This is almost always a no-win situation.
There’s little room for error. If you live in a place where the police and social services are decent people with horse sense, you’re lucky, but if you don’t, take care.
It can happen to anyone.
Doctor, lawyer, accountant. Not just the trailer trash crowd.
The younger the child making the allegations, the more seriously they are taken, BUT DON’T LET THAT lull you . . .
. . . into believing you can’t be a 5′2″ mom who weighs 98 pounds soaking wet and not be credibly accused of physically abusing your 6-foot, 17-year-old son.
Take the threats seriously, no matter how ludicrous they are in fact.
Why? Two main reasons. 1) Because our culture is currently programmed to “#startwithbelieving” and “believe survivors” and other similar nonsense, such that the presumption of innocence effectively does not apply to accusations of child abuse. More often than not, it’s guilty until proven innocent. Proving innocence is much harder than you believe. Much, much, much harder. The system actually works against efforts to prove innocence. Ignore this truth at your peril. 2) You’ve been taught since grade school that our legal system is “the best in the world,” but that doesn’t mean it’s actually good. “Best in the world” in this case simply means there are legal systems that are even worse than ours. If you believe our criminal justice system cares about getting to the truth about child abuse allegations, you are sadly and dangerously mistaken.
Preempting false abuse allegations and/or defending oneself against false abuse allegations is tricky.
It’s tricky because there is no single way to do it “right”. How to respond to a child in my family falsely accusing me and/or my spouse of abuse depends in some part on how old the child is. If the child were a teenager who threatened to report abuse as a way of getting his/her way, I would do this:
Lawyer up now.
Right now. Getting a lawyer DOES NOT make you look guilty. And even if you fear that hiring a lawyer might make you look guilty, just try successfully defending your innocence without hiring one. Only a fool—a damn fool—would try to defend himself or herself against child abuse claims without a good lawyer.
Literally start researching good lawyers and start calling now (you have no time to waste).
And not just for the reasons you think I’m going to give.
Yes, of course you want to lawyer up for your protection. But how does a lawyer—a good lawyer, not just any lawyer—protect you? Not merely by defending you in court.
Defending you in court is crucial, but lawyering up early on may keep you out of court and out of jail too. Lawyering up early may prevent this mess from ruining your reputation in the community. How? A good lawyer gives you the advice you need, so that you don’t make stupid mistakes early on. So often its the stupid mistakes made early on that bury you.
And what kind of stupid mistakes might those be? If you believe 1) you can figure out how to navigate the system successfully on your own; 2) that “because I am innocent, all I have to do is tell the truth, and so the more truth I tell the better off I’ll be”; and 3) the system is designed to get to the truth, that is proof positive that you need to lawyer up now because all three beliefs are dead wrong.
The system works against you.
Years ago I made an informal study of my own (not a rigorous scientific study) of how often child protective services “supported” or “substantiated” reports of child abuse. It was an alarmingly high percentage of the time. I conclude that there is a bias for finding abuse. This makes sense when you analyze the situation. Think of it this way: what’s easier to do and what’s easier to defend? A) a thorough investigation that finds no solid proof or evidence of abuse, followed by a report that no solid proof or evidence of abuse was found?; or B) claiming a thorough investigation was conducted that found “credible evidence” or “reason for concern,” followed by a “better safe than sorry” kind of recommendation? It’s no contest. The mob will approve of finding abuse. “Another pervert taken off the streets, so he/she cannot hurt my kids!” So abuse is far too often found as a means of everyone in the child welfare field a) avoiding criticism; b) being lauded as heroes; c) doing less work and/or easier work; and d) keeping their jobs.
So you need inside expertise to protect you. In addition to finding a good lawyer, find experts in the fields of child abuse law enforcement, social work, and psychology to advise and support you.
Do not talk to the police or social services—do not talk to ANYONE—about the allegations or about your children or about yourself or your family without first consulting your (good) lawyer and without your (good) lawyer’s approval.
Here is why (ignore this at your peril):
If the police tell you they “just have a few questions” and that “you’re not a suspect,” DON’T YOU BELIEVE IT! Police can lie to you. It’s perfectly legal for them to do so. Anything you discuss with the police or your friends or family can be subpoenaed and used against you in the course of the investigation and/or trial. Keep your mouth shut, unless your good attorney advises you to speak.
Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277