A Canadian Perspective on Child Sexual Abuse Accusations in the Gender War
"My lige lady, generally," quod he, "wommen
desiren have sovereynetee as wel over hir housbond as hir love."
The Canterbury Tales
The Wife of Bath's Tale
Chaucer, circa 1386
ABSTRACT: The feminist movement has altered the social
structure of contemporary society, in many ways for the better. However, the
extreme positions many radical feminists take have resulted in unprecedented
conflict between men and women. This phenomenon must be understood when
examining the present child sexual abuse hysteria. This conflict between men and
women is clearly seen in custody/access issues when false allegations of sexual
abuse arise in these conflicts. Complicating the situation is the influence of
radical feminism in behavioral science. The polarization of the sexes has
produced biased research and theory which is then used to support social policy
and practice, especially in the area of sexual abuse.
The "battle of the sexes," to resurrect a
now-obsolete phrase, has been a heavily-utilized theme in literature through the
centuries, as prevalent today as it was in the Middle Ages. Sexual
differentiation, or "sexism," is found even in man's oldest and most
primitive religions. The process of social evolution is a pervasive one.
the fact that in some societies women and children are still regarded as
chattels, within the last century contemporary Western society has seen almost
overnight changes in the area of sexual equality. The Suffragette movement, the
early feminist works of authors such as Gertrude Stein, and the later writings
of Germain Greer, Betty Freidan, and Gloria Steinem heralded the consciousness
raising era of the feminist movement in the late 60s and early 70s.
The popular media both mirrors social change and influences
it. The changes engendered by this burgeoning movement have been captured and
reflected by the media and, in turn, are altering the social structure of
contemporary society. Women now take on heroic roles in movies and television
which were once the exclusive domain of men. Movies such as the recently-popular
Three Men and a Baby would have been conceptually inconceivable even twenty
years ago. These mirror changes in attitude which have subsequently affected our
laws — laws which many feminists still deplore for reflecting the traditional bias
of the "male-dominated legal hierarchy." Laws dealing with sexuality
and violence towards women have changed, with traditional rape laws now
addressing the issues of violence and assault, rather than sexual behavior per
Only the most porcine bastions of male chauvinism would
refuse to acknowledge that sexual equality is not only here to stay, but that
much of the change is long overdue. However, a fundamental law of physics also
applies to both psychology and sociology — the pendulum of change always swings to
its extreme before it returns to its equilibrium. Hopefully, what we are now
experiencing in the age-old battle of the sexes is the extreme and it will soon
swing back to a more stable and central position. Never in history have the
sexes been in greater conflict.
On December 6, 1989, a deranged gunman named Marc Lepine
walked into L'Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal and systematically murdered
fourteen female engineering students before committing suicide. A suicide note
describing his hatred of "radical feminists" was found on his body.
This is the largest mass murder in Canadian history and it has focused
unprecedented attention on violence towards women.
The tragedy, however, appears to have taken on a twisted
significance to the more strident faction of radical feminists, who interpret it
as a symbolic male backlash against the feminist movement rather than as the act
of a lone, psychotic individual. They have used it as a rallying cry for
everything from more stringent gun control laws to tough but naive changes in
legislation dealing with domestic violence. This has prompted the leader of a provincial women's group to concede recently that
the issue "might be overplayed," and that some women's groups might be
using the anniversary of the massacre "to their advantage" (Gold,
On the eve of the anniversary, at the same time women across
Canada and in the United States were holding candlelight vigils commemorating
the event, a judge in eastern Canada handed down a three-year suspended sentence
to a man convicted of strangling his wife in a domestic violence situation.
incredibly ill-timed coincidence was akin to throwing gasoline on a fire and
prompted more outrage on the part of women's groups across the country. Such is
the Zeitgeist of contemporary sociosexual symbiosis.
While violence towards women may be the headline, the subtext
deals with far more pervasive issues involving relationships between the sexes,
as those of us who are involved in custody/access issues are well aware. The
present hysteria over the issue of child sexual abuse is becoming increasingly
recognized in the literature (Gardner, 1989, 1991; Wakefield & Underwager,
1988; Underwager & Wakefield, 1989). False allegations, particularly those
which arise in the context of child custody litigation, are now commonplace.
This epidemic can perhaps be more clearly understood when viewed in an
overlapping legal and historical context.
The laws dealing with child custody litigation have undergone
radical changes since the Industrial Revolution, from children being regarded as
possessions of the head of the household, through the "tender years"
doctrine in which mothers were virtually assured of retaining custody of any
children of the marriage under the age of seven (and daughters of any age), to
the present "best interests" doctrine most clearly articulated by
Goldstein, Freud, and Solnit (1973), and which is now part of present child
custody law. Legislation now also encompasses the issue of enforced joint
custody. The latter concept has been the legislated norm in some areas of the
United States since 1986, and is now the subject of increasing attention in
Canada, having given rise to numerous lobby groups and private Member's bills in
provincial legislatures. This special interest faction, naturally, is
overwhelmingly male, and, not surprisingly, is countered by an opposite polarity
There is, unfortunately, a pervasive human tendency to
embrace oversimplified, blanket solutions to contentious issues, regardless of
their complexity and multifaceted nature. The issue of child custody is no
exception, and the stage has thus been set for another round in the battle of
the sexes. The issue of enforced joint custody is regarded as yet another aspect
of the misogynistic oppression of the feminist movement by the
male-dominated power structure (Crean, 1988).
Given the present social and political climate, it is no
surprise that the weapon of choice in child custody battles is an allegation of
sexual abuse. The accusation usually arises from the custodial mother subsequent
to access of the children by the non-custodial father. This phenomenon has
become so commonplace that it has its own acronym, the "SAID (Sexual
Allegations in Divorce) Syndrome," coined by Blush and Ross (1987). They
describe the scenario in which the alleged perpetrator, without due process and
often with the presumption of guilt until the often-impossible proof of
innocence is produced, is not only deprived of access but may face criminal
charges and be incarcerated. The Court invariably prefers to take a conservative
approach to minimize the placement of children in what may be an at risk
situation, but until recently, without regard to the context in which such
allegations arise (Green, 1986; Awad, 1987). The potential human tragedy of such
a scenario is enormous, and it occurs with disturbing frequency (Wakefield &
In addition to the legal/historical context of the false
allegation syndrome, it may also be viewed from another perspective, in which
principles derived from social psychology and psychoanalytic theory come into
play. Richard Gardner has explained the phenomena in terms of the utilization
of various defense mechanisms and in so doing, has made clear the
psychopathological component of this behavior. Most psychopathology is unique to
the individual, with the exception of the folie à deux, which, on a larger scale,
becomes a shared delusion of many. When it becomes as widespread as the child
sex abuse delusion, it can be aptly described as mass hysteria (Gardner, 1991).
This phenomenon can also be understood in terms of what French sociologist
Gustave LeBon described in 1903 as a process of "mental homogeneity,"
in which individual reason is submerged and replaced by collective mind-set and
behavior (Hindmarch, 1990, Spiegel, 1990).
Precisely the same mechanisms are at work in closely related
phenomena which have impacted upon society in recent years — the rise of religious
fundamentalism and the anti-pornography movement. In both cases, many feel there
is an anti-sex bias which is related to aspects of radical feminism. Gardner
(1991) observes that in false allegations which have involved
"conspiracies," female "perpetrators" have been as vilified
as males, leading him to conclude that some feminists view all sex as
exploitation of women. This view is also held by Okami (1987-88, 1990), who
likens this philosophy to the Victorian values and beliefs about women and children.
Certainly this appears to
have been true in the celebrated McMartin case in the United States and the
Hamilton-Wentworth case in Canada. These two areas contribute to and are fed by
the current child sex abuse hysteria now sweeping our society.
Behavioral scientists, unfortunately, are not immune to the
winds of social change. Many have succumbed to the polemics of the gender war
and are firmly entrenched in enemy camps. Witness the proliferation
of "feminist psychologists" and "feminist lawyers" subgroups
which have sprung up in recent years within their respective associations.
concept of female psychology is nothing new. Psychoanalytic theory has always
acknowledged differences in the male and female psyche. Nor is there anything
inherently wrong with groups who wish to focus on gender-specific issues. However, the polarization of the sexes has produced research which is often
incredibly biased in support of the views of those who have conducted it. Learned tomes dealing with intervention and treatment are then based upon these
research conclusions with no acknowledgement that they may not only be biased
and skewed but false and misleading.
The simple-minded belief that "children never lie about
sex abuse," in fact, is not based on research. It is nothing more than a
cherished belief held by validators, victimologists, and sex abuse therapists of
various professional and quasi-professional persuasions who form the cottage
industry which has sprung up in the midst of the current child sexual abuse
hysteria. This particular myth has been sufficiently debunked elsewhere
(Gardner, 1982, 1989, 1991; Wakefield & Underwager, 1988; Underwager &
Wakefield, 1989) that it need not be reiterated here. However, its continued
popularity further illustrates the eagerness with which individuals will embrace
false beliefs consistent with their world view.
Sound behavioral science and sociopolitical activism have
never made good bedfellows. A clear illustration of bad behavioral research is
that of Diane Russell (1986), whose sampling techniques and methodology reflect
an appalling and obvious bias, producing results and conclusions which fly in
the face of the scientific method. Paul Okami (1987-88, 1990) has compiled a
most thorough critique of such research.
In a discussion of bias in the area of pornography research,
Christensen (1990) summarizes the issue:
The system of checks (replicative tests by others) and
balances (the efforts motivated by opposing prejudices) in science often works
fairly well to uncover such things. Even the tendencies to be influenced by
societal indoctrination and pander to current ideologies can be thwarted, to an extent, by the possibility of intellectual dishonesty being
uncovered by peers. Unfortunately, the system is often short-circuited.
of knowing the difficulties of interpreting any given results, the frequency
with which the data themselves cannot be reproduced, and all the other pitfalls
of scientific exploration, certain researchers insist on hurrying their
conclusions to the public or the legal system. But the latter do not possess all
the critical skills needed to assess the claims. Later on, when flaws are found,
much damage has already been done. Sometimes, of course, circumstances compel
haste; when this occurs, the responsible scientist will issue strong warnings of
caution. That, however, is not what has been happening (p.371).
As previously indicated, much of the grist for the
victimology mill is based not on research but on personal opinion. David
Finkelhor, for example, has written widely on the topic of child sexual abuse.
He discusses what he terms "the sexualization of emotional expression,"
stating that "When men relate to children, it is very hard for them to have
the kind of intimate, close relationships that children require without some of
this sexual baggage coming along. That is, the closeness and intimacy that men
have with children bring up these kinds of sexual feelings" (Finkelhor,
1987). While psychoanalytic theory is not entirely at odds with this view, such
comments are often uncritically accepted and resurface as reestablished dogma.
In discussing sexual abuse by parental caretakers, for example, Faller (1990)
The dynamics of sexual abuse by noncustodial fathers can be
understood by examining the circumstances surrounding the marital dissolution.
First, a common result of divorce is the loss of structure in the life of the
father. His wife and children are no longer there; thus daily routines are often
absent. For example, regular meals, set bedtimes, and prescriptions regarding
sleeping arrangements are missing. No longer is there anyone there to monitor
his behavior. He has unsupervised access to his children on visits, and there
may be no rules. Therefore, there may be increased opportunity for sexual abuse.
Further, the absence of rules about household functioning may encourage the
offender to violate other rules, for example, the incest taboo (p.69).
Single fathers, apparently, are by definition suffused with
sexual baggage and children are at risk in their custody. Little wonder then
that false allegations of child sexual abuse continue to proliferate. Naive and
often dangerous assumptions and presumptions abound in the ever-growing
literature of the gender war with endlessly quoted statistics of questionable
validity being generated under the guise of behavioral science. These statistics
are quoted by the media, and thus enshrined as "facts" which are
further promulgated by the child abuse industrialists.
Around the anniversary of the Montreal massacre, newspapers across the country ran articles in which it was
reported that "50% of women are afraid to go out after dark in their
neighborhoods," "One in four women will be sexually assaulted in their
lives, most by people they know," "50% of young offenders charged with
crimes against people were exposed to domestic violence as children."
gathers these "scientific facts"? Who provides them to the news media?
Recently, such statistics were reported by the York Region
Abuse Program in Toronto, Ontario (Harper, 1990) in the presentation of a
treatment program supervised by "Case Managers," who were described as
being comprised of "Children's Aid Society workers, physicians, social
workers, child case workers, or any professional with appropriate training and
experience who is connected with an agency that provides treatment
services." The list of references in the article consists of authors who
subscribe to the children-never-lie-about-sexual-abuse persuasion, and not
surprisingly, there is no mention of any process whereby the veracity of their
clients' "victimization" is even questioned. This agency is said to
offer training to others who will then become sexual abuse therapists
themselves, and since their article appeared in a publication produced by the
Federal Government of Canada and distributed nationally, we can clearly see how
the hysteria is transmitted on a large scale.
There is, however, a glimmer of enlightenment on the horizon,
one which will hopefully continue to grow and illuminate the child sexual abuse
aspect of the gender war for what it is — a sexualized, politicized, and
bastardized use of behavioral science. In Edmonton, Alberta, a government-funded
agency similar to the one in Toronto is now being investigated by Alberta Social
Services, after being prompted to do so by a local Justice of the Court of
Queen's Bench, who, in her Reasons for Judgment handed down in a recent divorce
trial, described the evidence of therapists from the agency as "... scary
and unprofessional. Their therapy is almost a brainwashing procedure."
agency's director stated, when interviewed by the press, that "only 3% of
all claims are fabricated." On local television, he later conceded that
"20% to 25%" of allegations in divorce cases were false. Again,
statistics of questionable etiology are produced to justify a stance. Another
local psychologist and sex abuse specialist was reported to have been rebuked by
a Provincial Court Judge hearing another matter for "testifying that in her
opinion children do not offer false evidence about sex abuse. The available
literature clearly attests that they sometimes do ..." (Byfield & Von
Hauff, 1990). Hopefully, such publicity will assist in divesting these
organizations and individuals of the righteousness with which they characteristically cloak
The reaction of the judiciary in these situations is
heartening to those of us who have spent years dealing with the tragic aftermath
of false allegations of sexual abuse. It is also saddening to see the results of
what must, in some respects, be regarded as the nadir of behavioral science when
both research and practice have become so polluted with gender-based doctrine
and prejudice. Hopefully, the end is in sight. The only tragedy worse than the
victimization of innocent people by false allegations of child sexual abuse is
the very real possibility that the plight of genuine victims will not be
discovered or properly investigated, having become discounted as yet another cry
wolf. This is a prospect which neither side in this war wants to happen.
most certainly will unless professionals of both sexes cease being pawns of
their respective sexual establishments and regain the professional objectivity
and scientific rigor now so conspicuous by its absence in the current hysteria
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