Times in past American history have clearly demonstrated how cruel and merciless people can be when they arbitrarily decided a particular group of people were a "threat to society." In Salem, Massachusetts, from 1692 to 1693, so-called "witches" were the target of choice. All that was necessary for a person to be locked up in jail was an accusation from a family member, friend or a total stranger, no investigation required. Trials for these poor folks was a sham, since ignorant judges allowed "spectral evidence" to be used to determine that person's guilt. More often than not, anyone accused of being a "witch" was executed, for no other reason than the fact that an accusation was made. And that was just the beginning.

In 1800, during the Presidential election of Adams versus Jefferson, the Sedition Act determined that any person who criticized the Federalist government, either by word or in print, was guilty of "treason," and was immediately arrested and incarcerated. Fortunately, victims of the Sedition Act, many of whom were editors or writers, were released soon after Thomas Jefferson was elected President. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, thousands of Japanese-Americans were rounded up and locked up in "internment camps," simply because of their Japanese heritage. After that, we had the "Red Scare" in the 1950's, which destroyed the lives of many people, many who were noted artists, writers and film makers. No facts were required nor was evidence obtained to prove anyone accused was a "threat."

Over the past decade, it has become apparent that anyone accused of a sex-related crime, particularly a crime against a child or adolescent, is automatically a "child molester" or "sex offender," with little, if any, real investigation done to prove whether or not a crime has actually been committed. The campaign to lock up sex offenders has developed into the new American witch hunt.

"The number one myth held by various police, social workers and other child advocates is that children do not lie about their experiences of sexual abuse," states Allen Cowling, a Mississippi-based private investigator who has made defending false allegations of sexual abuse a specialty and has created a website designed to address these critical issues. "Therefore, when they express such allegations, their willingness to disclose them verifies the veracity of their statements."

His firm, Cowling Investigations Inc., has been successful in defending numerous cases of false sexual abuse allegations. His website, located at http://www.allencowling.com, is a valuable source of assistance and information for anyone who has been falsely accused.

"Most false allegations of abuse would surface quickly if these "professionals" interviewed these children properly and did not simply accept a story, at face value, as being the complete truth," he observes. "Yes, sexual abuse does happen, but so do false allegations of abuse and until we, as a society, learn to properly deal with these issues and distinguish fact from fantasy, innocent people, falsely accused, will continue to have their lives and families destroyed, spend years in prison and be labeled for the rest of their lives as being a child molester when in reality, they have done absolutely nothing."

Criminal defense attorneys have seen a rise in false allegations of sexual abuse as well. "It would appear that the Arizona legislature has no grasp of the viciousness of such a false accusation or the magnitude of the resulting destruction to an innocent person maliciously and falsely accused," says Joel Erik Thompson, who practises criminal law in Phoenix, Arizona. In an article for the IPT Journal, titled Defense of Child Molestation Charges, written in 1992, he notes that "a 1989 statute, A.R.S. SS 13-3620.01, makes it a class 3

misdemeanor (the absolute minimum category of criminal conduct in Arizona) to maliciously, knowingly and intentionally make a false report of child abuse or neglect."

Adopting a Federal Standard

Obviously, people who commit sexual crimes, be they against other adults or children, must be punished by law. However, it is imperative that lawmakers adopt strict Federal standards for investigating accusations of sexual abuse so as to ensure that innocent persons aren't being unjustly arrested and incarcerated. Such guidelines are sorely lacking at this time. What should these standards be?

First, detectives called to investigate when an accusation of sexual abuse has been made must guard against developing pre-conceived opinions of the accused before an investigation has even begun. They must carefully avoid treating a child accuser as a "victim," instead of the accurate term, a "complainant." Instead, they must take the time to question a child accuser carefully, without the use of leading and suggestive questions. Asking questions like "what happened," which require the child accuser to describe events in his or her own words, will yield more accurate information and may reveal that an alleged "abuse" was actually nothing more than a simple misunderstanding.

Detectives also need to determine the source of an accusation; specifically, is it coming from the child or one of the parents? Is the parent making the accusation, be it against an ex-spouse, grandparent of the complainant, or anyone else, a rational person, or someone prone to hysterical behavior? Is the accusing parent on any kind of medication, such as Zoloft, or other powerful anti-depressant or anti-psychotic drug? Detectives need to consider the possibility that an accusation of sexual abuse is in fact false, and was made to satisfy a grudge against the person accused. They must be willing to thoroughly investigate and question the accuser(s) to make sure they do not end up arresting an innocent person.

Next, medical evidence must be obtained before even considering that probable cause for charges of sexual abuse, molestation or battery actually exists. The doctor conducting the examination must be absolutely certain that reliable signs of sexual abuse are present, rather than taking a guess that certain medical indications might be "indicative of sexual activity," when those conditions could have resulted from other causes. The doctor should have enough medical experience to know what to look for in real sexual abuse, so as to be able to determine if evidence of actual abuse is present. If there is no evidence of sexual abuse present, there is no probable cause for charges of abuse, molestation or battery.

Third, social workers and other child interviewers must be thoroughly trained in proper interview techniques. As Cowling personally observes, "most unfortunately, in case after case, that I am personally involved in, I see interview examples, involving child accusers, that are absolutely absurd. In many cases, these interviews actually contribute to the allegations themselves." At present, case workers are, on average, very poorly trained in acceptable interviewing of child accusers. Instead of asking questions that begin with who, what, when, where, why and how, which allow the opportunity to describe in their own words what actually happened, interviewers ask such leading and suggestive questions that it cannot be accurately determined whether the allegation is coming from the child or the interviewer.

All interviews should be either video- or audio-taped, with printed transcripts provided as well. Interviews that are taped provide accurate details on how the questioning was conducted, and must be made immediately available for a person falsely accused and his/her attorney to challenge as "evidence."

Finally, it must be noted how many times the child accuser was interviewed by police, social workers, psychologists, and other professionals. It is not uncommon in a typical allegation for a child to be questioned by several people during a case. If a child has been interviewed several times, there is a

strong possibility that the "abuse" story has changed with each interview. If an accuser's story has changed three or four times, how can it be accurately determined which version is true, or if any of them are, for that matter?

Harsh Penalties For False Accusers

It is an outrage and a disgrace that at present, there are apparently no serious criminal penalties for people who maliciously, knowingly and intentionally make accusations of sexual abuse against a person they know to be innocent. As anyone who has been falsely accused will tell us, the personal consequences of such an allegation are nothing short of disastrous. He or she can be arrested, and, if they are denied a bond "due to the severity of the charges," be put in the local jail until their preliminary hearing or trial, which could take one to several months.

Once in jail, an accused person is at serious risk of being physically or sexually assaulted by violent inmates or correction officers. Even if a person makes bail and is released until trial, he or she could be fired, and is therefore unable to work. Without an income, being evicted from an apartment or losing a home is a frightening, and very real, possibility. An innocent person falsely accused will very likely have to go deep into debt to pay legal expenses, a financial hole they may never be able to climb out of.

In short, their lives can be physically or virtually destroyed, simply because an accusation of "sexual abuse" has been made. In view of these circumstances, it is entirely accurate to say that anyone who deliberately makes a false accusation against another out of pure spite, to satisfy a personal grudge or grievance, is actually guilty of depraved indifference to human life, even if the accused survives arrest and incarceration.

It is very disturbing to know that someone could easily accuse us of a sex crime and send us to jail if we don't have the funds for a private attorney because current laws allow a false accuser to do so without penalty. Even more disturbing is the fact that many police and prosecutors are more interested in arresting and convicting so-called "child molesters," with almost no investigation done, because it looks good on their professional record.

Making it a Class A or B felony to intentionally make a false accusation against another would make a person think twice before taking such an action, and could significantly reduce the number of false allegations of sexual abuse in a very short time. We can only hope that city, state and federal legislators will act soon to prevent more of these gross miscarriages of justice and abuses of police and prosecutorial power from happening in future. Otherwise, more innocent people will be wrongly accused, arrested and imprisoned for crimes they never committed.