We are all familiar with traditional notions of child abuse: physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse. It unsettles us. It enrages us. It rouses evolutionary protective instincts to get involved; to do something. But what about child abuse when there isn’t actually any abuse?
An unfortunate aspect to some custody cases are the abuse allegations. Occasionally, there is a fire stoking that smoke, but too often (once would be too often), the allegations raised by ex-spouse against ex-spouse are baseless. They are shams and lies and are only designed to inflict harm on the ex-spouse. Unfortunately, the person they harm the most is the child. And even more unfortunate are instances where these allegations are raised repeatedly, from one year to the next, with new investigations being started because once reported, investigations must occur.
While a Child Protected Services report may seem like the quickest, most foolproof way to truly drag your ex through the mud, if you are thinking about making a false claim, I’d like to dissuade you by advising you of what your child will experience in the 45 to 60-day investigation that will ensue: Your child will first be interviewed by a social worker – a stranger – without any heads-up notice. The social worker will show up to your child’s house or school and will ask them all kinds of confusing, lascivious questions. There will be diagrams of little boys and little girls, and the social worker will ask them to label their private parts. The social worker will then ask them if they’ve ever been touched in one area or another, if they’ve ever felt afraid of [insert beloved family member], if they’ve been asked to lie to protect someone. Your child will go to a forensic medical evaluation where they will be violated, poked and prodded and interviewed (again) by a stranger (again) who will ask them (again) about their unmentionables. True, while the investigation is underway, the alleged perpetrator will not be allowed contact with their child. Your child will wonder why a stranger is asking them if dad/grandma/uncle/aunt has ever touched them.
What kind of childhood and the memories of childhood does that create for your child?
About 40 states offer some sort of immunity to people who report child abuse and neglect to child protection or law enforcement agencies. This is because the presumption is that anyone who makes such a serious allegation is doing it in a good faith effort to protect a child.
What about filing false reports, though? The state of Florida defines a false report as “a report of child abuse, neglect or abandonment… that is made to the central abuse hotline which is not true and is maliciously made for the purpose of harassing, embarrassing, or harming another person; personal financial gain for the reporting person; acquiring custody of a child; or personal benefit for the reporting person in any other private dispute involving a child.”
Twenty-nine states offer varying degrees of repercussions for falsified reports of child abuse and neglect. (Georgia is not one of those states.) Our neighbors in Florida offer the harshest punishment: Making a false report in Florida will first earn you a written warning sent via certified mail and, after repeated offenses, has the potential to escalate to a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison and up to $10,000 fine for each violation (each false report made constitutes a separate violation) (Florida Statute 39.205(9)).
Truthfully, I don’t know which of those systems is correct. I can see the argument for both, for making sure that every instance is investigated because if found truthful, no child should endure abuse. I can also see the argument about flagging false-reporters because no child should endure repeated investigations when nothing has happened; when Mom wants to go after Dad or vice versa.
We want our children to be safe. We want our neighbors’ kids to be safe. I can’t think of much that boils my blood more than hearing about a child being abused. Except for maybe hearing about a child that’s being investigated over and over and over again for abuse allegations that are false and baseless. There’s really no excuse for that and, to my eyes, it’s child abuse, too.
David Purvis and Kate Ellis