Frailty, Thy Name is Memory: An Inverse Witch
Trial in Denmark
ABSTRACT: The Roum trial in Denmark is described In this
highly-publicized case, seven persons were convicted of sexual abuse on
the testimony of three teenagers, two of whom were mentally
retarded. The abuse allegations arose out of hours of therapy with
the same therapist. Through the efforts of defense attorneys and
two journalists, the defendants were granted a new trial and eventually
freed several years later.
In 1978 a series called "Matador" was shown on
Danish television. Because of its popularity, it was shown again
in 1984. At this time, however, innumerable viewers protested that
one scene had been cut from the original a scene in which the
male teacher Andersen is standing on the balcony dressed only in his
nightshirt. The producers insisted that there had never been such
a scene, and that both versions were absolutely identical. But
this assurance was not believed.
To prove their case, some people took out the videotapes they had
previously made of the original series. To their considerable
surprise they discovered that the missing scene was likewise missing in
the original version. However, Andersen's wife had recounted the
situation to a third person. In other words, one single
second-hand account had produced vivid visual recollections in hundreds
(and probably tens of thousands) of onlookers all over the
country. And these people had become absolutely convinced of
having watched something which had never been on the screen.
This pattern provides an excellent frame for the Roum trial.
Roum is an idyllic village in the Möldrup, a municipality of some 7,000
inhabitants. The Roum trial is unique in the legal history of
Denmark. As a legal case it started in autumn, 1989 and proceeded
during 4½ years (though the last of the postludes did not finish until
July 1996). Seven persons were convicted and sentenced to prison
for a total of 14 years, and had to pay immense damages.
The evidence consisted of accounts by three teenagers, two of whom
were mentally retarded. Most important was the narrative by Diana.1
She was 15 years old when she told the jury that she could recall
nothing in the beginning. It was not until she had been in
psychotherapy with Sine Diemar for almost one year that she recalled the
abuse. Her brother Jacob, who was mentally retarded and who was
two years older than her, did not manage to recall anything at all in
the court, unless psychologist Diemar was present.
Although sexual abuse allegations had been made against 35 adults,
the prosecutor had realized that a trial with 35 defendants would most
likely result in 35 acquittals. Consequently, most of the supposed
offenders disappeared in silence and the remaining ones were not tried
together. The prosecutor had a perfect overview over the entire
pattern of intertwined cases. By contrast, each defense counsel
was for an extended period working in isolation, in complete ignorance
of the fact that the very same psychologist had produced a steady stream
of recovered memories in quite a few different municipalities.
It is disheartening to acknowledge that the final victory of reason
depended upon one single man. If he had not had such a zeal,
energy, and skill, the defendants would have served their sentences, and
none would have been freed. Eight false convictions in one single
case (one defendant was convicted twice) might well have inspired
nationwide attempts at repeating the outcome. Such endeavor by
psychologists, social workers and prosecutors could easily have been
successful and, hence, self-reinforcing.
The literal translation in Danish of what is in English called a wind
quartet (whether wood or brass) is "a blowing quartet."
The mass media referred to four of the defense attorneys as "the
blowing quartet. The indisputable leader was Mogens Tange, who was
the only one among all the defense counsels who participated in the case
from the beginning to the end. He has documented the entire
development of the case in a book (Tange, 1995), which might well merit
international attention. Almost all the facts of the present paper
are taken from his book. Brief accounts of selected aspects of the
case may, however, be found in English in Scharnberg (1996).
The case harmed many people in addition to the defendants. It
involved children in addition to Diana and Jacob, although they were the
main witnesses. The 80-year-old grandmother of Diana and Jacob
took her life when the social agency told her that, because she was the
center of the family, she had the fundamental responsibility for what
"had taken place." Economic disaster and bankruptcies
also followed in the wake.
The case started when for sexual and educational purposes Jacob's
special education school showed the film, Everyone Loves Debbie,
on an evening in October 1988. In one of the scenes it was said
that it is not immaterial where one will sleep. This scene
inspired Jacob, who was 14 years old at that time and severely mentally
retarded, to say that he wanted to sleep in the cellar. Next, a
teacher combined this statement with a recurrent response of his
he frequently was disappointed when the children watched videos, and
said he would rather see "a movie with ladies." The
teacher immediately informed the social counselor Torun Mölvadgård
about these "signals of incest," as she perceived them.
Mölvadgård had just met a psychologist, Sine Diemar, at a course on
sexual abuse. Diemar has a large and profitable practice, which is
primarily paid by tax money (before the proceedings of the first jury
trial started, she had received 122 520 DCr in this case alone, and she
was to receive much more before it ended). Moreover, she is an
expert on uncovering "repressed memories." She has
publicly stated that she has diagnosed "several hundreds of
children who had been exposed to incestuous assaults from the age
of 0 year onwards." In Danish broadcasting she admitted that
innocent people might be harmed because of false accusations, but,
"you will turn things upside down, if you think the most important
goal is to save one adult out of 1,000, at the expense of perhaps
Diemar has reported many more children than those associated with the
Roum case and has bitterly complained that the police and the social
agency sometimes do not believe in her reports. However, in the
present case the municipality of Möldrup paid her for 140 hours of
treatment. She was supposed to examine Jacob by using anatomical
dolls, and to help him recall what had happened. She also began to
treat Jacob's sister, Diana.
The Sex Parties
What kinds of occurrences had taken place? The therapy for
Jacob and Diana started in December 1988. But, after 10 months of
treatment, Diemar wrote to the police that Diana "is evidently not
yet prepared to recall her experiences from the orgies in her
home." Nonetheless, Diana eventually managed to recall that
her parents, together with their relatives and local acquaintances, had
engaged in large orgies involving sex and liquor over a 10-year
period. More or less all the adults had performed genital
and oral sex upon all the others. The children had to watch
pornographic videos together with the adults. Some of these
videos depicted sex with children. Diana and Jacob had to strip
stark naked, and were told to perform the same kinds of acts they had
seen on the videos, e.g. active and passive oral sex upon the
adults. But these wild sexual orgies allegedly took place at
the very same time when the father was about to die from cancer.
And they were performed just in front of his death-bed, even with his
own active participation. And, in a further peculiar circumstance,
Diana claimed to have had regularly partaken in the sexual orgies at
home but also maintained that she was very careful to conceal from her
parents that she was (somewhat) abused by a quite different man.
Besides, during the police investigations she boasted that she was a
virtuoso liar no one could tell if she was lying. In the
case notes of the social agency the following statement can be found:
"shortly before the start of the trial she worried that, when she
had to testify in the court, she might not be able to recall what she
was supposed to recount."
At the search in the home of the family, the police found 33 videos,
but not a single one was pornographic. As if this was not enough,
Diana had claimed that her parents had rented the pornographic videos
with child sex. But it is absolutely impossible to rent such
videos in any Danish video shop.
Sine Diemar was present during all three police investigations of
Diana. On September 27, 1989 the girl said that she did not know
whether Jacob had had sexual intercourse with his mother, but that
Diemar had told her that he had. Because of his mental
retardation, Jacob was interrogated in the presence of both Diemar and
one of his teachers, Lotte Purup. According to Purup, Jacob had
told her about intercourse with his mother. But when the police
later asked him when he was alone, he stated that it was probably
correct that he had said so to the teacher, but that it was wrong that
he had committed the sexual act.
Allegedly, Jacob had also been exposed to anal sex during the sexual
orgies. Because of his mental condition, it was somewhat hard for
him to talk, and it was very difficult for the police to make him say
anything. Most of his "statements" are hearsay stuff
from the therapeutic sessions with Diemar.
Later, in the Court of Appeal, he was interrogated without the
presence of Diemar. Consequently, he had no recollection of the
orgies and the sexual assaults.
The Danish Legal System, Legal Errors, and Consequences of Both
Before proceeding with the description of the case, it may be useful
to give an outline of a few features of the Danish legal system, many of
which are unique. I shall focus upon four aspects: the rules for
re-opening a case; the specific position of the jury; the phenomenon
which is in Danish called a "domsmandsret," but which might be
rendered in English as "a mixed court"; and evidence refusal.
The right to appeal is strongly curtailed, and the defendant's
options will soon be exhausted. When the judgment is final, only
one court can re-open the case. A literal translation of its name
would be "The Special Court of Complaints," but the
presentation will be more straightforward if we invent the name
"The New Trial Motion Court."
The New Trial Motion Court consists of 5 members: three judges from
the district court, the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court,
respectively, and two further members who are appointed by the
association of attorneys and the ministry of justice,
respectively. If a trial involving a jury is re-opened, an
entirely new jury will decide the verdict. The New Trial Motion
Court may also decide that the Court of Appeal which passed the former
judgment is biased, and that the case must therefore be handled by a
different Court of Appeal. If a convicted person is deceased, the
New Trial Motion Court may accord him a posthumous acquittal.
Cases concerned with lesser crimes may be handled by a mixed
court. But the rules for choosing one or the other kind of courts
are not very transparent. A mixed court consists of three judicial
judges and three lay members. Like the members of a jury, these
lay members are selected for one single case. All 6 members will
decide both the verdict and the severity of the punishment, according to
individual and equal votes. A conviction requires a majority of
the votes for this verdict: equal votes will lead to acquittal.
The defendant is informed about the numerical outcome of the
votes. But it is a closely guarded secret how the individual
In cases concerning larger crimes, the verdict will be decided by a
jury of 12 citizens, whereafter three judicial judges will determine the
punishment. If the jury has acquitted the defendant, this verdict
cannot be reversed. By contrast, the judges may reject a
conviction by a jury.
A major difference from the American system is that the chairman of
the court does more than inform the jury about what questions must be
answered. He will also give that jury a rather comprehensive
"legal teaching" (this is actually the term), that is, he will
provide a summary of the facts of the case and point out their relevancy
and significance. In a more or less direct way, he will tell the
jury what verdict the latter "ought to" arrive at. The
jury is not bound to give consideration to the legal teaching, but
frequently it exercises considerable influence. It may almost be
considered a kind of "third plea)" which pretends to be
impartial in relation to both the prosecutor and the defense.
Unfortunately, it may be very far from impartial.
For instance, in the first jury trial of the Roum case, the chairman
told the jury to pay special attention to the "fact" that
three children, independently of each other, had presented accounts
which were in agreement with each other. This "fact" was
factually wrong, since all three children were patients of Sine
Diemar. As if this was not enough, Diana lived in the home of the
psychologist during the last week before she delivered her presentation
in the court.
During the last jury trial, the chairman told the jury to strongly
focus upon the question whether Diana was trustworthy. According
to his view she was not so, because she had presented seven
contradictory versions at different occasions. However, the jury
might safely neglect whatever the attorneys had said about
indoctrination. This belonged in the category of things attorneys
invent to help their clients, if they are wanting in substantial
At the first jury trial in 1990, all the six defendants were
convicted. When the last jury trial took place in 1995, all the
facts of the case were well known to the entire Danish population.
Consequently, everyone (including the judges of the case) expected an
acquittal after the second jury trial. Hence, it was an immense
surprise when the new jury likewise agreed to a new conviction.
But one hour later, the three judicial judges decided that the jury had
made the wrong verdict, and acquitted the defendants. (As for one
minor charge, the verdict was upheld for one of the defendants, who was
Two defendants had been convicted by a mixed court. One of
them, Diana's mother, had previously been convicted by the jury.
Both these defendants were re-tried one month later by a new mixed
court. At that time no one doubted what would be the
outcome. Even the prosecutor requested that they should be
acquitted. Nonetheless, three out of the six members of the court
voted for a conviction. They invoked as a precedence a judgment by
the Supreme Court, which was passed in 1922: a court may convict a
defendant, even if both the prosecutor and the defendant request an
Applying very old precedence seems to be a natural constituent of the
American legal system. But digging out of precedence which
everybody thought belonged to the antiquated past, is an unheard-of
measure in Scandinavia.
Evidence refusal may be observed in many countries, not least in the
USA. This phenomenon played a crucial role in the Roum case.
And it interacted in a most unfortunate way with a fact mentioned above
the prosecutor but not any of the defense counsels had an overview over
the pattern of secretly connected cases.
The prosecutor was permitted to accuse each and every one of the
defendants. She was also permitted to use the evidence against one
of them to support the charge against another one. By contrast,
the chairman of the court decided that each of the defense counsels was
permitted to present only such facts which were immediately related to
his own client. The counsel of one defendant was forbidden to
point out that Diana had made exactly the same accusation against
another defendant, and that in both cases she had not done so until she
had been in psychotherapy with Sine Diemar. This asymmetric
principle cut away much of the evidence of the defense. And the
principle is an indisputable legal error according to Danish law.
It is also relevant that not all attorneys are equally competent and
dedicated. The first counsel of one of the defendants had advised
him to confess. In a quite different incest trial, which resulted
in a prison sentence of two years, the counsel asked a total of one
single question to Sine Diemar, to wit, whether she had any experience
of sexual cases.
The jury trial resulted in prison sentences of 10½ years all in
all. It may be no surprise that the proceedings took place behind
closed doors. But it is certainly a most unusual legal decision
that the information about what questions the jury was requested to
decide was, and still is, classified.
The Roum Trial By The Mixed Court
In addition to Sine Diemar, two names appear throughout the case: the
social counselor Torun Mölvadgård and the gynecologist Bettina
Holm. Frequently, Holm and Diemar are teachers at the same courses
on the sexual abuse of children. Holm believes in Hobbs and
Wynne's (1987) anal dilatation reflex as evidence of sexual abuse.
Actually, her gynecological competence appears limited. For
example, she did not know that, if a girl has no hymen, she might never
have had one. It is perplexing that the municipality of Möldrup
engaged Holm, since there was no want of competent doctors within Möldrup,
and since Holm was working in a quite different area of Denmark.
Although Laila was a few years younger than Diana, she had sometimes
visited Diana's home and had played with the children of this
family. Therefore, Mölvadgård decided that Laila should also be
treated by Diemar. Shortly thereafter, Laila "recalled"
that her father had abused her. When the mother was told about the
accusation, she had a nervous breakdown and was sent to a psychiatric
clinic. This fate of hers led to a breakdown of Laila's younger
brother Conny, who was placed in treatment with Diemar and who also made
allegations. What Laila and Conny eventually recounted about their
parents and the acquaintances of the latter was very nearly identical
with what Diana had recounted about hers. And although Conny at
the occasions in question had been at most six years old, it was alleged
that he had somehow managed to perform sexual intercourse with his
Laila's father was first arrested in September, 1990 but was later
released and the charges withdrawn. He hired Tange as an attorney
and also sued Diemar for defamation. The police, the district
prosecutor, and the national prosecutor refused to let Tange and his
client see the documents which had been used to justify the father's
detention. Diemar then sued Tange for her legal expenses along
with damages of 200,000 DCr for defamation and economic loss. She
also asked for Tange to receive a brief prison sentence. The defamation
accusation is perplexing in view of Diemar's public statement about
Tange: "If anyone thinks he can do whatever he likes to children,
he should certainly engage the most stinking defense counsel."
Until the jury trial of the other defendants was finished) the
prosecutor (Helle Bertung) and Diana's own lawyer had concealed from the
jury, the judges, and the defense counsels, that Diana had also accused
Laila's father of having been present at the sexual orgies. Now
the prosecutor was faced with a difficult dilemma. If Laila's
father were not tried, the girl would not appear trustworthy. But
if he were tried and acquitted, the defendants who were already
convicted would have to be retried. The decision was made to recharge
To escape such embarrassing consequences at his trial, Judge Inger
Mikkelsen applied one of the most extreme instances of evidence refusal
during recent legal history in Denmark. When Laila's father was
tried by a mixed court, Tange intended to call as witnesses two of the
utmost competent psychiatrists of the entire country: chief-physician
Torkil Vanggård and professor Fini Schulsinger. Both had already
been engaged to produce written investigations to The New Trial Motion
Court concerning the jury trial. Tange also wanted to use these
investigations as evidence in the trial by the mixed court. Dr. Vanggård
Sine Diemar's notions in this area [concerning sexual abuse of
children] are so exceptional and so distant from actual reality, that
they belong in the category of what is in plain language called
"queer notions," or, in psychiatric terminology,
"idées fixes," that is, complexes of ideas or emotions
which have got a conspicuously disproportionate preponderance in the
mind of the individual.
The prosecutor asked for the written and oral evidence to be
inadmissible for lack of relevancy. But Judge Mikkelsen took a
further and large step. She invented the idea that the aim of this
evidence was to produce doubt as to Diemar's general
trustworthiness. And with this justification she forbade the
presentation of the crucial evidence. As a result, Laila's father
was convicted, while Diana's mother was convicted a second time and for
a second set of crimes.
The Gynecological Facts and Attempts at Reopening the Cases
Most of the sexual acts on Diana were allegedly performed when she
was 7 to 12 years old. Four adult males (one of whom has very
large hands) allegedly inserted one or more fingers into her vagina and
two of them allegedly penetrated her with a complete erection.
Nonetheless, the gynecological examination, which was performed at the
age of 15, revealed that not even the smallest speculum for adults could
be inserted. Likewise, the gynecologist, a woman, managed to
insert only one finger. (A speculum is an instrument for extending
the diameter of the vagina so as to facilitate examination; extension by
a speculum is possible even if the hymen is intact. Therefore,
this difficulty did not derive from an intact hymen. Besides,
Diana was born without a hymen.)
John Philip is a professor at the clinic for maternity and gynecology
at the largest hospital in Denmark (Rigshospitalet in Copenhagen).
He confirmed that, in view of the measures of Diana's sex organ, it is
improbable that she had during many years been exposed to the acts in
question. Dr. Vanggård referred to Tolstrup's (1969)
investigation of all cases from 1950 to 1968 at the child psychiatric
clinic at Rigshospitalet. Tolstrup had studied the frequency and
types of sexual crimes against female minors. In the entire body
of data only six cases could be found of verified crimes against girls
under 15 years of age. And solely in one of these cases was incest
Both Vanggård and Schulsinger have clinical experience of adult
females who, assisted by therapy, have "recovered memories" of
incestuous rape when they were two to four years old. Vanggård
completely rejected Diemar's investigations. Both Vanggård and
Schulsinger are psychoanalysts, and Vanggård is a former chairman of
the Danish psychoanalytic association. Nonetheless, both of them
denied that repressed recollections will ever return during
therapy. Vanggård also emphasized that dolls constitute an
untrustworthy tool. At best, they may yield information about
fantasies, but never about authentic experiences. And in view of
the fact that Diana's mother is a weak and submissive individual with
little authority, Diana's and Jacob's "deeply rooted horror"
of the mother seems to exist only in Sine Diemar's mind.
Professor Schulsinger has, during the last 11 years, examined each
year approximately five sex offenders whose victims were minors.
He characterized the present case as fanciful descriptions wanting in
probability and stated, "I have never been involved in a case which
to the least extent is comparable with this one."
The New Trial Motion Court rejected not only the first but also the
second petition. The justification dated November 13, 1991
contains the following section:
The New Trial Motion Court does not deem it established that new,
inter alia new medical, information has been supplied, which may
warrant re-opening of the case. Nor is there any basis for
ascertaining that false testimony was given during the [previous]
proceedings, nor that it is highly probable that the evidence
presented [then] was not correctly evaluated.
But the defense obtained increasingly more evidence, and an
increasing number of experts not least the highest estimated
medical-legal expert of the country, Preben Geertinger. The latter
pointed out that the results of Bettina Holm's examination should have
entailed an indisputable obligation, as a doctor and as a citizen, to
inform the police and the prosecutor about the fact that Diana could
not have had coitus.
But The New Trial Motion Court also rejected this second
petition. This time the justification was based upon a
supplementary affidavit produced by a child physician who was still
undergoing training, and who had been selected more or less at
random. Tange (1995) writes that such a degree of irresponsibility
and arrogance of a court should be punishable under the law.
Since Diemar was active in many municipalities, with or without some
of the same co-workers, an entire pattern of cases were more or less
related to the Roum trial. Hence, it is no easy question whether
the sequence of events to be described next should be deemed a separate
case or not. Anyway, the formulation that Sine Diemar tried to
kidnap 16-year-old Margarete is not a rhetorical expression. It is
the girl's own words. And the sequence of events reveals what kind
of measures the authorities were prepared to take.
The psychologist had never met Margarete, but was nonetheless
convinced that she had been abused. Six months before the plan was
put into action, Diemar had worked out a detailed scenario, which had
been approved by the municipality. An entire group would fetch
Margarete, by force at school. A number of cars would in advance
cut off every escape route. The girl was to be isolated in a
summer cabin, where she would undergo forced therapy.
In the morning Diemar and the social workers came to the
school. The obstacle, however, was that they did not know what she
looked like. But the headmaster gave in to their demands and
called Margarete to his office on the loudspeaker, while the
psychologist and the social workers were waiting in the next room.
As soon as Margarete came in, the headmaster locked the door but when
the child pointed out that this was strange, he unlocked it.
Margarete immediately escaped and hid at the bathroom.
Eventually, she managed to reach her home.
"The investigation commission" made another attempt to
catch her, but once more she managed to escape. Then Diemar and
the social workers threatened to take her into custody, unless her
parents "voluntarily' accepted that she should be examined.
Margarete's mother engaged a lawyer and threatened to inform the press
and after 13 hours the commission gave in. They had not caught the
girl. Night had come, and they did not dare continue the
siege. Two weeks later the municipality admitted that the entire
action had been totally unjustified. Eventually it turned out that
the municipality had in advance paid 10,000 DCr to Diemar for therapy of
If Margarete and her family had been less robust, the fate of the
family might well have taken the same turn as the fate of Laila's
family. We have seen that Laila's father was eventually convicted,
but that the police and the prosecutor a few years previously had
decided to remove the charge. In order to improve the evidence at
the early stage, Diemar had made an agreement with the police that
Laila's older brother should also be interrogated by the police.
On August, 31, 1991 she very kindly transported him in her car 90 km to
the police station. But when they arrived, he simply opened the
door of the car and ran away.
"Such Stuff As Dreams Are Made Of"
I shall quote a selection from two interviews with Diana which were
broadcast in December 1992. D = Diana, R = reporter.
Deletions have been marked by [...]
||Did you know somewhere in your mind that this had
taken place, or did you not know?
||I didn't know, well, I didn't believe that
it could have taken place or anything at all, well this
this is strange such things.
||Your memory was completely blank, as it were?
||Yes, I think I had a happy childhood, hence
this there was nothing wrong with it.
||But why, I denied everything, until I told it to
my foster mother.
||But when you started to recount, then then
you suddenly were able to tell everything, or how was it?
||No this was not what I could. What
happened was rather like, you must dig up more and more, and
then turn over things, well, you were supposed to turn over
everything, and all such things. It took an exceedingly
long time before you began to be able to talk really about it.
||What do you mean by turn over?
||You were supposed to receive whatever came
up. You just had to talk about it, if now this
thing which I had forgotten, isn't it so then you had to receive
and handle and then talk about it. Well you should
not just take things in the temporal order that this was
what you recalled first [was your earliest recollection?]
but it was extremely difficult to talk about it, well, you might
well be sitting there for one and a half hours and then perhaps
proceed just a very small step, isn't it so?
||What is just a very small step?
||Well perhaps just one more person, you may
just, oh yes, he might also have been there and such
things. Then you were supposed to have recollections about
him, and recall what he had done and such things.
||But is it the case that if you go on talking and
talking about it, then finally more and more emerges from your
||Yes, this is the case at least, well just
like you say, oh but I once dream didn't I then it
may just as well have been something which took place in
reality, couldn't it. You just felt like it is a dream.
||I just feel like it is, it is a dream,
everything, this thing, isn't it, such things like, well but,
things where you say, well but I once dreamt, didn't I, and then
it might be something which had taken place in reality, isn't it
||And then the psychologist says, okay, suppose you
have a dream. How was the dream or, well, is this the
kind of things she entered into?
||No, she asked, what do you see in the dream,
didn't she and then I was told to close my eyes, well, I
should lie down and close my eyes, and then I should recount
what I saw, my inner images. In this way we made progress.
||And then you could, as it were, slowly recall
more of the dream, and then again a little more of the dream
||Yes. well, well, recall different, how should I
put it? well, something like sections, do you understand, as it
A well-known Danish movie director has compared psychotherapy
with a journey of dreams. If this is true, it is indefensible to
use psychotherapeutic results as legal evidence, and to base a
conviction upon it.
Additional Sham-Evidence, and a False Dichotomy
Diemar and Mölvadgård continually asserted that Diana and Jacob
were ill: they suffered from dysfunctional behaviors, sexual
disturbances, and refusal to eat which led to weight loss. They
claimed that these symptoms were typical consequences of sexual abuse
and, hence, constituted external support for the allegations. In
her argument during the first jury trial, the prosecutor explained the
mental retardation of Jacob as the result of sexual abuse. (This
prosecutor has now become a judge of the Court of Appeal.) But
during the second jury trial it was proved that Jacob had been mentally
retarded since he was born. At the initiative of Diemar, Diana was
sent to the primary hospital in Viborg. But the hospital observed
that she suffered from no eating disturbances nor any loss of body
weight. She was perfectly healthy in both somatic and psychic
Bettina Holm has repeatedly claimed that we must get rid of the
"myth" that children are not trustworthy when they recount
sexual abuse. A more noteworthy fact is that Diemar's case notes
in another case reveal that she is well aware of the presence of
indoctrination in her own consultation room.
Probably, the jury took for granted that the fundamental problem was
one of only two alternatives. Either, the children had deliberately
lied, or else, they had described authentic experiences.
Indoctrinated accounts belong in neither category. But, faced with
a defective set of alternatives, and being unable to imagine what kinds
of motives could make the children "lie," the jury might have
felt there was no reasonable option other than a conviction.
Outcome and Outlook
The steady increase in the amount of evidence and the number of
experts finally had a yield. On August 28, 1992, The New Trial
Motion Court decided to set the convicts free immediately. On May
20, 1994 the decision was made to reopen the case for a retrial by the
Court of Appeal of Eastern Denmark; the Court of Appeal of Western
Denmark, which had convicted the defendants, was declared to be
biased. Moreover, The New Trial Motion Court decided to grant a
posthumous acquittal to one of the convicts, who had died in the prison.
One cannot be sure, however, that the court would have taken notice
of the facts alone, if the press and foremost the two courageous
reporters Niels Tobiesen and Poul Bögh had not exercised a
powerful and protracted pressure for justice. If a private guess
may be permitted: I doubt very much that the Court of Appeal of Western
Denmark would have rejected the jury's verdict. Hence, if The New
Trial Motion Court had granted a new trial, but had not declared the
Court of Appeal to be biased, some of the defendants would be in prison
A retrospective reflection upon the sequence of events could hardly
fail to raise the question why things took such an unwholesome
turn. All the defendants were convicted during the first
trials. The cases were reopened solely because the gynecological
examination showed that it was nearly impossible that Diana could have
had numerous acts of coitus with a number of adult males. In
addition, neither the judges of the New Trial Motion Court, the Court of
Appeal, nor the jury seemed to be capable of grasping that children may
be indoctrinated by protracted therapy. Evidently, the unambiguous
testimony by several highly competent and esteemed psychiatrists was not
sufficient to overcome this incapacity. The latter also had
unfortunate consequences for Diana: it was in the papers that two courts
had ruled that she was a deliberate liar.
The defense counsels had challenged strong forces the most
prestigious incest psychologist of the country, plus a young female
doctor who had stronger informal than formal relations with the
authorities, plus a social counselor of the municipality. These
three individuals formed a united front. And they had, as it were,
dedicated their lives to the fight for children whom they believed had
been sexually abused.
But Mogens Tange broke up their united front. Today, Sine
Diemar has become a laughing stock in both the newspapers and the comic
magazines, for instance, because of her claim that children may develop
trombone cheeks because of oral assaults. No municipality in
Denmark dares engage her. She has been forced to emigrate to
Norway to earn her living. Before she left, she got a very strong
black mark by the ethical board of The Association of Psychologists
because of her irresponsible behavior in a quite different case.
In still another case she has been sentenced to pay damages of 5,000 DCr
to one of her victims.
The police have become more cautious. Mass media seem to have
really understood things. Tange expects that judges will likewise
become more careful, and less inclined to ground a conviction
exclusively upon the account of a child and the assessment of a
psychologist. No doubt, Tange is more competent of assessing the
situation of Denmark than I am. There is nonetheless room for more
pessimistic hypotheses. The police, the social agency and the
psychologists may have become significantly more reluctant to send a
case to the court. However, if a report results in a trial, the
chances of a rational outcome might still be far from acceptable.
Hobbs, C., & Wynne, J. M. (1987). Management of sexual abuse. Archives
of Disease in Childhood, 62, 1182-1187.
Scharnberg, M. (1996). Textual analysis: A scientific approach for
assessing cases of sexual abuse I-II. Stockholm: Almqvist &
Tange, M. (1995). Roum-sagen - en omvendt hebseprocess? [The
Roum trial: an inverse witch process?] Aalborg: Tange.
Tolstrup, K. (1969). Om skadevirkninger afsädelighedsforbrydelser
mod piger. [Injuries from sexual crimes against girls.] Juristen,
are used throughout for the children and the defendants. [Back]
* Max Scharnberg is
teaching the psychology of lying at Stockholm School of
Economics, but correspondence should be addressed to the
Department of Education, Uppsala University, PO Box 2109, 5-750
02, Uppsala, Sweden. [Back]