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Believe the Children?

Child Abuse and the American Legal System

We may begin with a nightmare. Imagine that you are the parent of a preschool child and that one day police and child-protection officials appear at your door. They inform you that a teacher or daycare worker suspects that your child has been abused and that subsequent interviews with therapists have proven this fact to their satisfaction. Moreover, it is clear to them that you and your spouse are the abusers. As an emergency measure, the child and ant siblings will be removed to a foster home while you face among the most serious and damning criminal charges of all. If you are very lucky indeed, you may recover your child within several months or no more than a year or two. If you are less fortunate, the child will be adopted, and you and your spouse will be imprisoned in an environment where molesters are the most despised and persecuted population.

All this may sound horrific enough, but then you discover the testimony that has ruined your life. It turns out that the original stories can be traced to the fantasies of one deranged adult, perhaps a neighbor or teacher, seeking revenge for the injustices he or she believes to have suffered in early life. Once started, this gave therapists and investigators the ammunition with which to proceed. Through deceptively innocent tactics of "play therapy," through the use of dolls and pictures, intense peer pressure, and simple old-fashioned leading questions, the child was induced...

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