Costs from False Allegations
Prosecutions should only proceed when it is in the public interest, for example when there is sufficient evidence that there is a reasonably prospect of gaining a conviction.
When there is no workable system of accountability for prosecutors, then defective prosecutions may still occur. From the prosecutor’s perspective, successes gain public credit (and wrongful prosecutions just result in private costs to the innocent victims, garnished with public humiliation for the innocent victims).
In the longer run, the costs often come back onto the Government, as compensation to victims for prosecution malpractice. Although this is an old problem in NZ, it has never been satisfactorily been resolved. I have seen one police prosecutor who appeared to understand these issues and she behaved accordingly, which is far more than I can say for most of the men prosecutors I have seen in NZ. (I haven’t seen enough to be able to make valid overall conclusions.)
Elizabeth Jane Via: Zealous Sex Prosecutor Exposed
This update created 03 November 2008.
Elizabeth Jane Via is part of the recurring horror story of how zealous sex prosecutors–who play to the media–protect real rapists and destroy innocent lives, as documented in the story of Alicia Wade. The San Diego County Grand Jury would later describe District Attorney Elizabeth Jane Via’s actions as incomprehensible. As the result of lawsuits brought by the family, the State of California and others involved in the case ended up paying 3.7 million dollars in damages to the plaintiffs.
Such cases undermine public confidence in police and prosecutors. It is absurd that zealot prosecutors such as Elizabeth Jane Via would be tolerated in the legal profession. Yet as of this writing, Attorney Via is still listed as active by the State Bar of California and still gives her address as the DA’s Office in San Diego. This tolerance says volumes about the San Diego DA’s and the State Bar of California’s disregard for families or for maintaining even the appearance of reasonable standards of justice.
It has been more than ten years now since the journal IPT Forensics published the highly critical Assessing the Costs of False Allegations of Child Abuse: A Prescriptive about the legal profession’s blind tolerance of such abuses within its ranks. Yet news reports indicate that extremist prosecutors are still tolerated by the legal professions in the US, the UK, France, and Holland.
Institute for Psychological Therapies, Volume 9, Numbers Ã‚Â¾, Summer/Fall 1997
Assessing the Costs of False Allegations of Child Abuse: A Prescriptive
Copyright Ã‚Â© 1989-2012 by the Institute for Psychological Therapies.
This website last revised on April 18, 2012.
Susan Kiss Sarnoff*
ABSTRACT: False allegations of child abuse result in considerable costs to all aspects of the criminal justice and social service systems and to society as a whole as well as the falsely accused. The factors behind these costs are explored and suggestions made for increasing accountability.
It is a sad truth that policymakers often demonstrate greater concern for the financial costs of policies than for their human costs. This is certainly true of the costs of false allegations of child sexual abuse. Policymakers rarely demonstrate concern about false charges unless they are exposed. Lawsuits against government entities are now increasingly permitted as well, as was shown by the unsuccessful attempts by Kathleen Coulbourn Faller, and seven of her staff members at the University of Michigan Family Assessment Center (FAC), to avoid civil charges of malpractice by arguing that, as state employees, they were immune to such charges.
But charges of malpractice are difficult to prove, as the clearing of Faller and the University of Michigan demonstrated. Despite videotapes showing staffer Jane Mildred using leading questions and an anatomically-detailed doll and even allowing the child’s (accusing) mother to participate in an interview designed to determine if the child’s father was sexually abusing her, jurors were apparently swayed by the fact that the FAC staff were “good, hard-working professionals trying to take care of children,” according to one of their attorneys.
Yet these professionals failed to detect paranoia on the part of the mother (manifested so blatantly that the judge in the case ignored the FAC’s report and gave custody to the child’s father). The judge had no difficulty recognizing that a mother who regularly inspected her child’s genitals and took her for no fewer than eight physical examinations to detect abuse, none of which were successful, was pathologically obsessed with the fear that her child was being molested. This demonstrates a clear discrepancy between the public’s perception of professionals, as defined by their credentials and the settings in which they work, and an understanding of the skills and qualities professionals in child welfare require to effectively perform their roles.
The judge and jury in the malpractice trial, however, were not aware that leading questions and suggestive objects, such as anatomical dolls, often create “false positive” findings of abuse.1 Moreover, Faller is among a handful of child sexual abuse “evaluators” (she was herself a founder of the now-defunct Believe the Children) who professes that child sexual abuse is far more common than is recognized, and who ideologically lean toward true findings of abuse.2 Given the sloppiness reported in the case that was the subject of the malpractice lawsuit, it gives pause to realize that Faller’s center has seen over 1,000 children since 1978, and that none of these cases have been reviewed to determine whether later facts supported or disproved its findings.
Yet false allegations accrue considerable – and wholly unnecessary – costs to all aspects of the criminal justice and social service systems, potentially for police and other investigatory procedures, prosecutorial and court operations, pretrial incarceration costs, foster care and out-patient or residential treatment, indigent defenses and public assistance for the accused’s family. It also accrues costs to the falsely accused, for legal fees, lost wages, and mandated counseling. Perhaps the worst cost of all is that increased attention to false allegations is beginning to threaten the public’s faith in all child abuse investigations.
One final step should be taken to complete the feedback loop. Victim compensation agencies should be empowered to compensate the victims of false allegations as well as the falsely convicted in every state. It is only when victim compensation agencies bear the costs of false allegations that they will gain the incentive to prevent all such cases, and not just to address the handful that gain media attention. This feedback loop would finally, and quite appropriately, recognize the falsely convicted as victims of crime, because the stigma of being falsely accused of a crime, and the horror of being wrongly imprisoned, is one of the worst forms of victimization – and one that is in the government’s power to rectify.
Dr. Susan Kiss Sarnoff is a social policy analyst and the author of Paying for Crime: The Policies and Possibilities of Crime Victim Reimbursement (), published by Praeger in 1996. Dr. Sarnoff is currently writing a book on the government’s acceptance of junk social science, titled Sanctified Snake Oil. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org through the summer, then at the Ohio University School of Social Work in Athens. [top]