The Nightmare That May Never End

by Rebecca Doe*

In June of 1988, my 34-year-old daughter, Rachel, arrived at our home unannounced in acute distress.  Our relationship with our daughter, her husband, and their 5-year-old child, Lisa, was close and loving.  We were grateful for that, because her adolescence had been a stormy one.  During that difficult period we had serious concerns about her future.  But that afternoon Rachel told us, in tears just short of hysteria, that her distress was due to her belief that Lisa had been sexually abused by the 12-year-old girl Rachel had entrusted with babysitting her for the previous year.

During this visit to us, as she told us about the babysitter problem, Rachel's understandable distress had overtones of horrifying guilt.  The 12-year-old sitter had been trusted as "a genius at getting along with Lisa," even though Rachel knew of her previous hospitalization for mental illness.  Rachel had talked to her younger brother, who has a Ph.D. in psychology, about some of Lisa's behaviors that she thought were a bit strange.  He had alerted Rachel to possible baby sitter abuse when she described some of Lisa's behavior to him.  But Rachel disregarded this suggestion, apparently because she had been told by her therapist that her fears on that score were paranoid.  This is the same therapist who later persuaded her that we were abusive parents.

On that visit, we were asked if we'd pay for treatment for Lisa, and, of course, we readily agreed.  We were ready to do anything to assist our daughter and her child.  Then Rachel begged us, with apparent desperation, to answer some odd questions about Rachel's grandparents' parenting of us.  We answered readily with no possible anticipation of the way our words were to be horrendously distorted later.  We felt deep compassion for our daughter, knowing how guilty she felt about having allowed a 12-year-old girl with a history of hospitalization for mental illness to babysit alone for so long.  We shared her distress and her anxiety about Lisa being abused and wanted to cooperate in every way we could to understand how this could have happened and what we all could do about it together as a family.

However, as time passed, Rachel became more distant.  We noticed this but thought she was trying to cope the best way she could.  She then called us and asked that we all see a family therapist.  We agreed to one of her choice, a prominent systems therapist who headed a preeminent family therapy institute in the area.

I am a family therapist myself.  In retrospect, I could only have missed the referential nature of my daughter's statements during the first joint session by denial.  The psychiatrist pointed out the failures in her reality testing later.  Then I was able to recognize her accusations that we were reckless in leaving her, as a child, with babysitters.  Now, with no evidence and wrongly, she believed the sitters we had left her with to have been sexually dangerous to her.  She recalled our teasing one 23-year-old medical student friend, who often dated 19-year-olds, about "robbing the cradle," as proof of his dangerousness and our recklessness.

The family therapist explained the expression, and asked Rachel what her individual therapist advised about such concerns, and was told that she had said, "Go with the flow."  What a suggestion to one she had previously called paranoid.  The family therapist disagreed, advising Rachel to "check things out," partially prompting her later quitting his treatment, saying that she "didn't like his attitude."

After that session Rachel said she'd feel more comfortable if she knew I was watching her father whenever Lisa was visiting.  This confused me.  I asked what she was talking about.  I had no idea I was being asked to choose between my daughter and my totally innocent husband whom she now believed had sexually assaulted her during her childhood.  However, she had not yet said anything directly to us about this accusation.

Then, on the advice of her therapist, Rachel, although proclaiming her continuing devotion to us, asked to be out of contact with us for six months.  We had no way of enforcing a refusal on our part, other than threatening to withdraw our significant contributions to their financial support, which, it seemed, would seriously worsen things.

Next we began hearing from other family members that Rachel was claiming to have been a victim of incest.  We were shocked, dismayed, angry, depressed, and simply had no way at all to understand how this could be happening to our family.  I consulted the family therapist, and I was advised to contact Rachel's therapist immediately, that something serious was happening to Rachel, and that he felt she needed medication.  Not knowing her therapist's name, I couldn't follow through, and, anyway, I was fearful of my very touchy daughter's reaction to such interference.

My husband and I tried desperately to figure out what could possibly have happened that she was now making these horrifying accusations.  Rachel had been one of those beautiful, glowing young children that most parents only dream about.  Taking her for a walk meant frequent delightful interruptions by praising strangers, much taken by her attractiveness and winning manner.  We were proud of her and loved her dearly.

The early signs of trouble began during the agonizing two-year illness and death of Rachel's younger sister.  During the period of the affliction with acute leukemia, our younger daughter, who, we felt, was in her own way as exceptional as Rachel, naturally required much of our attention.  Rachel, who had been the object of much maternal and paternal doting must have felt relatively neglected, though, of course we tried our very best to minimize that.  We tried hard to make as much time as possible for Rachel and to work together to respond to this stress and sorrow.

Rachel's nightmares, problems with friends, and difficulties at school began during this period and continued after her sister's death.  We had sufficient familiarity with the mental health field, and we were sophisticated enough to consult a highly recommended and reputable child psychiatrist who treated Rachel twice weekly from ages 9 to 17.  Her psychiatrist told us he hoped to avert the development of later paranoid schizophrenia, by his therapeutic intervention.  This therapy was largely successful until it was destroyed by the highly probing and forcefully suggestive recent measures by Rachel's current therapist, against which he had vigorously counseled.

That prior therapeutic success was attested to by the facts that Rachel was a professionally successful, civic-minded, brilliant, caring young woman.  She had earned her Master's degree in Counseling and she specialized in treating eating disorders.  She was a loving mother and daughter of whom we felt justly proud.  Proud, until disaster struck in the guise of a new style of psychotherapy.

Reports of Rachel's conversations began sounding increasingly bizarre.  For instance, to her paternal aunt, she described objects that the baby sitter, whose supposed abuses Lisa had previously "refused to discuss," had inserted into Lisa's vagina, urethra and anus.  She was keeping these objects in three separate bags, discussing them frequently with Lisa.

Finally we obtained Rachel's therapist's address.  We wrote a letter pleading for communication with her and Rachel.  No answer.  We learned from others that Lisa had been switched to another sex-abuse specialist because the first had failed to get anything out of her.

We again consulted the family therapist who also tried and got no response.  He asked whether we were going to permit our granddaughter to be psychologically abused by her mother, who was "making her crazy!"  We asked what he thought of a court action for grandparent's visiting rights, and he recommended proceeding with that action, saying he would back us fully.

The details of the hearing we hoped would straighten things out would take several dozen more pages.  Briefly, our highly recommended, top-named, ultra high-priced lawyers had made their reputations in family law, which we were told applied to our case.  It turned out that their experience and reputations were from divorce cases, and they knew little, and did less to help in this time consuming situation.

The court-appointed child advocate, represented to us as unbiased, and whom we ultimately were court-ordered to pay, was an appealing young women who fed us the lines that anyone familiar with the incest survivor movement has heard all too often.  In essence, she said that because the worst possible thing is to place a child in the hands of an abuser, she would convince the judge (who would listen to her because he appointed her as expert) to rule against us whether she believed us to be guilty or innocent of child abuse.  The risk of reabuse is so great that she would have to recommend against us.

Furthermore, the female probation officer who was assigned to obtain the evidence for the court, readily obtained our background information, but not that of Rachel, quoting Rachel's initial refusal to sign releases.  When the judge ordered that Rachel sign (she finally did), the probation officer resisted obtaining the reports, claiming that they weren't needed.  Actually she initially refused in the face of repeated orders by the judge.

Suffice it to say that our evidence never got to a hearing.  That included preventing my denials of supposed concurrence, and Rachel's brother's absolute conviction that her therapist's insistence that he too had repressed all evidence of these extreme events over the years was absurd.  The entire family immediately responded to these accusations with the conviction that Rachel had become insane.  She promptly cut them all off from any contact with her and her family also.  There was the medical evidence that included her gynecologist's record of refusal to insert an IUD at age 17 due to an intact hymen and Rachel's verbal evidence of virginity.  There were the records and reports of the child psychiatrist who treated her twice weekly from age 9 to 17, and found no signs of abuse.

Rachel claimed repeated, "almost continuous" rape, including forced oral and anal penetration from age two and a half to 16.  She claimed to remember this and testified the same thing happened to her leukemic little sister — who would have promptly hemorrhaged to death.  These "memories" were "repressed" throughout the attacks, until brought out after considerable therapeutic pressure as "decades delayed discovery."  But all examining physicians throughout childhood and adolescence during supposed potentially mutilating attacks reported that she showed no signs of abuse, or even scarring.  Decades delayed delusions would be more accurate.

A court-appointed forensic psychiatrist, after examinations and testing, found Rachel to have a paranoid delusional disorder in relation to her entire family, and to be "incapable of distinguishing fact from fantasy."  He recommended that she be seen by a psychiatrist, expressing the opinion that she needed medication.  He further said that Lisa's admission that her mother told her that her "Grandpa might hurt you," but that she doesn't believe it, helped substantiate his opinions on witnessed interactions between grandfather and granddaughter.  Furthermore, he reported to the judge, the negative opinion and testing showing no inappropriate psychopathology in the grandfather, justify visitation.  Visitation could be supervised only to calm the mother.

Hope for a chance to convince Rachel's husband to try for a change to helpful therapy for our suffering daughter, and input to help our granddaughter were lost when the outrageous delays of the justice system permitted them to escape confrontation by moving 3,000 miles away.

We pray that Rachel will someday come out of this, but have since learned of the support for her induced delusions available from what has become the sex-abuse industry, cultivating a cult of so-called incest survivors, many with decades delayed supposed discovery.  I further fear, because it would be typical of her and this epidemic, that Rachel will change her theories of cause in her counseling of women with eating disorders, to those of the incest survivor cult that food (and most other) problems are due to suppressed incest memories, and do to others what has been done to her.  That's how this plague seems to be spreading.

We called the Institute for Psychological Therapies in Minnesota which we learned had been actively studying such false accusations for some time.  We asked for and were given help with our goals of: (1) forming a support group of those accused of decades delayed discovery which could also be a source of research information (currently over 1500 families and rapidly growing); (2) encouraging and arranging relevant articles and symposia at professional meetings in hopes of arousing courage to resist this unwittingly disastrous approach in what we consider to be the now silent majority of mental health professionals; and (3) striving for a more balanced representation by the media, which currently spreads much harmful propaganda with unquestioned cult-invented absurd statistics, and blind sympathy for the position of individuals like Rosanne Barr Arnold, LaToya Jackson and the rest of these poor, literally misguided accusers.  Their clients are often asked to read The Courage to Heal (Paperback)(Audio Cassette), one of the now many pop psych books of this sort, which encourages women to suspect that they were abused as children even though they have no such recollections.

We have no doubt that we have made many mistakes as parents, but we love our children and our granddaughter.  We felt we had a lot to give.  Lisa loved staying with us and often balked at going home.  We miss her, and we miss the daughter we love.  There is never a day or night that she does not come to mind.  We lost a child to leukemia.  That was dreadful, but we were able to deal with the finality of something that no one could help.  This is a man-made disaster, causing wounds that will never heal.

It is possible that I may never see my daughter again.  For such change to take place, decades may elapse.  But as those in similar situations agree, perhaps our work will make it possible for others to avoid our pain.  We hope to put a stop to this destructive kind of therapy.  The anger we feel toward these therapists is impossible to measure.  As we spend hours on the phone trying to help others who have just discovered that they are not alone in their misery, we hope something is being accomplished.

We have met many wonderful and quite remarkable people, and friendships have developed among these unlikely so-called rapists and Satanists.  As we work to get our stories heard, we hope that people will realize that they too can be accused, and have their family life destroyed.  We hope that others, especially those therapists who are apparently afraid to speak out, will do so.  I lived through a comparable situation in Germany in the 1930s.  The deja vu like elements are almost overwhelming.  We desperately yearn for the recovery of our intensely loved daughter and granddaughter, but, failing that, at least hope that there will be some progress in fighting this plague of agonizing family disruptions.

* Rebecca Doe can be contacted through Issues in Child Abuse Accusations[Back]

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