Has a child been molested?
A psychiatrist argues for reforms in the way child sexual abuse cases are investigated.
by Lee Coleman, M.D. Berkeley psychiatrist, Lee Coleman. M.D., wrote about the use of psychiatry in the courtroom in his 1984 book ‘The Reign of Error’.
“Innocent until proven guilty." It's a sacred principle of our legal system, and one we have for the most part lived up to. Until recently, that is. In the past few years we have abandoned this principle in cases of alleged child sexual abuse. Particularly noteworthy in such cases is the cozy relationship between law enforcement and psychiatry. Police and prosecutors have traditionally thumbed their noses at psychiatry, but now these former enemies are dedicated allies in the war on child sexual abuse. The tools of psychiatry may not be worth much when it comes to men’s realms, but they are reliable (so the argument seems to go) when it comes to determining if a child has been molested and finding out who did it.
Perhaps the most pernicious aspect of our handling of such cases--and the single most important reason the system is doing a terrible job at getting at the truth—is the direct importation into investigations and court proceedings of the idea that "children don't lie about sexual abuse."
Where did investigators get such an idea? From the "experts” in hundreds of workshops for police, protective service workers and prosecutors, the leading lights from psychiatry, psychology and social work are training investigators to believe that when it comes to alleged sexual abuse, the child's statements are unimpeachable.
Ignored at such workshops is the fact that the experts developed their ideas by studying incest in intact families, while the major arena of false allegations is divorce/custody battles. In the former the child may be pressured to drop a true accusation, but in the latter the pressure may go the other way to "remember" something that never happened. The young child may easily be led to the point of sincerely believing in things that did not take place.
Armed, nonetheless, with the belief that under no circumstances would a child claim to have been molested unless it were true, child protection agencies are ready to send a child for "therapy" before any kind of thorough investigation has been done. Even worse, those interviewing a child allegedly molested (whether investigators or therapists) frequently manipulate the child. They do so because they do not take very seriously the possibility of a false allegation. Let us look at why this is happening.
If "children don't lie" about sexual abuse, then it follows that a child may be asked leading and suggestive questions about possible molestation, urged to pretend with dolls, and rewarded for statements indicating abuse, with no danger that a child may stray from the truth. Any denials of abuse merely indicate that the "yukky secrets" are hard to tell and that the abuser must have threatened the child into silence.
As a result of such thinking, the "sensitive and caring" professional pushes even harder until the child complies and offers up information about sexual exploitation. My own study of audio and videotaped interviews with children indicates that this is how the claptrap about "satanic cults" and murders has surfaced in places like Jordan, Minnesota, Bakersfield, and the McMartin Pre-School in Manhattan Beach.
If it is not true that children never "lie" about sexual abuse, it is true that such a thing is rather unlikely. But this misses the point. When it comes to a child's statements about sexual victimization, there are not two possibilities—lying or telling the truth—but three. A child may be neither lying nor telling the truth. A child, particularly a very young one, may say what he or she believes is true, even though it is not the truth.
At first blush, this seems a rather unlikely possibility, to say the least. A child believes in sexual abuse, which has not taken place? I would certainly be skeptical of such an idea if I hadn't had a chance to see how children are being manipulated by adult interviewers, sometimes by a police officer or protective service worker, sometimes by a mental health professional—who have been trained to believe that those who really care and are sufficiently skilled at their work will help the child talk about sexual abuse.
Consider what such methodology does to a case in which the child has been manipulated before the police or child protection worker arrives. Especially when divorce and child custody disputes are taking place, it is a tragic fact that certain parents either deliberately create false accusations, or interpret a child's problems as "subtle clues" to child sexual abuse. Everything from nightmares to temper tantrums is being listed by the experts as signs that should alert parents to the possibility of sexual abuse.
Thus, when an investigator first contacts a child, it is crucial that all possibilities be considered. Instead, too often a judgment is reached once the child's statements are heard, however inconsistent they may be. The investigation effectively grinds to a halt, because "children don't lie about sexual abuse." All that is left is for the judge to give the juvenile court's stamp of approval. The possibility that the child may have been manipulated by an adult with an axe to grind is not taken seriously.
By the time the child has been interviewed several times. the statements may become increasingly embellished, and any chance to help the child stick to what he remembers is lost forever. The child now believes he has been molested, because so many adults believe the same thing and seem so pleased with the child for saying so.
The use of dolls and other play materials is a powerful technique for confounding this problem. Consider the difficulties inherent in using play materials to get at the truth. Children use dolls, puppets or drawings to make stories—not to stick to the facts. Why are such techniques nonetheless being used in fact-finding investigations? Because our legal system has naively turned to the child therapists, who have used play therapy for decades. But using play techniques in therapy is one thing; using such techniques in legal investigations is quite another. Even worse is the result when the adult interviewer is already convinced that sexual abuse has taken place and (perhaps unwittingly) uses play methods to coax some "evidence" from the child.
Awareness of these problems leads directly to the kinds of legal reforms needed to bring some sense of proportion to protecting children from sexual exploitation.
First, all contacts with the child must be either video or audio-taped. Taping preserves a record not only of what the child says, but of the interviewer's behavior. Such a record will not only spare the child repeated interviews; it will also give county counsel, district attorneys, defense attorneys, judges, and juries an opportunity to study whether a child's statements seem spontaneous or the product of manipulation.
Second, a child's competence to testify must be examined in a more thorough way than it is at present. With few exceptions, children as young as four are being found competent if they can tell the difference between the truth and a lie. But such awareness is irrelevant if a child has been so manipulated by adults that he believes something happened which did not happen. Judges faced with deciding whether a child is competent to testify must focus on the issue of independent recall. Is the child capable of sticking to what he can remember, or has prior training contaminated his ability to do so?
Third, our juvenile court procedures are in urgent need of major review. The vast majority of child sexual abuse allegations are not prosecuted criminally but are handled in juvenile court, where tradition dictates that judges rely heavily on casework evaluations. It is especially here that an accused person may be considered guilty until proven innocent. Judges, acting in good faith, assume that the child protection system is doing a good job of unbiased investigation. This faith is misplaced, given the biases that currently pervade our county child protection agencies.
Fourth, our child protection system will need to alter its current practices. Its primary mistake has been placing so much trust in the experts. By now the mistaken ideas from mental health are rooted in the very foundations of our investigative agencies. While I don't see this reform coming soon or easily, nothing less than a massive retraining will be necessary. Just as in other kinds of investigations, the primary role of unbiased fact-finding must be established, with no reliance on "examinations" from mental health professionals. Whatever psychiatry and related disciplines are good for, they do no good, and much harm, when it comes to getting at the truth.
If psychiatry has no examinations to determine if a child has been molested, and has no examinations to determine if the accused person is a child molester, then our continued reliance on psychiatry will only add a new form of child abuse, one in which we subject the very children we aim to protect to manipulations they are powerless to resist. California Lawyer
New research shows how the power of suggestion can lead youngsters to say things that send innocent adults to jail.
By JEROME CRAMER WASHINGTON
The poignant scene is played-out time and again in America's courtrooms. A small, bewildered child sits in a witness chair, being led by an attorney through shocking testimony. The youngster speaks haltingly of unspeakable things done to him or her by a stranger, a baby-sitter or even a parent. Could such an innocent soul possibly be telling anything but the truth?
Most legal experts, child psychiatrists—and juries--have long thought that children rarely lie about sex-abuse crimes on the witness stand. On the strength of that assumption, many adults have been sent to jail for sexual abuse or other charges, professing all the way that they are not guilty. But evidence is mounting that children, particularly those who have been extensively coached, give inaccurate testimony far more often than previously imagined. Both research studies and courtroom experience are causing many psychiatrists to question their views of the reliability of what comes from the mouths of babes.
A stunning piece of evidence came late last year when a California appeals court overturned the convictions of three men and four women for molesting 10 children. The adults had maintained their innocence but were sentenced to a combined total of 2,619 years in prison. The case fell apart, and the adults were freed when three of the children later recanted their testimony and the state attorney general's office criticized the way prosecutors had allegedly manipulated the children's testimony.
Recent research has shown how easy it is for youngsters to stray unwittingly from the truth. Psychologists Karen Saywitz of Harbor-UCLA Medical Center and Gail Goodman of the State University of New York at Buffalo interviewed 72 girls, ages 5 and 7, about routine medical procedures they had received. Half were given full examinations, including anal and vaginal checks, and the rest were given just general physicals. When the first group was asked a broad question about what I had happened, only eight mentioned the vaginal examinations, and when the children were shown anatomically correct dolls, six pointed to the vaginal area. But of the girls who received only a general checkup, three claimed they had also had vaginal or anal exams. One child even reported that "the doctor did it with a stick."
Child-custody disputes are often the trigger for youngsters' unwitting lies. Suspicions can cause parents to launch what legal scholar Douglas Besharov of Washington's American Enterprise Institute calls "the atomic bomb of child-custody fights, the charge of sex abuse." In these stressful situations, children quickly discover what adults want to hear and can offer lies or distortions in order to please an anxious parent or social worker. A study conducted by the American Academy of Child Psychiatry found that in custody disputes involving charges of sex abuse, as many as 36% of the allegations were later proved to be untrue.
Research by psychologist Alison Clarke-Stewart of the University of California at Irvine illustrates how easily adults can sway children's perceptions. In that study 75 five and six-year-old children were asked to watch a man clean up a room. During that time, he picked up and cleaned a doll. Later an interviewer told the children she thought the man had been playing with the doll. When first questioned, 25% of the kids said the man had played with the doll, and the rest said he had cleaned it. The interviewer then told the children she was certain that the man had been playing with, not cleaning, the doll. In the end, all but two children accepted the interviewer's story as the truth.
Misleading questions by adults can cause children not just to lie but also to believe their falsehoods. Besharov cites the case of a three-year-old who told a social worker a story about a piece of candy being dropped into her underpants. After interviews by various child-protection workers, the story evolved into a tale that a candle had been inserted into the child's vagina. It took months of further interviews to discover that the original story had been correct.
The current methods for obtaining evidence in sex-abuse cases—direct questioning and the use of dolls with sex organs; are under fire. "Kids can be fed ideas they quickly come to believe are true, and these dolls are highly suggestive," says Lenore Terr, a professor of psychology at the University of California at San Francisco. For example, some of the dolls lack hands and have only painted eyes, yet they have highly explicit genital areas. Terr stresses that normally inquisitive children who play with these dolls can mistakenly be suspected of having been abused.
The controversy is sure to escalate this spring, when the American Psychological Association publishes a book called The Suggestibility of Children's Recollections, in which several experts question the truthfulness of kids' testimony. The APA will not allow outsiders an advance look, but a psychologist involved in the project says the book shows that "there are definite limits to our knowledge about whether children are telling the truth."
What these researchers and others are finding is that truth for a child can be blurred, especially in periods of stress, such as during a trial. To protect children from sex crimes— and adults from unfounded accusations—child-welfare workers and prosecutors will have to take special care when searching for the truth.
It was the longest preliminary hearing in the history of California. It became the longest and most expensive trial in the history of the United States. It caused one journalist to write: “It is the most interesting case I have ever heard of, and the most frightening. It is bizarre and unreal— so much so, in fact, that jaded, middle-aged, veteran newsmen from major, national news media nave left the courtroom rubbing their foreheads in disbelief after a day spent covering the proceedings. Several of the news-people who have attended the hearing for all these months nave complained of chronic nightmares and sleep disturbances. So have the lawyers. So have I.
"The media coverage has been superficial, infrequent and not very informative. They apparently do not understand that it may be the best story they will ever get. It is a landmark that will affect every child abuse case in the country. It will affect much more that that. McMartin may well be talked about three hundred years from now."
An article recently appearing in the magazine Los Angeles chronicled the events surrounding this celebrated case. An edited version is reprinted below.
It was the moment everyone had been waiting for. Last July, principal defendant Raymond Buckey was finally tiling the witness stand in the McMartin Preschool child-molestation trial. Camera crews and cable lines jammed the hallway.
Prosecutor, Lael Rubin grilled Buckey about games that were played, in the nude, the stabbing of horses, and the raping of little girls. Yet Buckey remained calm, speaking in an assured monotone, he denied every charge against him.
Rubin hammered away, asking about the former McMartin Preschool teacher's habit of keeping adult erotica in his bedroom. Specifically, Rubin asked if he had ever affixed photos of preschoolers onto the sexually explicit pictures of adults.
"I know I never did that," Buckey said emphatically.
"How do you know this?" Rubin asked.
“Because I know what I do and what I don't do," he shot back.
"And what is it you don't do, Mr Buckey?" she baited.
Defense lawyers voice loud objections, cutting off the exchange, But Buckey wouldn't be stopped. He'd waited' nearly six years to make this statement. Indignantly, he leaned forward in his chair, glaring at Rubin.
"Look. Ms. Rubin." Buckey said. “I’ve spent five years in jail for something I didn't do. I know what I do and I know what I don't do. And I don't molest children."
When the McMartin case is mentioned these days, most people are understandably confused. It first burst on the scene in February 1984, and within a few short months eight South Bay preschools had been closed and seven defendants charged with allegations of everything from sodomy and oral copulation to satanic rites and animal sacrifice. Yet today, as the longest Trial in United States history comes to a close at a cost of $16 million - all that is left are two defendants facing 64 counts of child molestation and one count of conspiracy. And unless a mistrial is called over juror disqualification, Peggy McMartin Buckey, 61, will most likely be acquitted, and her son, Ray Buckey, 30 -at the very worst —appears headed toward a hung jury.
What went wrong? What became of the crime of the century that six years ago shocked the world?
The answers lie partly in secrets long withheld from the public but known well by those close to the case. Previously sealed court documents recently made available tell part of the story. But mostly, as the facts come to light, the answer appears to be that there was never any case at all
Indeed, in the end it may alt come down to the actions of six individuals, who, for reasons of ambition, vested interest or simply bad judgment, created their own domino effect when no credible evidence ever existed against the defends.
At the very least, it is a blueprint for preying on public fears and, as Los Angeles District Attorney Ira Reiner charges, blowing a criminal case out of all proportion. It may also be the story of how a case was simply invented
She was 12 when her mother died of Cancer, but Judy Johnson never fully recovered from the blow: Cheery on the outside, she hid her problems from friends until it was to late.
In March 1983, after the birth of their second son, and due to fierce squabbles over money, Judy Johnson's husband Bernard walked out. Broke and alone, Johnson got a job selling lamps, and she needed to find a nursery school to look after her young son. Of all the preschools in the area, Johnson knew the McMartin Preschool, founded by Virginia McMartin and later directed by her daughter Peggy McMartin Buckey, to be the most desirable. In business since 1958, the school had a proven track record, with a long history of satisfied parents.
When Johnson called McMartin to inquire about enrolling her son, she was told there was a long waiting list. So on the morning of May 12, 1983, she simply dropped the two-and-a-half-year-old off at the front gale and drove off. None of the teachers knew who he was - he was still preverbal, unable even to give his name, and there were no tags on his clothes or on his lunch bag. But, reasoning that a parent would eventually come for him, they took the child in for the day. After speaking with Johnson later, McMartin Buckey said she "felt sorry" for the woman and enrolled the boy that June. That decision would prove to be the worst one of her life.
On July 11, Johnson visited a health care clinic. According to medical reports, she told a physician that her son's anus was "itchy." Believing the problem was with the mother, the doctor didn't feel it was necessary to examine the boy.
On August 11, Johnson's son returned to McMartin's. By that day, he had been to the preschool a total of 14 times. The teacher supervising the afternoon play session that day was Ray Buckey, the grandson of Virginia McMartin. Johnson's son had never been in Ray's class.
The following morning, Johnson called the Manhattan Beach police and was connected with juvenile officer Jane Hoag. She told Hoag that her son's bottom was red and that he had blurted out something about a man named Ray at his nursery school. It was this call to Hoag that sparked the biggest mass-molestation case in history, but for Johnson, it was another in a series of steps toward madness and an early death from an alcohol-related liver disease.
It wasn't long before Johnson's accusations took on a life of their own. Within six weeks of her call to Hoag, according to previously sealed police reports, Johnson was accusing Buckey of wearing a mask and sodomizing her son while he stuck the boy's head in a toilet. A few months later, she claimed he had taped her son's mouth, eyes and hands, and stuck an air tube in the boy's rectum. On subsequent days, she said Buckey made her son ride naked on a horse and then molested him while dressing as a cop, a fireman, a clown, and Santa Claus.
By February 1984, Johnson's allegations turned increasing bizarre, in phone calls and letters to the district attorney's office, she said that her son had been sodomized by an AWOL marine and by three models from a health club. In one letter she said that the family dog may have also been sodomized, as it "had some hair missing." She wrote that McMartin teachers jabbed "scissors into his eyes and staples in his ears, nipples, and tongue”; Ray pricked her son's right finger and put it in a goat's anus: and Peggy (Ray's mother) killed a baby and made him drink the blood."
Then in 1985, shortly after her divorce was final, Johnson retreated into paranoia. According to her brother, she met him at her front door one day with a l2-gauge shotgun. Police dragged her to a patrol car, and she underwent a 12-day psychiatric evaluation. Diagnosis: acute paranoid schizophrenia. Her ex-husband was eventually given custody of the boy,
Four months before the trial started in 1987, Johnson died. She was 44. Police found her lying naked and face down in her son's bedroom, her phone off the hook and the Yellow Pages opened to "Liquor Stores." But by then the McMartin case had no further need for the woman who had started it all. The dominoes had already begun to fall against the defendants.
Jane Hoag went to work as a detective in the Manhattan Beach Police Department when she was 22, She was assigned to the sex abuse and juvenile beats and had the reputation in the community of being brusque and zealous in the pursuit of her cases, Hoag once told a reporter that it was not unusual for her to work 15 hours a day, though she was married with two young children.
Based entirely on a telephone call from Johnson she became obsessed with the alleged guilt of one man. Nothing could sway her - not an extraordinary lack of evidence, not the few other suspects she subsequently interviewed. Nor could she consider another possibility: that there had been no crime. On August 12. 1983, Hoag had listened to Johnson's complaint about a McMartin teacher named Ray. She told Johnson to have her son examined at a health clinic. A doctor there noted redness around the boy's anus, but was unable to determine the cause.
Apparently unsatisfied with the results, Hoag sent Johnson to UCLA Medical Center five days later. Two doctors, one an intern, determined that the boy's condition was "consistent" with being sodomized. Later, the intern confided "she didn't know anything about sexual abuse," a former LAPD detective said. The other physician confirmed her evaluation in testimony, but her ability to recall details was challenged when she maintained the boy had been circumcised, though, according to his father, he had not.
Hoag visited Johnson's home three times in August to interview the boy. When she couldn't get him to talk, she concluded "he didn't understand the concept of the word "name." (In fact, according to court reports, the boy never spoke at all to Hoag.) Then, hoping to get the boy to identify Buckey visually, she showed him class photos that included Buckey, but the boy was unable to identify him.
During searches of the Buckey homes, officers seized attendance records, a Polaroid camera, rope, yarn, and class photos. They were looking for a video camera and child pornography photos, but came away empty-handed. They also seized a rubber duck from Peggy McMartin Buckey's beachside home, Virginia McMartin's diaries, and even Peggy Ann Buckey's USC graduation gown, which prosecutor Rubin would later claim was a satanic robe.
One of the parents told Mrs. Buckey that Officer Hoag had called her repeatedly and said,— Your child has been named as a victim. And if you really love your child you'll ask him these questions . . . Others gave similar accounts of the telephone calls.
In 1984 Haag won the "Officer of the Year" award for her work on the McMartin investigation.
Attractive and vivacious, Kee MacFarlane had been a program administrator with the National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect for several years. In LA, she joined the staff of Children's Institute International (CII), an agency that cared for abused and neglected children.
MacFarlane interviewed the first McMartin preschooler on November 1. She used undressed, anatomically detailed dolls in a playtime setting to elicit responses. By mid-1984. nearly 400 children had been interviewed: or those, MacFarlane and other CII social workers filed reports indicating their suspicions that 369 had been molested. Of those, many attended the preschool long before Buckey even began working there, some, in fact, while he was still in high school.
What's not commonly known is that with the exception of one child, all of the former preschoolers denied being molested at the school until after they were interviewed at CII. "The case was made at Cll, not at the preschool," said Buckey’s attorney. That child who made a claim was dropped from the case because her allegations were considered too bizarre.
Expected to be the foundation of the prosecution's case, MacFarlane's interviews would actually wind up being a boon for the defense because of the nature of her questions. The following exchanges were taken from official transcripts of the video-taped interviews. In the interview, the boy — a witness in the McMartin trial —is holding an alligator puppet, and the two are discussing a game —Naked Movie Star —that investigators alleged Ray Buckey played with the children.
Boy: "Well, I didn't really hear it [Naked Movie Star) a whole lot. I just heard someone yell it from out in the…"
PAUSE: "Maybe, Mr. Alligator, you peeked in the window one day and saw them playing it, and maybe you could remember and help us."
Boy: "Well, no, I haven't seen anyone playing Naked Movie Star, I've only heard the song."
MacFARLANE: "What good are you? You must be dumb."
Some of the litany of accusations coming out of CII seemed absurd, at least on the surface: children digging up dead bodies at a cemetery with pickaxes larger than they were: children jumping out of airplanes over Palos Verdes: horses beaten to death with bats and machetes: children molested in car washes and grocery stores. During this time, according to a defense investigator, MacFarlane urged parents to drive around town with their children to pinpoint possible perpetrators. The result was pandemonium. Soon children were pointing out community leaders, gas-station attendants, and store clerks. Hoag kept busy interviewing some of these candidates, but not one person, other than the McMartin teachers remained suspects.
A former 20-year juvenile-division investigator, said of the CII process: "It was certainly different from how we would have handled It. It sure seemed stupid. When we interview kids suspected of being abused, we try to get the truth from them and not put words in their mouths."
In the end, seven McMartin teachers were indicted on more than 200 counts of child molestation. The defendants included Ray Buckey, his mother, grandmother, and sister, plus former McMartin teachers Beny Raidor, Babette Spitler, and Mary Ann Jackson.
Robert Philibosian was appointed District Attorney for Los Angeles county when the former DA became Attorney General in January 1983.
In September of that year, Philibosian shifted into gear as a politician. He faced an election in 1984 and needed a strategy. The one he adopted became one of the most critical developments in further cementing the McMartin case.
In early September, Philibosian commissioned a public-opinion poll. When asked which issue concerned the citizens the most, child abuse rated number one. George Young, Philibosian's campaign manager, called the poll "a shopping expedition" for something the district attorney could take advantage of."
Within six weeks of the poll, Philibosian's office was in control of the McMartin case. Despite an ongoing investigation by Manhattan Beach police, however, no credible evidence had been discovered. In spite of that fact, Philibosian was able to obtain a grand jury indictment of all seven of the defendants.
Despite Philibosian's efforts to address the public's alarm over child abuse, he lost the election in December 1984. Within eight months of taking office, the new DA dismissed the charges against five of the McMartin defendants, saying the evidence was "incredibly weak."
Philibosian responded: "Why was Reiner [the new DA] to come along with no felony prosecution experience and prune this case? This was not a rose bush to prune away the bad experiences of children. All of the defendants should have stood trial."
Investigative reporter Wayne Satz was described by his former college roommate as "a kind of guy who wanted to get ahead." Satz's bold, sensational stories prompted one KABC news employee to confide that "he seemed more interested in making news than reporting it." Some media sources joked that Satz was on his way to the Geraldo Revera School of Journalism.
In an FBI document, Kee MacFarlane Stated she told KABC reporter Satz, that he would have an exclusive on the McMartin story in February, a period that coincided with the important ratings-sweep week. On February 2. 1984. Satz brought the McMartin story to the world. His report told of dozens of "alleged" acts of oral copulation and sodomy with "little" children.
Although Satz covered himself by using the qualifiers "alleged" and "reportedly," his newscasts, one reporter said, "set the tone that these people were monsters." In June 1984 Los Angeles Times television critic Rosenberg noted: "It was like calling Hiroshima an alleged bombing." And the Satz style helped to stir up hysteria and establish in the public's mind that the defendants were guilty. In one segment, while he reported on the alleged mutilation of rabbits, live bunnies were used as an on-camera backdrop to illustrate the charge.
Most of the coverage for the next two years carried the same frenzied slant. Reporters were swept away by the horrifying charges, reinforcing what most of the public already believed about the defendants. Chris Woodyard, who covered the case early on for the Herald Examiner said: "There was very much a mob psychology operating in those days." An April 1984 People story carried the incriminating headline: "The McMartins: The 'Model Family' Down the Block that Ran California's Nightmare Nursery." It wasn't until three years after the case broke that the press calmed down and reporters "began to think for themselves." Woodyard said.
Satz ultimately won two Golden Mike awards for his reporting on the McMArtin case, though he was later criticized for entering into a romantic relationship with MacFarlane, his primary source.
Lael Rubin had the reputation in the DA's office of being a "tough and tenacious" prosecutor. Once she became lead prosecutor on the McMartin case in March 1984, Rubin, along with two co-prosecutors, became acquainted with Johnson and her increasingly bizarre allegations. Stevens, one of the co-prosecutors, said he received increasingly strange telephone calls from Johnson. And then there was her hand-scrawled letter to the DA accusing various men of sodomizing her son and the McMartin teachers of jabbing scissors into his eyes and staples in his ears, nipples, and tongue.
Eventually, child pornography surfaced as the official motive, igniting a massive, national and international hunt by Interpol and FBI agents to track down pictures of the McMartin children. None were ever found. A Huntington Beach archaeological research team was hired to make a painstaking search for alleged underground secret rooms and tunnels where the children claimed they'd been molested. The researchers tore up the preschool floor and used an electronic scanning device to try to locate the secret passages. Investigators dug up the vacant lot next door to the school and analyzed the found pieces of chicken bones to determine if they had been tortured.
The results? "You can boil everything down to zero," Stevens says. Still Rubin remained steadfast in her determination to prosecute the Buckeys. Just because they didn't find any (child pornography) doesn't mean it doesn't exist," Rubin told a reporter.
"It was as if this case was Lael's star vehicle," Stevens says, "And she wasn't going to let the facts get in her way,"
By the time Stevens openly expressed his doubts about the guilt of the defendants, hysteria had risen to a witch-hunt pitch in the South Bay. Seven other preschools closed down under the weight of suspicion. At least one parent openly vowed to kill the defendants if they were released from jail. Residents turned into vigilantes. One spraypainted "Ray will die" on a wall of the preschool. Later, the preschool was set on fire.
"Wherever the words child abuse came up, all of a sudden there was a presumption of guilt," notes public defender Hall. "And rather than the investigations taking into account evidence that pointed to the innocence of a suspect, the investigations were bent on building cases."
Even after Reiner, Rubin's boss, dismissed all charges against five of the women, Rubin insisted that hundreds of children had been molested at the preschool. "I believe in this case; I believe all of the crimes occurred. And that's what I intend to argue to a jury," she told Mike Wallace on Sixty Minutes.
As we go to press, the trial has lost all six jurors and is feared headed toward a mistrial if one more juror drops out The prosecution and defense have rested their cases and are moving into final arguments, which are expected to last a month. Judge William Pounders says he hopes to get the case to the jury for deliberation by December 1. by Mary A. Fischer, August 1989
Sunday, October 22, 1989
Child abuse. Those two words carry heavy images: Physically and emotionally scarred children, ruined marriages, ruined lives.
There's another image, too - that of the accused adult. Many of the accused are guilty, some are not. It's for the latter group that organizers have formed a national nonprofit group called VOCAL: Victims Of Child Abuse Laws, a resource for those who believe they are falsely accused of assaulting children.
A personal experience prompted Susan Gabriel, a technical writer at TRW, to organize a VOCAL chapter here. Shortly after she married her second husband a few years ago, he was accused of sexually molesting one of her two daughters.
"It just wiped me out totally, it was devastating," Gabriel says. "It was a very long, hard struggle and I was extremely frustrated with the system and the way it was working."
The case went through the Department of Social Services and the courts, and Clark: Gabriel was found not guilty at trial. Related civil charges were dismissed and his name was removed from the registry of suspected abusers.
After her experience, Gabriel decided, "I wanted to do whatever I could to help other people suffering the same thing."
She founded and is chairman of VOCAL Southern Colorado, Inc., an organization that provides information about case procedures for families of those accused of abuse and their attorneys, operates a hotline and works with professionals in the child protection system. The local membership varies, but has been as high as 90.
Gabriel is also editor of the national organization's publication, Vocal PerSpective.
"A lot of people think we're out there to protect abusers", and they like to call us 'the other side,'" Gabriel says. "We're not the other side. The other side is those people out there who abuse kids.
Mishandling of abuse cases — in some cases by such extremes as falsifying records — exists, Gabriel says, and it can jeopardize cases of real abuse.
Gabriel does, of course have a life away from VOCAL.
She’s a third-generation Colorado native, raised in Loveland in a traditional household. "It was stable, but very boring," Gabriel says. "I just dreamed of being able to get out, maybe go to New York or to France."
She didn't make it to New York or France, but she did put her lifelong love of writing to work.
She Started at TRW as an assembler, working her way to technician and finally landing a writing job in the technical publications department.
Gabriel is close to completing a bachelor's degree in psychology at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, and she is in interested in following that with a Ph.D. in law and psychology. She's not bored.
"I think one of the reasons I used to get bored was because I felt there were very strict boundaries on what I could or couldn't do," Gabriel says, noting that the boundaries were often her own. "I was always too afraid of failure. It was like a little box around me that said I could go this far but no further.
"When I broke free of it I started really enjoying life."
That's what the '90s will be, Gabriel believes: "Getting a chance to really find out who you are, maybe breaking out of rigid definition to explore all the different things you want to try and finding out what you have to offer society, the good things you can do,"
By Dr. Lee Coleman
Slowly, begrudgingly, more and more people are beginning to recognize that the wild charges against the staff of the McMartin pre-school are without foundation. Even more important, the cause of this tragedy is also being acknowledged in some circles. Others, however, despite being in a position to see how the hoax developed, refuse to face up to the truth.
If what the children have said is not true, why would they say these things? The answer is both simple and terrible. They were trained. Trained by the “experts” our law enforcement agencies trustingly allowed to "evaluate” the children.
Most, influential among those defending the way in which the children were interviewed is psychiatrist Roland Summit. Recently, Summit has written that the McMartin children were in fact 'the victims of sexual abuse, that social worker Kee MacFarlane and the children's Institute International used proper, up-to-the-minute techniques to interview the children, and that the crumbling of the prosecution merely points to weaknesses in the criminal justice system.
Summit argued that there was both reason and precedent for the methods used in the initial interviews with children'. “MacFarlane practiced the state of the art...highly evolved, intensely specific and largely unknown outside the fledgling specialty of child abuse diagnosis.” This new art form, Summit continued, was “an amalgam of several roles...the knowledge of a child development specialist to understand and translate toddler language, a therapist to guide and interpret interactive play," a police interrogator to develop evidentiary confirmation and a child-abuse specialist, to recognize, the distinctive and pathetic patterns of sexual victimization. " We evidently need such artists to assist police investigators because their “specialist understanding is both unexpected and counter-intuitive."
Summit doesn't tell us whether he has viewed any of the videotaped interviews done by MacFarlane and her protgs; but either way, his defense of the techniques used is itself indefensible. I don't know which is worse---defending interviews which he has studied and which so clearly show that the children were trained; by the interviewers to believe they were molested, or defending interviews which he has not studied.
That the children, and, their parents, were horribly victimized by the interviews—is a conclusion which is inescapable. So far, I have watched the interviews of thirteen children. In some Kee MacFarlane is the interviewer. In others, those she has taught faithfully practice the new "art” Summit, so highly praises. In each and every session, have seen, so far, an outrageous pattern emerges, one in which the children are systematically manipulated and indoctrinated until they finally give the interviewer what he or she wants, some “yukky secrets”.
1. A five-year-old girl is introduced to hand puppets which can "speak for the child.” MacFarlane tells the girl that "we can pretend.” She goes on to tell the girl, I think that something happened to you at school with Mr. Ray (Buckey) that you don't want to talk about. “No," the child responds.
“I think it's true, MacFarlane answers, "I, talked to lots of your friends. All of them are telling me the things that Mr. Ray did"
When the child still has no "secrets" to tell, MacFarlane is not deterred. She tells the child, "He told you not to talk, didn't he...But: all the kids are telling...You could just show me with the dolls. You don't even have to use words."
Even if it were true that the other children had in fact told of these things, rather than been manipulated into saying them, is this the way to find out if a particular child has been victimized or witnessed others being victimized? Hardly.
2. A four year old girl is asked by MacFarlane, “Do you like Ray?” She responds, “No, he's bad." “What did he do?” MacFarlane asks. The girl responds, “My mom said he tied up kids.” Instead of helping the child understand the difference between what her mother or anyone else may have told her, and what she could actually remember from her own experiences at school, MacFarlane proceeds to ask the child to demonstrate, with dolls and rope, how the children were tied!
Not surprisingly, the child complied. After all, children regularly use dolls to tell stories. By the time the session was over, the child was tying dolls to legs of chairs with the rope, and using handcuffs which were also handy. At one point in this "fact-finding" process, 'the child said that after Mr. Ray tied kids, her mother came and tied up kids too! When MacFarlane asked if this was just a story, the child agreed that she was just pretending.
Armed with these profound insights into the operations of the McMartin school, MacFarlane and her colleagues then proceeded to tell subsequent children that they knew kids were being tied up at the school. Other children had said so.
3. An eight year old boy is interviewed by Kee MacFarlane. It has been several years since this boy attended the school, so his memory will need an extra bit of jogging. He is told that a lot of other kids have told about the secrets. The ones who tell are “a big help in figuring things out." He is told that some of the teachers did yukky things. When he asks which teachers, he is told" that the puppets know and they can tell the “secret machine" (microphone). When the child, even with the puppets, fails to come forth with a secret, the puppet on his hand is asked by the puppet on MacFarlane's hand, "Are you dumb or smart?” The boy's puppet responds, "I'm smart.”
The boy is nudged further by being told t hat because the youngest children are some times unable to talk, “we're talking to the older kids, cause they're the smartest. They can help. We can figure out these games, if you're smart." The boy responds, once again, “I’m smart.”
MacFarlane says, “It was a long time ago, you might not remember... We can pretend." Now the boy says, "I remember, but the best: he can do is talk about beating up puppets. MacFarlane, via the bird puppet on her hand, tells the child, "Bird says some of them are naked games." The child asks why they played naked games.
MacFarlane responds, “It was a special school where they play naked games. Remember?"
With MacFarlane doing the “telling,” the boy will obviously need even more encouragement. She tells him, "He had a meeting of the mommies and daddies of the kids. They said how proud they were that their children had told (the secrets). But some parents said their kids didn't tell any secrets, so we said “sorry". Your parents talked to the other parents, so they know the secrets and your parents said, “We don't know if Bill [pseudonym] has a good enough memory".
To this the boy immediately blurts out, "Well, I have a good enough memory," "To which MacFarlane responded, "Oh, great. Was that you, Mr. Monkey? o.k. Lets figure out a naked game. --- Later we can tell the mommies and daddies. Oh, they will be so happy.”
With this, the child began to talk about games he supposedly “remembered." But, alas, none of the teachers were naked in the games he described. That would never do.
MacFarlane: “I thought that was a naked game."
Boy: "Not exactly"
MacFarlane: "Did somebody take their clothes off?"
Boy : "When I was there no one was naked."
Mac Farlane: .. We want to make sure you're not scared to tell."
Boy: "I'm not scared.”
MacFarlane: Some of the kids were told they might be killed. It was a trick. Alt right Mr. Alligator, are you going to be stupid, or are you smart and can tell. Some think you're smart."
Boy: "I'll be smart."
MacFarlane: "Mr. Monkey (the puppet the child had used earlier) is chicken. He can't remember the naked games, but you know the naked movie star game, or is your memory too bad?"
Boy: “I haven' t seen the naked movie star game."
MacFarlane: "You must be dumb."
Boy: "I don't remember."
Sooner or later, most children will buckle under this kind of onslaught, as they did in the McMartin case. This, I submit, is child (and parent) abuse.
The techniques used on the McMartin children point dramatically to one conclusion: MacFarlane and her trainees had decided, before the very first interview, that children were molested at the McMartin preschool. However they now try to rationalize their interview techniques, their behavior with the children looks like an attempt to squeeze from the children "evidence" of what the interviewers were sure must have taken place.
Summit defends this by writing, “If a child suspected of being abused is unable to volunteer information, it must be elicited with warm reassurance and specific, potentially leading questions" This seems to assume that a molestation has taken place, despite the fact that the interview is supposed to discover whether molestation has occurred. Tragically, this assumption of sexual abuse is precisely the attitude that Summit, MacFarlane and other leading lights in child sexual abuse have promoted, through countless workshops for police, protective service workers, mental health professionals, and district attorneys. It is this belief that if an allegation is raised, regardless of the circumstances, it must true because "children don't lie about sexual abuse," which explain the irresponsible investigations in the McMartin case, and the hundreds of other false allegations throughout the country.
This raises other serious question. Where does the claim that "children don’t lie about sexual abuse” come from? Are there only two choices, that the child is either lying or telling the truth, or does this ignore the possibility that a child may be manipulated into an accusation, and with sufficient training, eventually come to sincerely believe in things which never took place? With the answers to these questions comes the recognition that in defending Kee MacFarlane and the children's Institute International, Summit is defending himself and the other leaders of the “fledgling specialty" of child sexual abuse.
In a highly influential article, Summit has written, it has become a maxim among sexual abuse intervention counselors and investigators that children never fabricate the kinds of 'explicit sexual manipulations they divulge in complaints and interrogation." Unaided by adults with axes to grind, this is probably true most of the time. But the evidence is now overwhelming that children may be coaxed, prodded, and indoctrinated until they tell not only of sexual abuse, which never took place, but about virtually any fantasy imaginable.
Take, for example the child repeatedly interviewed as part of the string of cases in Bakersfield, case based on the same irresponsible interview techniques used on the McMartin children. Eventually the child told how a mother and father had sexually abused and then murdered their two-year-old son. I am happy to report that the "murdered" child is alive and well. Another child, subjected to the same indoctrination techniques, added the district attorney and the child protection worker to the long list of child molesters.
The Minnesota Attorney General investigated the sex abuse hoax in Scott county, where children told of sex rings and murders, and accused their own parents of these heinous acts. A major conclusion of the investigation was that "prolonged interrogation of children may result in confusion between fact and fantasy."
For Summit to ignore such evidence, and the obvious implications for the McMartin interviews, is irresponsible. It seems that rather than face up to the nightmare which the "experts" have promoted by their highly aggressive and manipulative techniques, they are determined to confuse the issues by claiming that (quoting Summit) "if there is a danger out, there...we must look to sources apart from the criminal justice system to show us the danger... Rather than discredit MacFarlane, the criminal justice system needs to better understand, the problem of child sexual abuse: and make accommodations to the sources of evidence."
This means more puppets, more "anatomically correct dolls," more testimony from three, four or five year olds who have been so bad manipulated by interviewers that they no longer can differentiate what they remember from what has been suggested to them by overzealous adults.
Recently we learned of yet one more perversion being foisted on us by the "experts": Some of the leading authorities in child sexual abuse have been given hundreds of thousands of federal and state dollars to study the impact of sexual abuse, on the Mc Martin children! Among the investigators receiving, these funds, are the very persons, who indoctrinated the children in to believing they were molested.
Summit has, however, made one worthwhile recommendation. He urged that the videotapes of interviews be carefully studied no matter what happens in the criminal case. This is precisely what needs to happen. The hundreds of hours of videotaped interviews, are indeed the key to understanding how the children could come to sincerely believe things that never happened. These tapes must not be allowed to gather dust merely because the district attorney's office finally gathered the courage to admit that it was a terrible mistake to trust MacFarlane and the children's Institute International.
Indeed, these tapes are a key, not only to understanding the McMartin hoax, but the thousands of smaller; but otherwise similar debacles unfolding throughout the country. If, as I have seen from own viewing of the McMartin tapes and listening to nearly two hundred hours of audio and video tapes in other case, the ‘best and the brightest’ have created the current mess in investigations of alleged child sexual abuse, then some basic lessons emerge:
First, we have once again made a terrible mistake by turning to mental health professionals for advice in delicate and difficult issues of law and social policy. Mental health professionals are no more qualified to investigate whether a child has been sexually molested than to determine if a murderer knew right from wrong, or predict if a prisoner is safe for release.
Second, police and child protection workers throughout the country will need to be retrained. The ideas and methods of Summit, MacFarlane, and their closest colleagues, which now pervade child sexual abuse investigations, will need to be exposed and discarded in favor of careful and responsible investigations, which do not turn to "experts" for insights, which we mistakenly assume they can provide. We will do far better without them. I join hands with Dr. Summit in calling for the most thoroughgoing study of the McMartin tapes, by the widest possible audience. Let transcriptions (with names and identifying data removed, of course) go forth, across the land. Once the public sees these tapes, experts will not be needed to tell us where the "secrets" came from, and who is to blame.