The Niko Story: Can There Be a Happy End in Abuse Accusation Cases?

Aulikki and Thomas Ristoja*

ABSTRACT When "Niko" was discovered in sex play with another child in his day care center, the staff became concerned and recommended professional evaluations for Niko and his family.  By the time the family's saga ended, Niko had been subjected to multiple suggestive interviews and given countless hours of therapy by an assortment of psychologists and psychiatrists.  He was removed from home, hospitalized, placed in children's homes, and only allowed limited visits with his parents under strict supervision.  Niko's father was criminally charged with sexually abusing him and the parents divorced under the stress of the situation.  The allegations grew to include sadistic rituals involving both parents and the older brother.  Eventually the parents went public and finally succeeded in getting Niko returned after three and a half years.  This case received tremendous attention in Finland.  In this article, the parents describe their ordeal and comment on the political situation in the Nordic countries in general and Finland in particular which contributes to this type of tragedy.

In October, 1990 when our 5-year-old son, Niko (pseudonym), started to play "behind" games in his day-care center, we were not greatly alarmed.  Niko had been found with his pants down in a toilet stall with another boy his age and was overheard making a comment about putting his "willy" up the other boy's behind.  We (Niko's father, Thomas, and his mother, Aulikki) were summoned to a meeting where the day care workers told us about the games and asked us what could be done about them.

Thomas promised to talk to Niko.  But two weeks later we were again asked to a meeting and told that the games had not stopped.  Apparently, one staff member had given Niko special attention as she tried to find out where he got his sexual ideas and Niko, not surprisingly, responded with more scatological and sexual comments and behaviors.  The staff suggested that Niko be taken to a family advisory bureau because they would have special staff for these things.  We readily agreed.  We were listening to the experts and trying to do what was right for our son.

In the family advisory bureau our whole family (Aulikki, Thomas, Niko and his 15-year-old brother) was interviewed during a one hour session, after which Niko was interviewed in private by child psychiatrist L.K.  In all, Thomas took Niko to the bureau eight times, Aulikki took him once, and a worker from kindergarten took him twice.  During the interviews with Niko we were interviewed in a separate room, and apart from the first conjoint family session, we were all interviewed separately.  The psychologist P.P. was very eager to learn details about Thomas' parents, grandparents and relatives while speaking with him alone (unfortunately, the interviews with Thomas were not taped).

Available tapes of the early interviews with Niko at the family advisory bureau show the child psychiatrist L.K. using anatomically detailed dolls, which she herself undresses.  She wants to know how many objects Niko can insert in the doll's anus and Niko accommodates her request.  At one point in the interview he says to her, "All you want to talk about is 'behind games'."  But at the time we had not seen these tapes.

After three months, L.K. and P.P. concluded that the reason for Niko's "behind" games and behavior could not be determined and referred him to Aurora hospital.  They assured us that it was necessary to have such a quiet place with more experts available to solve the problem.  Also, they were of the opinion that Niko's behavior was so abnormal that this was the only proper thing to do.  Of course we consented.  We trusted the professionals and believed they were objectively attempting to discover the truth.

Niko was placed on the somatic pediatric ward (not on the psychiatric, they pointed out to us, in order not to label him in any way, although he was there to be evaluated and investigated using psychological methods) and was scheduled to stay there for three weeks.  We, along with Niko, met Dr. V-M.T. (doctor-in-chief during Niko's stay), child psychiatrist A.H., and some of the nurses on the ward.  We were told about the hospital and everything was quite jovial, except from the very nervous glances we received from Dr. V-M.T.  Only afterwards were we able to understand the reason for this.

We visited Niko in the hospital every day, but after a couple of days the supervision started.  We were told that this was standard procedure.  Niko asked us every day when he could come home but we could only answer him, "Soon, soon you'll get home."  Niko liked us to give him a bath each evening before we had to leave.  Niko is unbeatable in inventing new games and plays, so in the bathtub were invented dozens of new games with the water toys.

Uncritical Corroboration at the Hospital

During this time we asked the doctors about the results, but Dr. V-M.T. was never available.  However, on February, 20, 1991, they promised us we would be told the results of the hospital's efforts.  Thomas first met with doctors V-M.T. and A.H. while Aulikki met with psychologist M.S. and child protector T.P.  We were then told the hospital staff had concluded Niko had been sexually abused and that the abuser was his father.  After this, we all met in a seminar room, to which big brother also had been fetched.  He arrived to the room accompanied by P.P. and L.K., whom he had visited prior to the meeting.

We were, of course, flabbergasted.  Aulikki sarcastically commented, "Why did you have to attack the smaller boy and leave the bigger untouched," to which psychologist M.S. retorted: "No, no, the bigger brother has been abused by the father as well, and he himself has also been abusing Niko."  When Aulikki asked big brother whether he had any recollections of having been abused he said, "I have not, if that had happened, I must have been heavily drugged."  (As can be seen from this, big brother had inherited his parents' sense of humor.)

The diagnosis of sexual abuse was based on the psychologist M.S.'s sessions with Niko.  But only at this meeting did we first meet M.S., who was Niko's principal therapist, and learn that she was the one responsible for the investigations.  It was decided Niko would stay in the hospital for another three weeks, during which time "the family was given some time to orient itself to the changed situation."

Life continued as planned.  We went to the hospital every day; the surveillance was somehow stricter.  When Aulikki tried to speak to Dr. V-M.T. about the situation, he told her, "the father's guilt is only increasing," and, "as long as the father is free, Niko cannot go home, because you cannot guard Niko 24 hours a day."  Nurse U.H. provided Aulikki with tissues during this session.  At this moment the seeds were sewn that led to our divorce a year later.

The final meeting was held on March, 14, 1991, in an auditorium in the hospital.  Present were the doctors V-M.T. (chairman of the meeting), A.H. and L.K., psychologists M.S. and P.P., two principal nurses, two child protectors (one, T.P, was to be one of our main adversary during the years to come), Thomas's attorney, and our family.  After the opening remarks, Niko's therapist, psychologist M.S., finally spoke (we were all sitting in a huge circle): "Incest is the cancer of society, and with the scalpel of the surgeon it will be cut off."  Her conclusion was that Niko had been grossly abused sexually by his father and his older brother.  Her solemn words had a tremendous impact on everybody present.

It was decided that Niko would be transferred to a transitory children's home for three months.  Aulikki opposed this until the last moment, but in face of pressure from the hospital staff and the advice of Thomas's attorney ("It is the best thing to do in this situation, in order to sort things out"), she consented.  Dr. V-M.T. had promised Thomas that the mistake, if there had been one made, would be cleared up during this time, so it was a wise decision to grant temporary voluntary custody of Niko to the state.

Niko was transferred to Varpula transitory children's home where he was scheduled to stay for three months, after which the child protectors would reassess the overall situation.  The children's home was a rather poor one, packed in the basement of an apartment house, with many children from a variety of backgrounds.

It was decided that the visiting times would be split up between the parents, and that the times would be fixed, one hour twice a week, plus three hours every Sunday.  According to the director, who in turn relied on information from the nurses, Niko was greatly disturbed when we visited him together.  Therefore, it was better if Niko saw us only one at a time, and only during fixed times, so that a secure rhythm of living could be established after all the turmoil that Niko had experienced during his last years at home.

When the dust finally settled, we attempted to sort things out.  Thomas started trying to get the evidence about the abuse from Aurora hospital.  The psychologist M.S. and Dr. A.H. had only given the so-called "shorter version" of the diagnosis.  Because this didn't stick to the facts, we wanted to have some real evidence.  After some months we got "the longer version," but this was only a superficial and verbally more attractive version of the first one.  But it was nevertheless now four pages instead of two.

This diagnosis led to us filing a complaint at the civil administration.  This complaint was to remain there for three years, without any action taken.  It was only three days before the child protectors got their suit that we withdrew this complaint.

During this time Aulikki continued to visit the family advisory bureau.  P.P. and L.K., who were responsible for the investigations of Niko in the first instance, inadvertently assured Aulikki of Niko's return home, but only after we separated and agreed to divorce.  Only a total ousting of Thomas from the family would allow them to consider returning Niko.

The behavior of these two professionals is interesting.  After the diagnosis they started to pity Aulikki in her distress but never once did either of them show any doubt over the correctness of Aurora's findings.  They had never told us they had found evidence that Thomas was guilty of abuse.  The transfer recommendation to Aurora did not include any statements about suspicion of abuse within the family, it only stated, "the extent of Niko's sexual behavior demands further investigations."  It was only after four years that we learned when Niko was taken into Aurora hospital on January, 29, 1991, his dossier already bore the label "suspicion of incest."  Although this same dossier had been given to us earlier, this line has been removed.

So Thomas began looking for a flat to move to.  As there was a major shortage of flats to rent, this was easier said than done.  The tension due to mutual accusations between the two of us rose to a maximum.  Our older son was living in the midst of this inferno, having also to watch the painful excision of his father from the family.  It was strange that the child protectors not once showed concern for his welfare, especially considering the fact that M.S. had diagnosed him as abused as well as an abuser of his own little brother.  When this all started, he was 15 years old and therefore subject to child protection legislation.

When the three months of voluntary custody had elapsed, Aurora hospital and the child protection reevaluated the situation.  They produced several statements (the children's home, Aurora doctor, therapist) claiming that the conditions for Niko's going home had not been changed, therefore they didn't support the idea.  It was decided that Niko would remain in the children's home for another three months.  This was also voluntary.  The law requires the authorities to make a final, valid decision with regard to a child's residence within six months after the temporary transfer of custody decision, and therefore we were all very anxious to get the things straightened out before the three months had elapsed.

During the time in Varpula transit home we had some meetings with the child protectors.  Every time Thomas complained about the situation, the chief child protection social worker T.P. remarked that she could turn the matter over to the police as well.  The choice was ours.  Either we cooperate — that is, we agree to all the decisions made — or else the matter would be given to the police.  As can be seen from this, these meetings were filled with indescribable horror; we felt as if we were living in a crazy world where our integrity and human decency were torn to pieces.  We were puppets on a string, forced to carry out the decisions of the experts and officials.

How about Niko's health?  Very soon after he left Aurora, A.H. found him a therapist, an elderly lady, whom he started to visit twice a week.  This therapist, K. K., was from the beginning convinced that Niko had been abused by his father.  In one of the officials' meetings, when she had met Niko only twice, she stated that this was a case of abuse over many generations.  She refused to see us and even refused to speak to Aulikki on the phone.  Instead, she considered the staff in the children's home as the care givers with whom to be in touch.

This is why the statements written by the children's home officials were so unnatural.  In these statements, Niko was said to be afraid of being in the same room with his parents.  They claimed he insisted on having a staff member as a guard when his father visited but not so with his mother.  Furthermore, they said he showed no sign of homesickness and never spoke about his parents.  The chief of Varpula wrote that Niko's sex games had diminished, she didn't hear so many foul words anymore and Niko had started to play games like a normal little boy.  In short, they claimed, he had adjusted well to the children's home.

Child Protection Turns to the Police for Help

The end of the temporary six months was approaching and with this we were approached by child protection.  How was life now?  Had we separated?  Unfortunately, Thomas was still living in our home and had not yet found a place of his own.  The child protection workers asked us to voluntarily sign the transition of the temporary to a permanent transfer of custody from the parents to the state, assuring us that this was the proper thing to do.

But after carefully considering our situation, we finally decided we had had it.  We rejected the suggestions from child protection, who responded dramatically.  They announced that, since we were not cooperating, they would have to move fast.  They turned the matter over to the police and the child protection district head demanded that Thomas be penalized according to criminal law.  The involuntary permanent transfer of custody was issued immediately, signed, and put into motion.  Our only recourse was to file a complaint in the civil court.

During this time Thomas had been demanding to see the evidence from Aurora hospital and psychologist M.S. answered our complaint to the civil administration.  We had questioned the different conclusions made by M.S. (on the basis of the "longer version diagnosis") and M.S. explained the points in question.

This didn't suffice to show any guilt, so Thomas continued to demand some real evidence.  Aurora replied with silence, except for a letter from the hospital director saying that the evidence was in police care and that we could see it after the preliminary police investigation had ended.  It was only after our complaint to the Ministry of Medicine that it was decided it was our right to get to see the evidence.

By this time the criminal proceedings were well under way.  The public prosecutor told us that she would charge Thomas.  The accusations included oral and genital sex between Thomas and Niko, explicitly formulated in words so that any layman could understand what had supposedly been going on.

The "Hard Evidence"

The material was now, finally, available to us.  We received permission to get copies of the audiotapes from the sessions with Niko and Aurora psychologist M.S.  Now, after almost a year, we could hear for ourselves the "hard evidence" we had been waiting for.  But we discovered that there were only 5 hours of tapes, although there should have been about 20.  Most of the recordings were from the start of Niko's stay in Aurora.  What had happened to the missing 15 hours?  There were two sessions where only some minutes had been recorded.

Furthermore, of these 5 hours, less than 2.5 hours were transcribed.  This transcription had been made by M.S. for the prosecution.  Also, most of the sessions in the family advisory bureau — Niko and the child psychiatrist — had been videotaped, and now the prosecution came forward with a transcription of the videotapes.  We then set out on the Sisyphean task of making a proper transcription.  Every evening for a couple of months we labored to get accurate and complete transcriptions.  In the end we succeeded; we got 122 pages as compared to Aurora's 54-page transcription.

These transcribed interviews are excellent examples of how a professional can go astray and abandon the code of ethics for psychologists.  Leading questions, suggestion, coercion, stupidity, and misuse of adult authority can be seen on every page of the transcription.  M.S. frequently misinterprets Niko's comments according to her own expectations.  She even tells him she does not believe what he is saying when he says he loves his parents and denies abuse.  The tapes revealed that the therapy sessions were held in a locked room from which Niko was unable to leave.

The emasculation of Niko's father is evident in these sessions.  For example, in doll play M.S. tells Niko that the police are "stronger than that daddy."  "The father certainly feels bad about what he has done to you," is another gem in the collection.  Niko replies, "No it was Vesa!"  M.S. then asks, "It was Vesa?" and Niko says, "Daddy is not any 'Vesa'."  But this unambiguous information from Niko had no effect whatsoever because child protection had made up their minds from the start what the real state of affairs was.

May-Milk Mixture: Fatal Falsification

One of the greatest examples of M.S.'s bias and ineptitude was the "May-milk" mixture.  In Finnish, "milk" is "maito," whereas the accusative of "May" (first name of the psychologist) is "Mayta."  When stressed, the beginnings of both words are pronounced almost alike.  In his play sessions, Niko was phoning home and asking daddy to "come and hit May, because May was annoying him."  In Finnish, this is "Mayta turpaan" (May in the face).  M.S. interpreted this as meaning, "Daddy, come and put some milk in the face", i.e. some kind of ejaculation with white substance like milk into Niko's face.

Even if Niko phoned other persons, mother, and a friend, using the same sentences, (asking them to come and punch May because she harms him) this did not alert M.S. to an alternative meaning of the incident.  She had decided on her perverse explanation and blocked everything else out.  She even asked, "Where is mother then when you have these milk-to-face games?"  Niko couldn't understand what she was speaking about.  M.S. continued: "Is the milk coming when you are in your bed?"

The interviews are replete with examples like this.  The question is posed in such a way that an affirmative or negative answer does not wipe away the basic, but faulty, assumption — namely there is milk coming and the only issue is where it happens.  One cannot assume that a child of 5 can switch from the object-level to a meta-level, i.e. to comment on the question itself not only on what is asked in it.  But Niko even tried this.

Other examples of M.S.'s interview questions include, "Do you think that the hospital is able to help you?"  "Has daddy promised to stop playing these behind games if you were allowed to go home?" and "What did mother say when you said to your daddy, 'Don't talk such dirty things'?"  All in all, the Aurora transcripts clearly document the coercive nature of the therapy Niko received from M.S.

Two experts evaluated the taped interviews.  First, Dr. G.A., the head of Lastenlinna hospital, one of the largest children's hospitals in Finland, wrote that the interviews could be compared to a third-degree interrogation of a small child, and that he would only write a three-page statement, otherwise his statement would be as long as the Aurora transcription, because there were errors on every page.  He denounced the interviews as utterly worthless.  Dr. P.T., an expert who did not believe that the abuse had taken place, wrote, "the interviews by M.S. are not proper, but indoctrinating, and harmful to the child."

In contrast to these two experts was the opinion of M-M.T. who was obtained by child protection on the recommendation of M.S.  M-M.T. said that the relationship between Niko and M.S. was gentle, at times even affectionate (although she had never seen anyone of the family, not even Niko).  She stated that never before had she seen work of an esteemed professional be so gravely nullified by other professionals in the field.  She claimed that the nature of the interviews is such that one must rely on the opinions of the psychologist in the interviewing room because so much of the information is non-verbal — a nod of the head, a smile, etc.  Therefore it was unfair to attack M.S.  She also noted that the fact Thomas does well in chess tournaments showed he was able to put unpleasant things aside from his mind when needed (we and our oldest son have won many chess championships).  In this way, M-M.T. used the cherished hobby of our family to support her belief that Thomas was, in fact, an abuser.

M-M.T.'s view can best be assessed by the following piece of transcript:

MS: Daddy is coming to the hospital to visit and says: "Would you come home with us, Niko?"
N: ??
MS: "Would you come home with us, Niko?"
N: (Shouting furiously in anger) Don't say it so angrily, stupid!!!

From this, one can only deduce that M.S. twisted her face in a violent (non-verbal) grimace, obviously trying to represent her view of the father in the following way: "He is talking in sweet words, but we know (you, Niko, and me) what your daddy is really like, don't we?"  But Niko did not accept M.S. slandering his father.  He sometimes attacked her, both physically and verbally.  But in the end, she got her revenge; on one of the last meetings she triumphantly told Niko that he would be moving to a children's home, and that daddy and mummy wanted this too!

Court Proceedings

At this time we had made a complaint in the civil court (administrative court, as it is called in Finland).  Our claim asked for the transfer of custody decision to be reversed and Niko to be returned home; after all, the culprits had moved away, as the father and elder brother had moved into their own flat.  But our claim was turned down in Spring, 1992.  We then filed a complaint with the Highest Administrative Court, which in 1993 also turned us down.

In 1993 the criminal charges against Thomas were dismissed but the dismissal was appealed by both the public prosecutor and the child protectors.  The main argument in the prosecutor's memorandum was the following syllogistic proof: (1) It has been shown that somebody has abused Niko, (2) Niko has spoken about somebody with the name "Vesa," (3) "Vesa" is the abuser, (4) Niko knows that pubic hair refers to someone other than a child, (5) there exists no man in the environment with the name "Vesa," (6) therefore the only possibility is that the father is "Vesa."

This reasoning was the essence of the case against Thomas.  Even if Niko had never said that "Vesa" had sexually abused him, the professionals believed they had special knowledge to see behind the words and know the truth.  This is seen in the last statement of the prosecutor in her memorandum: "... cannot be explained in any other way than by the fact that Vesa and the father are the same person.

In addition, our accusers claimed other "evidence" against Thomas.  They said abusers always deny the abuse, so since Thomas denied having abused Niko, this meant that the accusation was real.  They believed that children never lie about abuse; this was a cornerstone of their case.  At the same time, the fact that Niko never spoke of any abuse at all did not negate abuse since as many as 75% of children, they claimed, do not talk about the abuse during a formal investigation.  Since it was unlikely that Niko would talk about abuse, the fact he didn't supported their assumption that the abuse was real.

They interpreted Niko's affection for us as a serious sign of abuse.  During all the interviews, Niko never went along with M.S.'s attempts to slander his father.  This, to them, meant that Niko was afraid of his abusive father, who had silenced his victim using bribery, threats, and coercion.  They assumed that Niko did not dare to show his anger against his father and interpreted this as reflecting abuse.  The therapist, in a coalition with the children's home, used these unsupported beliefs to bolster the claims and keep the custody order unchanged.

In February, 1994 the appeals court ruled that there was no conclusive evidence Niko had been abused by anybody.  Since there was no medical proof or eyewitnesses, the only way to find out was by interviewing Niko.  They observed that, although interviews suggested Thomas knew about the behind games, Niko had not said he played such games with his father and it could not be concluded from the interviews that he had.  Furthermore, the court ruled that child protection had no right to see Thomas and since Aulikki was Niko's custodian at the time legal proceedings were instituted against Thomas, child protection should have been required to listen to her opinion.

(During the appeals court hearing, M.S. testified about her interviewing techniques.  She had learned from the Englishman, Dr. Arnon Bentowin and Professor Tilman Fürness (the main teachers of Finnish abuse education) that the interviewer should ask the child the same question over and over.  Only after prolonged repetition of questions and answers should the tape recorder be turned on and the child's statement taken.)

We had filed a new complaint in the civil court; since Thomas and our older son were not living in the house any more, the return of Niko to Aulikki should be considered safe.  The civil court arranged four hearings, with almost the same witnesses on our part.  On the other side was the staff from the children's home along with the therapist K.L.  The staff members testified that Niko was getting along splendidly, that he wanted protection when his parents came to visit, and that he was bored by visits from his grandparents.  They said they had planned the room that Niko was supposed to move into, which had been an older boy's room, but which would be vacant after the boy became 18 years of age.  They had planned for Niko to spend his 18th birthday in that room also.

Although the older and more experienced children's home workers had complied in their testimony to the fullest with what the children's home expected, a young assistant who had recently been hired told a different story.  He testified that Niko occasionally indeed used foul language as well as played behind games.  According to the other workers this had stopped completely when he was transferred from Varpula transitory home to Töölö's children's home, but now it was revealed that the other workers had some flaws in their recollections.  When the court asked the young worker about Niko's suicidal behavior (this was a major reason for the restriction of visiting rights, mentioned earlier), he revealed that Niko had said to a fellow inmate, "If you don't give me that piece of cake, I'll kill myself"!

Niko's current therapist, K. L., was afraid to speak in court; in fact, she had issued a lengthy statement describing the dangers she saw in her having to testify.  She was certain that this would mean great danger to Niko, because she would reveal things we wanted to keep secret.  She believed we would put heavy pressure on Niko and might even find a way to punish him.

K.L. described how we had abused Niko.  She said that in the evenings we and big brother put on weird clothes, "the clothes for scaring," after which the abuse started.  Aulikki took a stiletto (a knife where the blade pops out when you push a button), put it into Niko's anus and threatened to push the button if Niko didn't comply immediately.  Thomas penetrated him from behind, and at the same time big brother ejaculated into Niko's mouth.  Although Niko said he wanted to go home, K.L. proudly told us in court that she was able to ward off these ugly feelings by reminding Niko what then would happen, "Don't you remember the scaring clothes?"  For K.L., a frog came to be a symbol of the male penis.  So it was hardly surprising that a picture of the frog developed into an overwhelming symbol of the abuse.

· After K.L.'s testimony, Aurora doctor A.H. decided that Niko's mental and physical health were jeopardized when we learned about what went on in therapy.  Therefore, she ordered that visiting be radically restricted — we could visit Niko only one hour and a half each every month, with all telephone calls forbidden.  The chief of the children's home made a similar decision, according to which all visits by relatives were strictly forbidden for a month.  The justification for this was that Niko now needed to have some peace and quiet.

We Go Public

This was the moment we decided to go public.  A documentary on our case was produced, and during the fall, three programs about our case were seen by more than 15% of the Finnish population.  Several newspapers and periodicals wrote extensively about Niko and the proceedings of our case.  In order to protect Niko, his name remained a pseudonym, but we surfaced with our faces and first names.  Helsinki's biggest evening newspaper announced a meeting for people who were willing to fight for Niko to be returned home.  The next day, after the meeting, we read: "Niko-movement rose against the treatment-mafia."  This was also the first time we appeared with our faces.

After the TV programs the uproar became tangible.  Two of the programs were shown in Parliament and some bills concerning family law were proposed.  The fact that this was the first time authentic material from the investigations was shown may have influenced the massive media attention.  Formerly, such stories had always been accompanied with the assumption that there is "no smoke without fire."

Probably as result of these developments, the civil courts rendered their decision in September, 1993.  Our complaint was rejected and the custody decision was enforced, but it was ruled that, if the future evaluations indicated Niko could get along with his mother, custody could eventually be returned to Aulikki.  The court also ruled that the restrictions in visiting rights were illegal; there was no evidence that Niko could not visit his home and see his parents unguarded.

This ended the three-and-a-half years of full surveillance.  Niko started having leaves on weekends and we took him home every afternoon, returning him to the children's home at 7 P.M.  Everybody was wondering, why did he have to go back?

A great dilemma remained.  What to do now?  The civil court had turned down our appeal, but Niko should perhaps, eventually, in the end, after some time, in due course, be allowed to be returned to Aulikki.  In this situation child protection accepted one of our original suggestions — why not let some impartial experts evaluate us.  We would be alone with Niko in a room (with a one-way mirror) and everybody could then see for themselves whether Niko was afraid of us.  We had suggested this years ago, but only now was our idea accepted.  So, after some months, six experts summoned the necessary courage to become members of the team whose aim was to determine whether we were suitable and whether Niko could return home, and when.

The experts were a psychiatrist, a child psychiatrist, a professor in child psychiatry, a psychologist, a gestalt art therapist, and a social worker.  These experts met all the persons concerned in different constellations (Niko, us, children's home workers, even the therapist, who very reluctantly agreed to see one of the experts for a short time).  The work of the expert group went on for months.  Finally their report was released.  They concluded Niko could safely return home and recommended that this take place when school ended and the summer holidays started (on June 3, 1994).

So Niko's custody order was overturned, although the court had not ordered it.  The Highest Administrative Court handed down its decision one and a half years after Niko had been returned home.  According to the ruling, custody should not have been overturned and there had been no grounds for allowing Niko to return home.  In short, the Highest Administrative Court would have kept Niko in state custody — probably permanently.

But this is typical of the Finnish society.  Until now, social issues had been adjudicated according to the proposals of social workers.  In 20 years there had not been one case where a social issue had been decided in favor of a citizen, when opposed by the social state.  The same applies to the other means of complaint, to which private citizens can resort when they believe they have been unfairly treated by officials, namely the Chancellor of Justice, and the Justice Clerk of Parliament.  The private citizen is, especially in social issues, without the protection of the law.

Analyzing the outcome one might feel inclined to think that justice won in the end and it is certainly heartening to know that we are in the hands of steadfast and unerring officials.  The chilling fact remains, however, that our family was just terribly lucky.  First, we had the luck to meet some experts, attorneys, and other people who used their authority for us, and secondly, Niko was placed in a children's home in the same city where we lived.  If he had been placed with foster parents, perhaps in another place in Finland altogether, we would certainly not have succeeded in getting him home.  The bonds between him and us would have been cut off for good.  Based on existing figures, it is understandable that the child protection feels quite confident in their actions, even when these are completely outlandish and would never be approved of in other fields of life.  But now we are already talking about a global problem, as proceedings in other western countries can testify.

We Move to Attack

After getting Niko home, we decided to sue the establishment.  We accused eight workers and the city of Helsinki.  The persons sued were doctors V-M.T., A.H. and L.K., psychologists M.S. and P.P., child protection workers I.E. and T.P., and therapist K.L.  The case has been in court for a year and half now.  The defendants claim that their diagnosis was, and still is, correct.  They admitted only one slight mistake — the visiting rights restriction order was written on a wrong form.  And, as one lawyer, working for the government, put it, the only mistake made in this whole process was that the investigative material, (i.e. audio- and videotapes) was given to us.

This view reflects the prevailing governmental position in issues like these.  The state official expressing this view believes abuse investigations should never be videotaped.  In an ongoing case in Saarijärvi, the psychologist who formulated the "diagnosis" of mother-son incest did not video- nor audiotape her interrogations of the child, with the justification that she had to safeguard her own protection by the law!  (As we wrote this, we learned that the Saarijärvi incest diagnosis and transfer of custody decision was overturned and the son returned to his mother.  This is the first time in Finland that something like this has happened.  The Niko case has started something, albeit still small.)

According to a renowned professor of law, Hannu Tapani Klami, the threshold when the state can seize a child from its parents should be lower than the threshold to convict a person.  In abuse cases, this means that the child can be taken, even if there is not enough evidence to convict the alleged offender.  Also, the time of seizure is important.  According to a judge in the civil court, four years of state custody is usually the maximum.  After this, the child would never be returned to its parents.  Niko was held for three and a half years.

Totalitarianism in Disguise

The situation in the Nordic countries is currently very bad.  In Norway the child can, by force, be adopted into a foster family after two years of state custody.  Consequently, the family has very minimal chances against the monolith of the state professionals with their associated agencies.  In the case of foster home placements, the parents are likely to face a doomed struggle, not only against the state, but against fierce foster parents as well, whose considerable income is derived from their foster children.  As one foster family father put it, "It's much more remunerative to raise children than to raise pigs — and much cleaner, too.

On the other hand, Norway is the first country where the state institution "child protection" has genuinely started to be evaluated.  For the first time its status has begun to be scrutinized.  In Norway, we encounter many active people, who consider the current state of affairs unacceptable and are willing to take action to do something about it.

In Finland, a child politics committee recently produced a memorandum that was heatedly discussed in Parliament.  The proposed remedies to existing child protection laws are as follows: The means of state seizure of the child should be made easier, which means that the state should have easier access to children.  The overturning of a transfer of custody decision should be made considerably more difficult, so that when the decision to take custody is made, it should become more difficult for the parents to have their child returned to them.

The rationale for this is, why prolong the decision making in the first place, when the child could be placed with foster parents immediately?  As the memorandum puts it, we are here talking about the child's whole life.  When we know that parents are not capable of raising their children, it is inhuman of us to let the child grow attached and develop strong emotional bonds towards such people.  "The child must have the right to grow a deep love and affection towards the foster parents.  It is inhuman to cut such bonds when they have already developed.  Therefore when the child is placed into foster care this had better be for good," as one of the members of the committee rather bluntly put it.

The state may even take a child before the child is born.  A mother, who is from the lower strata in society, and/or intellectually weaker equipped than the average person, is persuaded to give temporary custody to the officials.  She is forced to have a caesarean birth so that she can be sterilized at the same time.  This policy has been advocated especially in the northern parts of Finland.  But now, the Ministry of Health and Social Affairs is trying to expand these procedures into nationwide law.  According to the Ministry's memorandum, the right and ability to function as a mother is still, and has always been, in the hands and judgment of doctors and social officials.  Often the crucial judgment is provided by a doctor or psychologist, who has not even seen the would-be mother in question.  But this is of little significance, and has hitherto not impeded the sterilization of the mother and removal of the newborn.

The memorandum also holds that the laws of secrecy should be altered in a way that would enable the social officials to gain access to every piece of information pertaining to the individual in question.  This amendment would mean that all information from every state agency (day-care, school, military service, health services, etc.) would automatically be transferred to the social authorities' "central computer" as it were.  This is not a unique proposal.  In Norway, the psychiatrist Kari Killen has proposed establishing a giant data-base encompassing the whole history of every individual.  Whenever you need suspects for an abuse allegation (or other alleged crime) you could run the computer starting with the input "family trouble history."

Finland has been a diligent pupil.  Now we want to establish a child ombudsman, as the experiences in the Nordic countries with the ombudsmen has been so successful and promising.  The ombudsman would, as the memorandum states, defend the children against instances where they would be at risk, for example in their families.  The children are not, as is stated, the property of their parents, and the best interest of the child is incompatible with the interest of the parents.  It is interesting to ponder what the interest of the parents really means — is it in the best interest of parents to abuse their children? (as opposed to the best interest of the child).  We are dealing with an error of thought.  Such errors occur when the language used to veil inhuman conduct and strategies by the state is frozen and described as "general clauses" under which any action could be taken and still meet the requirements of the law.

General clauses are extensively used when making new laws; here, Sweden is the mentor, and Finland the obedient pupil.  In Sweden, the philosopher Axel Hägerström expressed his opinion that there exist two kinds of clauses — those that can be verified or refuted, and those that only express an opinion without this possibility.  In Hägerström's view, the clauses of the law belong to the second category.  In fact, this made such an impact on the professionals of law that they were, in fact, immobilized for decades.

When Secretary of State Carl Lidbom said that the laws should reflect and obey the party ideology in power (i.e. jurisdiction should not be autonomous, but follow party ideology), the way was paved for one of the most superbly veiled totalitarian states in the western hemisphere.  Sweden, which was one of the first nations to sign the European Commission of Human Rights, has been the most frequent state to violate it with regard to the social sector.  In Sweden, the Social Democratic Parry was in power intermittently for over 50 years, with virtually no opposition.  The result in Sweden was the highest taxes in the world, the highest youth criminality rates, and an extremely high rate of state children seizures.

This, then, is one important factor when determining Finland's course.  Another one is the opinions of professors of law.  As mentioned earlier, the professor of law at Helsinki University, Hannu Tapani Klami, has more than once written that the threshold for the right of the "state" to seize children in the name of the best interest of the child should be low, as compared to his opinion that the threshold to pass a verdict in unclear child abuse accusations should be quite high, i.e. 91%, which is, in fact, a healthy state of affairs.

Best Interests of the Child

The expression "best interest of the child" was coined and developed in Nazi Germany, and further elaborated in the German Democratic Republic, the DDR.  The majority of officials in Nazi Germany, who chose the Jews for the gas chambers, were incidentally, women.  Both these hells on earth are now extinct, but many remnants still remain, strong and vigorous.

The rights of the individual against the right of the state is, of course, at the core of the matter.  Why do so few people take interest in issues like these?  Why are the best judges so easily manipulated into believing the most outlandish stories by brainwashed children and "enlightened" psychologists?  Why do so many prosecutors want to put alleged offenders in jail in cases where sane judgment would establish innocence beyond reasonable doubt?  When children are seized from unsuspecting families, why do so few people believe that the same fate could befall them tomorrow?

In the end, abuse accusations are only a small part of the heinous arsenal of arms at the state's disposal when kidnapping children from their parents.  In order to gain total control over its members, the state has finally understood that the best means is to attack the family.  In overtly totalitarian societies, the state does not have to resort to cunning, but may keep its citizens at bay with brute force and terror, but in so-called democratic western societies, the state must resort to more sophisticated means.

When taking a child, the state assumes it is doing good and believes its interventions should be viewed as the white knight in armor coming to the rescue of innocent children.  The resulting damage to families is never acknowledged.  If the parents want to fight, they usually choose to fight in secret.  This is what the state wants — for the whole tragedy to remain embedded in a veil of secrecy.

In the end the family may be destroyed and the child/children placed into foster homes or institutional care.  Since this ensures the outcome for a myriad of CP employees, in the end, it is all about money.  The state must develop citizens who work hard and pay taxes.  For this, the maintenance of the family may be an impediment, although the children at least give jobs to the state officials.  As we write this, Parliament further cut the revenue for families that want to raise their children at home.  Consequently, you have to put your child in a day care, so that you can work and pay taxes.  At the same time, the state gains more access to your private life through your children.  As the social legislature in Sweden has formulated it, "The aim of the day-care system is to be able to X-ray the family."

The latest development here, and which was affected by the Niko case, is that the forced transfer of custody to the state always shall be given to a civil court to decide, when the decision formerly has been made by child protection officials, with the client's right to appeal.  Also, in complicated cases, the child shall be ordered a "trusted man" to represent the child, because the social officials cannot represent it.  What is missing still, though, is the law.  Only when the criminal law and the European Convention on Human Rights is fully acknowledged in child protection issues, do we have a chance to bring more justice into this area.


Niko, who has been home now for almost two years, is doing well in school and has many friends.  He doesn't want to talk about the three and a half years he was separated from his family.  We believe his extraordinarily strong character kept him from giving in to the fabrications of the therapist and hospital staff.

Our oldest son was unable to cope with the situation and moved to a youth department for adolescents with problems.  Previously an excellent student, the trouble put an end to his motivation and interest and he still has problems with school.  He now lives in a flat with two other young people and is doing better.  We see him every weekend.

Although we divorced in 1991 under pressure from child protection, Thomas finally returned home in September, 1995.  Our lawsuit is coming up in May.  Several months ago the public prosecutor suddenly ordered a police investigation into our case.  He said that since our suit is of such tremendous social importance, he wants to get to the core of the matter.  Therefore, the actions of the officials involved should be scrutinized very carefully.  But we are still waiting for this investigation to begin.

* Aulikki Ristoja is a college philosophy teacher and Thomas Ristoja is a philologist.  They may be contacted at Sepeteuksentie 26 B, SF-00760 Helsinki, Finland, Fax: +358-0-739 754. [Back]

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