|| A Mother's Nightmare Incest: A Practical Legal Guide for Parents
||John E. B. Myers
||Sage Publications, Inc., ©1997
2455 Teller Road
Thousand Oaks, CA 91320
$52.50 (c); $24.50 (p)
Law professor John E. B. Myers aims at a real problem and sets out to fill
a vitally important need. The problem is what can be known and what to do
if a parent begins to suspect there is sexual abuse of a child. The need
is to improve the accuracy of the decisions made by the justice system to
give maximum protection to children when there is an allegation of abuse.
This 246-page book is at least a partial response to both issues.
The book, however, begins with a highly inflammatory story claimed to be
true, and to be the experience of many parents, primarily mothers, across
the United States. But no documentation or support for the truth claim is
supplied. A father is said to be sexually abusing his three young children
for years. The mother tries to protect her children, but the father, a wealthy
brain surgeon, hires a clever and unscrupulous defense attorney who viciously
attacks the mother, claiming that she has coached the children to make up
the stories about the father. After protracted litigation, the justice system
gives custody to the father, dooming the children to a life of cruel and
continuous sexual abuse. This is the mother's nightmare hence the title.
This account is what the justice system would most likely term highly prejudicial
and inadmissible as evidence in an adjudication. It would be good to have
at least some documentation of this tale, for it is so extreme that it approaches
improbability. Myers gives no basis for his claim that this is a true account
and is not an isolated incidence. He does not say what evidence, if any,
he reviewed or knows about. Yet, he maintains that the judge, who heard
all the evidence presented, was wrong and was duped by a clever lawyer and
a skilled psychopath.
Apart from those women and a few men who have made highly questionable claims,
kidnapped their children, and fled into the underground railroad, we have
never heard of anything approaching this account in either the hundreds
of cases we have reviewed or the extensive professional literature we have
read. Placing this story right at the beginning of the book and asserting
it is a true account may set the switches for at least some parents to distrust
our courts, flee, commit violent acts, or despair of any rational way to
respond to anxieties, suspicions, and concerns. The more sober and balanced
views scattered throughout the remainder of the book may therefore be overlooked.
The next chapter defines sexual abuse of children. The definition given
is, "any touching, anywhere on a child's body, is abusive when the
adult's motive is sexual" (p. 14). This includes any touching through
clothing. Making a criminal act dependent on the internal motivation of
an individual opens the door to mischief and error. Up to this point it
has been generally understood that the law deals with overt behavior, not
with inferred internal psychological states. The problem is that motivation
is a very ambiguous and slippery construct. It is an error to think that
any human action is caused by a single, unidimensional motivation. All human
behaviors are related to a number of possible motivational constructs. In
the human mind everything is related to everything else. Everything correlates
with everything else. This scientific fact is what Meehl calls the "crud
factor" (Meehl, 1990).
Throughout the remainder of the book, there are many statements about psychological
research findings and opinions of mental health professionals. However,
the opinions and research cited tend to be from a rather narrow band of
those who support the views and perceptions advanced by Myers. Many of the
conclusions purported to be based on scientific research are questioned
by contrary findings or disconfirming evidence. An example of this is the
discussion of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as an effect of sexual
abuse (p. 30-32). The statement is made that half of sexually abused children
show PTSD. It is also claimed that no other symptom is seen in a majority
of abused children. The empirical support for this claim is not cited.
Finkelhor, (1988, 1990; Boney-McCoy, & Finkelhor, 1995), one of the
authorities cited by Myers, has three articles in which he questions the
applicability of the PTSD diagnosis to sexually abused children. A number
of articles and research studies raise doubt that half of the children sexually
abused develop PTSD (Davidson & Foa, 1991; Hanson, 1990; Halleck, Hoge,
Miller, Sadoff, & Halleck, 1992; Spaccarelli, 1994; Joseph, Williams,
& Yule, 1995; Fisher & Whiting, 1996). An American Psychiatric Association
Task Force concluded that in the absence of scientific evidence that a causal
relationship exists, it is a misuse of psychitrric diagnosis, specifically PTSD, to claim the cause is known
(Halleck, et. al. 1992).
A number of other assertions are made which are challenged or falsified
by research not cited or discussed. Examples include the discussion of sexual
behavior of nonabused children which does not reflect the broader band of
research data that is available. The assertion that child molesters are
normal and do not show any discernible pathology is questioned by fairly
extensive research data (e.g., Kalichman, Shealy, & Craig, 1990; Levin,
& Stava, 1987; Overholser, & Beck,1986; Taylor, et al., 1991; Weinrott
& Saylor, 1991). For most of the claims made about what can be known,
there are data that either should lead to some further qualifications or
fuller disclosure of contrary indications.
Myers understands that there are false accusations and that great damage
to children and families is done when a false allegation is made. He also
understands that the manner of questioning children is a crucial and important
factor that must be considered. He voices appropriate cautions about these
Nevertheless, while the book has some useful information about the legal
system for those completely unacquainted with it and how it works, on balance
the effect on parents who read the book is not likely to be as helpful as
Myers intended. It generates a fear and distrust of the legal system and
is more likely to increase the level of errors in parents concerned about
or suspecting sexual abuse. It raises the probability level of low-frequency
events and weakly related observations to a level where false positives,
that is, thinking abuse is real when it is not, are more readily generated.
I do not recommend it.
Reviewed by Ralph Underwager, Institute for Psychological Therapies.
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to trauma symptoms and depression after controlling for prior symptoms and
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Davidson, J. R. T., & Foa, E. B. (1991). Diagnostic issues in posttraumatic
stress disorder: Considerations for the DSM-IV. Journal of Abnormal Psychology,
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