogus and extremely damaging to the accused.
A case of the latter (FoxNews.com):
Fox Nation's new docuseries ‘In the Valley of Sin,’ tells the story of a fabricated child-sex ring in Wenatchee, Washington….
Everything changed for the town of Wenatchee when two children accused their birth parents of sexual assault in 1994. Detective Bob Perez, their foster parent, then started an investigation into these claims, resulting in the discovery of an alleged child-sex ring. However, the allegations weren't true….
In reality, Perez intimidated children into wrongfully accusing parents and others of partaking in this fictitious sex ring…. In total, 29,726 accounts of sexual abuse were recorded and 43 parents went to jail.
I asked private investigatorThomas Hampson, a child protection advocatewith an impressive résumé (see here and here) who founded the Truth Alliance Foundation, about the Wenatchee case.
Although he hadn’t looked into that specific case, Hampson responded with some interesting observations (lightly edited by me):
I plan to watch the series. It sounds similar to other cases where false accusations were believed and people were convicted. I've investigated cases from both sides – prosecution and defense. A lot of attention has been focused on the guilty going free; thus the current conventional wisdom says we have to believe the accusers.
Yet it's ridiculous to automatically believe someone. People are confused; they literally change what they remember to be what they want it to be. They lie. Children often can't distinguish between what happened, what they dreamed, or what they fantasized. It’s not unusual for childrento say what they think the person interviewing them wants them to say and then begin to believe it – like what happened in the McMartin preschool case.
Police way too often approach cases from the standpoint they are going to prove that the person they suspect is guilty. In other words, they decide who's guilty and try to prove it. They may not admit to it, but I've seen this mindset throughout my career. In every case I've seen where an innocent person has been convicted, this has been the mindset of the investigators and prosecutors.
I saw cases like that in the Archdiocese of Chicago. There were priests who were falsely accused of abuse but the archdiocese settled anyway. I know they were false accusations because the stories were outrageous. No details. Implausible circumstances. And a reaction that wasn’t believable. Even in a civil trial these cases could not prove by a preponderance of the evidence that anything actually happened, much less that the accused was the one who did it. In most of those cases the priest was already dead. In some cases the priest was living.
To prove a case in court you have to gather enough evidence to convince a jury beyond a reasonable doubt in criminal cases, and by a preponderance of evidence in civil cases. There are a variety of skills required to accumulate the evidence. Far too often investigators evaluate the evidence and arrive at a theory that excludes some of it. It's like assembling a do-it-yourself kit without instructions and having a pile of parts left over. If they had used all of the parts, the end product would look and function quite differently than what they first came up with.
These kinds of flawed results happen because the investigator tends to arrive at a conclusion too early. When they do, they only consider further findings that support their conclusion. This is a poor but common practice.
The better approach is to develop a theory of the case, multiple theories, and do your best to disprove all of them until there is only one left standing. In doing this, you have to make sure you account for all relevant pieces. It takes a very skilled investigator to sift through all of the chaff and discover what's relevant and what isn't.
For more information about Hampson’s work, visit www.truthalliancefoundation.org.© Matt C. Abbott
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