National Post

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Friday, May 28, 1999

Academics agreed with judge years ago

National Post

Roger Galloway, MP (Sarnia-Lambton), remembers the moment he began to take the phenomenon of false sexual abuse allegations in divorce profoundly seriously.

As co-chair the Special Joint Committee on Child Custody and Access, Mr. Galloway spent much of 1998 in public hearings, listening to hundreds of people relate their divorce experiences.

"We were hearing from a number of individuals who said they had been falsely accused of sexual abuse, and they were being dismissed by some members of our committee as a bunch of disgruntled people," he says.

"The turning point for me was the evidence given to us by the Ottawa-Carleton Children's Aid Society. Of 1,500 child sex abuse complaints in a year, [they told us] 900 were related to marital breakup. And in two-thirds of those 900 cases, they couldn't find anything; there was no basis to it."

The idea that abuse allegations arising during custody battles should be treated differently from other sexual abuse allegations is not new. In a 1987 law journal, Gordon Blush and Karol Ross argued that social workers and other mental-health professionals who assume the truth of accusations levelled in the midst of overheated domestic power struggles are behaving "unprofessionally, unethically and naively."

While social workers have traditionally been apprehensive about questioning children too intensely, Mr. Blush and Mr. Ross argued that "the long-range ramifications of these allegations, if misdiagnosed, can be" even more traumatic.

To "believe that all sexual allegations have the same clinical dynamics . . . is to be naive, incorrect and possibly dangerous to a whole system that espouses child advocacy as its primary concern."

Calling the phenomenon the SAID Syndrome -- Sexual Allegations in Divorce -- Mr. Blush and Mr. Ross provided guidelines for social workers and called for more research.

A recent Queen's University study found that mothers making such allegations were far more likely to be believed than fathers. In the Winnipeg case, it was Mr. A. who first reported that K. had alleged improper sexual touching while she was a resident of a women's shelter.

Those allegations were not pursued by the government social workers. But, when Mr. A.'s mentally unstable former spouse alleged that he had abused his daughter, the system spent four years insisting such allegations must be true.

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