Law and Psychiatry 4: The Child Victim


“Lets kill all the lawyers”.
Bill Shakespeare, Henry IV, part 2

In Law and Psychiatry 3, I touched on my involvement with a couple of child sex abuse cases in which the veracity of the accusations are being questioned by both police and child protection agencies (Children’s Aid Services).

I will now describe the recent legal wrangling in a little more detail. The children are both female age 6(A) and age 5(B).

At one time all child sex abuse accusations were considered legit and this sometimes lead to adjudication and prison sentences for innocent fathers. The accused were “expected” to deny their guilt and that was in turn used against them.

The pendulum has now swung and it is assumed accusations are made by histrionic mothers, engaged in a triad of coaching a suggestible child into a false memory of abuse. Indeed in case B  the father’s lawyer is now accusing the mother of  sexualizing the child through a memory implant.  Of course this attempt might be seen in borderline mothers with a history of sexual abuse themselves. But that doesn’t apply in either case.

Finding the truth in the verbalization of a young child is no easy task. In the case of the young girl (B), I relied on not one particular complaint or observation but an interpretation of a collection of symptoms, behaviours and projective tests such as drawings. Excessive use of hearts (top pic) or wedges are considered unreliable but this image seems pretty straightforward…


and this one which was started by stepfather but completed by the child…


This is not a healthy well-adjusted 5-year-old pic. Phallic symbols and “poop” are not unusual in sex abuse victim preoccupations. Of course CAS would consider both pics “coached”.

As for the other clinical  features here is what we have:

Sexualized behaviour: she spontaneously performed a provocative dance and occasional masturbation during one session with me. This is rare in non abused children. It cannot easily explained by simple suggestion. There is a history of enuresis (bedwetting) after training. Other regressive behaviours common in victims is baby talk, or clinging behaviour, along with dreams of monsters.

There was a bizarre sniffing incident during the police interview. The officer left the room for a few minutes and she touched and sniffed his seat. This “perineal” preoccupation requires interpretation.

There is a documented history of methamphetamine abuse by father. There is considerable data on heightened sexuality, disinhibition and perpetration on children under the influence.

The failure of the father to voluntarily request polygraph testing in light of very serious accusations that could lead to a lengthy prison sentencing. In case A the father did just that without hesitation. He passed. The mother’s credibility is being challenged and so case A is on hold for now. Lie detector results are generally inadmissible but an expert witness can incorporate the results into a broader picture.

As for coaching, it is interesting that B used the phrase after the alleged recent abuse that it hurt and “she had to suck up the pain”. This is not something she would have been coached to say by the well educated and articulate mother though I could see it coming from the perpetrator.

On a recent CAS interview, the child recanted and thus they immediately concluded “false memory”. This type of event is likely when there is a close personal relationship between the victim and the perpetrator as is the case here. It is not uncommon for a child to reveal sexual abuse and then retract her story as she experiences the negative consequences of telling on herself and her family.

Indeed the child’s TAT card story (thematic aperception test) revealed father might have to “go away”.

The  CAS reports concluded essentially that no abuse took place. Their legal team response is that I am unqualified and they want an independent assessor. The father’s attorney however says he is willing to settle on custody arrangements to avoid court costs.

And so an interesting drama thus unfolds.

But the truth in law is art not science; it is based on dialectic exchange-whoever has the most credible convincing  argument wins.

The child at the moment however is not winning anything.

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One Response to “Law and Psychiatry 4: The Child Victim”

  1. kristina nadreau says:

    painful. a situation where there may be no right answers. Even if the child tells the truth, and the abuser is removed from the child, the child remains affected by the abuse throughout their life times. I had a friend who was removed from a household where her mom had died and her father and brothers abused her. CPS removed her and she thought it was a good thing. She did marry and lived a seemingly normal life, except for?????? I thought that it was obvious that she had been hypersexualized.

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