Help with a child abuse case.
August 26, 2005 1:47 PM   Subscribe

My brother was served with a restraining order by his wife. Their seven year old daughter told someone he had "touched her inappropriately". Our family is positive that this didn't happen and my brother is devastated. What recourse does he have?

He has a lawyer but she is pretty pessimistic about the outcome. Surely not every person accused of this is convicted? He has no access to his family to prove his innocence and doesn't know what he should do. Can anyone share what he should do? Thanks, we appreciate any help!
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (14 answers total)
I would look into perhaps getting a less pessimistic lawyer. I've never known a lawyer give me a pessimistic viewpoint, and if he or she did I would probably get one who thinks they can win the case.

Of course you do realize it is fairly common for a family to swear that their brother/son/nephew could never do that? It is my understanding that a psychologist can tell if the child is making something up they heard as often a seven year old doesn't have the capacity to completely fabricate what sexual abuse is like. If the wife is vindictive and a bad person she could be feeding this to the child which would be harder to detect. I was also under the assumption that there's some pretty concrete things that run through a good majority of sexual abuse cases (other physical abuse, change in behavior from the child, etc.) that should be verifiable from third party sources.

Perhaps this is all been explored by the lawyer, which is why he or she is so pessimistic.

This article on sexual abuse in Utah seems positive: "Since only about two percent of the cases where child sexual abuse is reported result in imprisonment, it seems important for policy makers to look at what is actually occurring and determine what, if any changes, should be made."
posted by geoff. at 2:00 PM on August 26, 2005

I'll let others comment on the recourse... but I'd like to just say that most every family thinks it's not possible. I would encourage you (and your family) to brace yourselves — even if it's just internally — for the chance that it really did happen.

That said, I do hope that it's a false alarm raised by a caring mother and not the truth, or (almost as bad) a spiteful ruse.
posted by silusGROK at 2:02 PM on August 26, 2005

Whether it's true or not - get a very good lawyer. It's best if you can find a lawyer who is experienced in the jurisdiction where the restraining order was issued - someone who knows the judge who issued it. A lawyer with friends and connections is valuable. It's also good for the lawyer to have experience dealing with this type of case. Then get another laywer to give you a second opinion. It's expensive but worth it.

Also - make sure your brother knows that violating the restraining order would be the absolute worst possible action at this point.
posted by kdern at 2:08 PM on August 26, 2005

If this happened in California, there will be an investigation by the Child Protective Services agency in the county. This is a forensic investigation, and they should video tape it. The videotape will help ascertain whether the interview with the child was conducted fairly, impartially, and without leading questions.

This is a huge and *very* controversial issue, you can find all kinds of resources through google, including advertisements from lawyers who are familiar with this area of practice.
posted by jasper411 at 2:34 PM on August 26, 2005

What is the lawyer pessimistic about - removing the restraining order or the potential criminal action?
posted by MeetMegan at 2:38 PM on August 26, 2005

Your brother is fucked. He needs to get a really good lawyer and hire his own psychiatrist (through the lawyer) ASAP. The longer this child goes on believing the lie (if it is) the more it will become truth in her mind, at which point it really doesn't matter whether it is true in reality or not. There will be no way to undue the new truth.
posted by caddis at 4:49 PM on August 26, 2005

What is the lawyer pessimistic about - removing the restraining order or the potential criminal action?

Sadly, anonymous posers can't respond to questions, but I wonder about that.

I suppose the major question right now is what's going to happen next. Are criminal charges in the pipeline, or does your bro just want to get rid of the restraning order?

If it's A) He'd better get a very good lawyer. If B, you don't need "the best" but he's probably going to have to spend a lot of time in family court.

If he can end up proving that the mother told the girl to say these things, she could end up in a lot of trouble and he might get custody (hopefully). But that would be very difficult.

The big problem is that the local police who handle these things are probably completely incompetent.

Ideally, your brothers lawyer ought to hire a psychologist to examine the girl and give their own report. I'm not sure she'll have that authority or not. Hopefully she (or some other lawyer) will be able to.

Anyway, crappy situation.
posted by delmoi at 4:53 PM on August 26, 2005

Don't just hire a good lawyer, hire a lawyer with experience defending criminal child abuse cases. This may just be a civil case now, but who knows where it leads? Expect to cough up at least $40,000 up front.
posted by mischief at 6:25 PM on August 26, 2005

I don't have much to add regarding lawyers, but the August issue of Scientific American had an article about how children deal with symbols (search for "sexual" for the relevant paragraph) and its implications for having the child use a doll to show where alleged touching occurred.
posted by MikeKD at 6:44 PM on August 26, 2005


Have the Lawyer hire a well respected psychologist, who's published (widely cited, hopefully) papers in this field related to child sexual abuse. These kinds of people get hired as expert witnesses all the time, so it shouldn't be that hard.
posted by delmoi at 7:15 PM on August 26, 2005

MikeKD: The kid was 7. There was actualy a mefi discussion about this -- the age of the kids in these studies was 3.5 or less.
posted by delmoi at 7:17 PM on August 26, 2005

One more vote for "your brother should whip out the checkbook, and hire a really good lawyer, experienced in these matters."

The negative effects of losing his daughter will matter in ways that money can't ever repay.
posted by mosch at 8:49 PM on August 26, 2005

I'm not sure how much help this Salon story will be, but it's all about very similar issues.
posted by daveqat at 9:32 PM on August 26, 2005

the allegation of abuse should be reported to the authorities to be investigated. I'm surprised that a court has issued a restraining order on the basis of un-investigated and un-proven allegations. Is this just a temporary order whilst the judge has asked for enquiries to be made?

the solicitor may be pessimistic as most cases of custody/contact disputes between parents result in failure for the husband. the legal route still needs to pursued. In the Uk there is a group called Fathers for Justice who have info re all this, dont know if anything similar where you are.

I would also echo what others have said about being prepared to accept that maybe he has done it. I have worked in child protection social work for 11 years and dealt with many sexual abusers, and they have always been 'normal' fathers/uncles/brothers/etc who nobody would have suspected
posted by juniorbonner at 1:24 AM on August 27, 2005

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