In the bawdy, satirical cartoon show, South Park, one episode seemed to be something akin to life imitating art (if one calls the show “art”). Called “The Wacky Molestation Adventure” the children in town are able to make their parents legally “disappear” simply by accusing them of molestation.
Not surprisingly, the children revel in their newfound power and the authorities are happy to go along, since everyone is against child molestation. The town soon is denuded of adults.
While South Park is supposed to be farce, nonetheless its plot is not far from the current situation in the United States, where a mere accusation of child molestation, child abuse, sexual abuse, or even rape can end in a legal nightmare for anyone falsely accused. As in the cartoon, when the epidemic of false accusations created circumstances that got out of control, we are seeing what happens in a country when people are empowered to make others disappear by the simple uttering of a lie.
As I have read the horrific story of the school bus monitor who was harassed to tears by a group of seventh graders, I cannot help but wonder if this whole “experiment” in empowering children to falsely accuse adults because we must “protect” children at all costs has played a role not only in that case but in the way children now interact with adults. On top of that, the regular use of accusations of child molestation in child custody battles certainly cannot help how children view adults, especially when the authorities literally coach them to lie.
Unthinkable disrespect for authority
When I was a student at Baylor School more than 40 years ago (at that time, Baylor was an all-boys military school), students often would find unpopular teachers and make things difficult for them. However, none of us could have imagined acting as the children on that bus did, especially when we were seventh graders. This would have fallen into the “unthinkable” category.
Of course, back then we did not have the authorities actively encouraging us to make accusations of serious crimes against adults, or at least accusations that patently were false. Unfortunately, since then we have seen the advent of the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, or CAPTA, also known as the Mondale Act. This federal law plus subsequent U.S. statutes not only made false accusations more likely, but also placed government authorities in a position where they were to believe that ANY accusation was true and must pursue the charges as far as they possibly could take them.
The Mondale Act included two important provisions that would eviscerate rule of law and also empower children to go after adults that they didn’t like. The first was money that was promised to state and local agencies to assist in prosecuting alleged abusers and for treating children that were abused. The second provision simply did away with the bedrock of Anglo-American law: Due process. And in so doing eliminated many evidentiary standards that guaranteed innocent people would be convicted.
At the time, authorities needed corroborating evidence to go along with an accusation, as the simple word of a child with nothing else to help confirm the charges (such as evidence that the accused actually was in that place when the alleged molestation/abuse occurred) was not considered to be credible enough to put someone behind bars for a long time. By ridding the authorities of that troublesome requirement that the accused actually might have committed the acts, the wrongful convictions came and came — and came.
During my coverage two years ago of the Tonya Craft case, I heard from another private investigator in Georgia, Ron DeLaby, who told me of a very sad situation. Schools regularly have assemblies in which students are told about “good touch, bad touch” situations with students then urged to report anyone who has given them a “bad touch.”
One does not need much of an imagination to know what has happened because of this “touch” emphasis: students try to outdo each other in reporting these alleged crimes. Furthermore, if an adult has upset them, or maybe a parent or grandparent has punished a child for something or has kept a girl from seeing a certain boy, the incentive is there simply to get that person out of the picture.
In the case of which DeLaby spoke, after the girl and her friends went to the assembly, a number of them reported “bad touches,” and the girl in question felt left out. She then accused her grandfather of molesting her, and he went to prison. Some time later, she recanted her story and told the authorities the truth, but already having nailed their prey, prosecutors were not interested in hearing what she had to say; her usefulness to them ended when the jury declared, “Guilty.”
Abuse cases as political springboard
A number of prosecutors in this country have used the Mondale Act to catapult themselves to the national scene. Janet Reno engaged in especially abusive and dishonest tactics in securing high-profile child molestation cases and her crusading landed her the job of U.S. Attorney General during the Clinton years. (Reno demonstrated her love for children by massacring a large number of them in Waco just weeks after she was sworn into office.)
By eviscerating due process and rules of evidence, federal law has empowered prosecutors and has protected them when they engage in outright criminal activities. The Craft case was especially egregious, as prosecutors Chris Arnt and Len Gregor, Judge Brian House and detective Tim Deal colluded to let Deal fabricate a document during the trial to fill a giant hole that the prosecutors had dug for themselves.
(Even in Georgia, fabricating evidence in a criminal trial is a felony, except that a representative from the Georgia State Bar told me that prosecutors only were “doing their jobs.” So, if one wishes to live a life of crime and do it under color of law, prosecution should be the chosen profession.)
Furthermore, under the non-rules of evidence from the Mondale Act, Arnt was able to claim that molestation occurred without giving place, date, or time. In one ridiculous act, he even charged Craft with molesting Sandra Lamb’s daughter in the house that Craft had purchased. However, the alleged molestation was supposed to have taken place long before Craft even lived there.
(Let me note that after the prosecution rested, “Judge” House upheld that charge, claiming that the prosecution had given “compelling evidence” for the truthfulness of that charge. What House did not realize was that by then the jurors already had concluded that Arnt and Gregor were feeding them lies and that Outhouse was enabling the whole sorry show.)
It is true that Craft was acquitted, but only after having to spend more than a million dollars in her defense to debunk charges that were transparently false. Sandra Lamb, who was ground zero for the false accusations, and her daughter knew exactly what they were doing. Arnt advised them that they had to get three children to make accusations, so they chose Tonya’s daughter, who was the subject of a custody battle between Tonya and her ex-husband, Joal Henke, and the daughter of Jerry and Kelli McDonald, a child who simply did not make a particularly good witness, judging by her claim on the stand that she knew where Tonya had touched her because her mother said that was what happened.
Pre-Mondale Act, no prosecutor could have made the charges that Arnt and Gregor brought into the Judge House’s courtroom. There was no corroborating evidence, nothing. However, Arnt wanted to use the case to catapult himself to stardom, Sandra Lamb wanted to get back at Tonya Craft for whatever petty reasons would motivate “Mommie Dearest,” and Joal Henke and his wife, Sarah, wanted Tonya out of the way so that they could have her children. (Gregor just wanted another opportunity to impress people as “the man,” not realizing that his courtroom antics revealed him as the buffoon he really is.)
Another law brings chaos to legal protections
Unfortunately, the Mondale Act is not the only federal statute that has made a mockery out of due process and rules of evidence. The Violence Against Women Act provides the same legal framework, which means that any woman can accuse any man of rape, and no matter how incredible or ridiculous the accusations, authorities MUST investigate them as though they were true, even if it is obvious they are a lie.
Remember the Duke lacrosse case? The charges stayed up for a year even though the authorities knew from the beginning that they were false. It was not the power of the accusation or the supposed “mountain of evidence” that prosecutor Mike Nifong claimed to have possessed (with the “mountain” really being a giant hole), but rather the provisions of the VAWA that kept the case alive and forced the families of the accused to spend about $5 million even though the case did not get to trial.
From Durham, N.C., to Narragansett, Rhode Island, the VAWA, like the Mondale Act, has enabled false charges of sexual assault and rape against people who were convenient targets for the authorities. As in the old Soviet Union, where anyone could make a troublesome neighbor “disappear” with a false accusation, the United States of America has become a place where innocent people don’t have a chance when faced with judges, police, and prosecutors that prefer lies to the truth.
William Anderson is a professor of economics at Frostburg State University in Frostburg, Md., whose blog explores the abuse of law and process by government prosecutors. He grew up in the Chattanooga area when his family moved to Lookout Mountain when he was 10. He graduated from Baylor School in 1971 and majored in journalism for a bachelor’s degree at UT. He worked as a staff writer at the Chattanooga News-Free Press for two years and taught at Rossville junior high school. For four years he was executive director of Chattanooga Manufacturers Association. He earned his doctorate in economics from Auburn. Mr. Anderson is married and the father of five children.