Really? Destroyed?
March 15, 2011 1:24 PM   Subscribe

I am now an independent adult. The schools in question are in Massachusetts, USA. The time period in question is the 1980’s. I am asking about record retention guidelines in cases of suspected child sexual abuse.

When I was in grade school, I was being sexually abused by my older brother. There was an episode when I was in grade school where I had disclosed the abuse to a friend, and, presumably, she told a responsible adult who reported it to the school, which then took charge of an intervention. Because the intervention was very badly handled, the verdict was “nothing to see, move along.” However, part of it was that my brother and I were required to visit a counselor/psychologist/therapist/thing. Oh, yeah, we saw the same one. That’s another story.

I’m trying to get information about the details of what happened with that intervention. I’ve called the elementary school, and been informed that all my elementary school records would have been passed on to the high school; I’ve called the high school, and been informed that student records are only kept 6 years, and that they only keep a transcript (which is kept for 60 years, much good that it does me.) Then the records are destroyed.

I was unwilling to press the point of the kinds of records I’m looking for, but I’m trying to determine if the kinds of records that would have been kept on suspicions of sexual abuse would have been separate from my “student record”. This is, after all, evidence of criminal activity, and we are still within the statute of limitations.

I’ve also tried to look up information about how long the psychologist would be required to keep records, but even so, I would need to know her name to even start. I was hoping the school records might provide it.

There’s an outside chance my parents might still have the paperwork, but I doubt it, and, frankly, I’d rather not ask if I don’t have to. Similarly, I’d rather not disclose to every random administrator in my former school system “well, the records in question regard suspected sexual abuse, is that stored differently?”

Relatedly, if there’s some secret back door to finding the name of a therapist/counselor/psychologist who would have treated me 25-30 years ago, I’d love to know it.
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Is there some sort of high school or grade school year book that would list all the faculty from the district? Does the HS library keep old copies of yearbooks?
posted by JohnnyGunn at 1:32 PM on March 15, 2011

If you saw a different therapist at some point after the intervention (maybe even years later), you might have mentioned to that person the name of the intervention-therapist. Perhaps the later therapist would have a record or a memory of the intervention-therapist.
posted by Houstonian at 1:50 PM on March 15, 2011

Not absolutely sure about this, but what about the Massachusetts Department that handles child abuse cases? It looks like that might be Mass Dept of Children and families. Wesite here.

Good luck.
posted by annsunny at 2:04 PM on March 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

Given the age of the records, this is worth an investment into a private investigator or attorney. I have a feeling that this is going to take some considerable sleuthing. Besides DCF, one place you might look is the local police department.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 2:15 PM on March 15, 2011

The local library or historical society might have copies of old phone books or similar sources that might list who were the child psychologists in the area at that time.
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:26 PM on March 15, 2011

Just an idea- if the statue of limitations is still open and you go to the police about this, the County ADA (Assistant District Attorney) will get involved. Won't he or she have the clout to find the records, since they would be the one to prosecute the case? There have to be staffers who specialize in this sort of thing.

If you do go this route you should talk to the Police in the town the abuse took place, not where you live now.

Good luck.
posted by JohntheContrarian at 4:48 PM on March 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Looking at the APA practice guidelines for psychologists, they say "As reflected in the guidelines, the amount of time to retain records depends largely on relevant laws and regulations. Many states - such as California, North Carolina, Tennessee and Connecticut - require health professionals to maintain records for seven years after the professional relationship ends. This time period typically does not start for minors' records until the minor reaches the age of majority."

My guess is that if you are over age 25, the records have already been destroyed. So even if you could find the name of the professional who worked with you, it would almost certainly lead to a dead end.

So you are stuck with the very real possibility that you will never know what really happened beyond your own memories. But I think the most important part of the story is not the fact of what happened but how you, as child, made sense of it, what you learned from the experience about the world and what coping tools you developed in response. Those are the things that have the long term impact on your life - not the facts but how they affected your psyche. This is obviously the kind of exploration that a therapist can help you with. If you don't want to got hat route, then I would suggest some regular journaling - your memories of what happened, how you thought and felt about it then, how you think and feel about it now. Research supports the idea that if you write about traumatic events like that, it would improve your health (even if no one else ever reads it.) I don't remember the details but it was something like writing for 20 minutes every day for a week or two resulted in students being healthier for the rest of the semester. (The reserach was done by Pennebaker if you want to look it up). Anyway, journalling might help you reach a place of resolution or completeness that it will help you put the events into the past instead of having them intrude on your current life.
posted by metahawk at 12:15 AM on March 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

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