aefenglommung (aefenglommung) wrote,

Needs to be said

We used to say that children do not lie about abuse. And that remains generally true; however, once our society began to pay serious attention to the fact of child abuse, children learned that sometimes it is in their interest to lie about it. Lying can be used to deflect responsibility from oneself to another person; it can also be used to fabricate charges against someone one dislikes; lying can get you attention; and, of course, lies can be solicited by investigators from children who are merely trying to please the investigator.

In physics, we call this the Observer Effect: the act of observation changes the behavior of the thing observed. And the children, being intelligent persons, are capable of being subjects as well as objects; they observe behavior in the adults around them, and learn to change the behavior of adults, even as adults change the behavior of children. So, while children generally do not lie about abuse, they can, and do, sometimes. This is why getting at the actual facts is important. Because everybody's got an axe to grind.

The same is true regarding women's experience of abuse. Generally speaking, women don't lie about abuse; however, they can be mistaken about the identity of their abuser; they can deflect responsibility from themselves to another; they can be ideologically driven; they can use abuse (of themselves and of their children) as the nuclear weapon of divorce and child custody cases. This is why getting at the actual facts is important. Because everybody's got an axe to grind.

So, when someone -- young or old, male or female -- comes to you with a tale of abuse (of any sort), the first thing you do is to accept the report. Believe provisionally. Don't say, "are you sure?" Don't say, "Oh, I'm sure so-and-so didn't mean . . ." Don't say, "What did you do to make so-and-so . . ." All that just shows that you can't be trusted with the information being offered, and the person claiming abuse will clam up, or change the story. So, yes, we accept it at face value, for now. But that isn't all there is to the process.

Other people have to get involved, people with expertise in various things. And there is a process for getting at the actual facts, which allows for claims to be made . . . and for claims to be refuted. Evidence has to be weighed, and not just by those who have a stake in the outcome. Sometimes, the claim is maintained; sometimes, it is refuted; and sometimes, nobody can say with certainty what happened. And no matter what conclusion is reached, some people will be convinced that the powers that be got it wrong.

But the alternative is to give license to the Ann Putnams of this world. She was the principal accuser in the Salem Witch Trials. A bunch of young girls and a servant accused a series of adults they disliked of being witches. A bunch of true-believing, crusading magistrates and clergy believed the most unbelievable claims and allowed all kinds of bogus evidence. And in their mutual zeal, nineteen people were put to death, and many others injured. I fear greatly that we are returning to that world.

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