Frailty, Thy Name is Memory: An Inverse Witch Trial in Denmark

Max Scharnberg*

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 100,000 children."

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 members voted.

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 arguments.

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 mentally retarded.)

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 acquittal.

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 mother.

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 him.

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 had written:

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 involved.

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.

Strange Interludes

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 Margarete.

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 [...]

R: Did you know somewhere in your mind that this had taken place, or did you not know?
D: 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.
R: Your memory was completely blank, as it were?
D: Yes, I think I had a happy childhood, hence — this — there was nothing wrong with it.
D: But why, I denied everything, until I told it to my foster mother.
R: But when you started to recount, then — then you suddenly were able to tell everything, or how was it?
D: 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.
R: What do you mean by turn over?
D: 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?
R: What is just a very small step?
D: 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.
R: But is it the case that if you go on talking and talking about it, then finally more and more emerges from your memory?
D: 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.
D: 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 so
R: 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?
D: 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.
R: And then you could, as it were, slowly recall more of the dream, and then again a little more of the dream — or?
D: Yes. well, well, recall different, how should I put it? well, something like sections, do you understand, as it were—

 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 respects.

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 today.

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 & Wiksell International.

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, 253-262.

1 Pseudonyms 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]

[Back to Volume 8, Number 3/4]

Copyright © 1989-2014 by the Institute for Psychological Therapies.
This website last revised on April 15, 2014.
Found a non-working link?  Please notify the Webmaster.