Misunderstandings are a part of life. They can cause problems with your boss, be the catalyst for an argument with your spouse, and even have an affect on lifelong friendships. Most of these cases can easily be resolved through communication and mutual understanding. Unfortunately, some misunderstandings can get out of hand very quickly and, before you realize it, can have a severe or permanent impact on your life.
One thing that we at Wolf Law LLC see all too often are false child abuse allegations. As mentioned above, these can occur as the result of a simple misunderstanding. This was the case for Washington Post writer Lauren Knight when someone reported her to social services for child abuse, all because this stranger misinterpreted what was really going on, a child throwing a temper tantrum, as abuse. For Lauren, this situation brought with it undue stress, hurt, and doubts.
Countless parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and family friends have found themselves in this unfortunate scenario before, but it’s not always because of a misinterpretation. There are plenty of scenarios that might lead someone to be falsely accused of child abuse. Throughout the course of this article, we’ll go over what happens when a person is wrongly accused of abusing a child, from the effects it has on both the accused and the child to the situations this kind of allegation can spawn from. We’ll also discuss some strategies for what to do if you’ve been wrongly accused.
Effects of False Child Abuse Charges on the Accused and the Child
Few people realize the true impact this kind of accusation can have on every person involved. In terms of how it affects the accused, there is always a risk that they will be doubted by their family and friends. They may lose their job, be dismissed from a school or training program they are involved in, or face harassment or vandalization of their property or belongings.
The child in question can also be deeply impacted by false accusations. Since children are highly suggestible, “confessions” that are simply not true are often coaxed out of them by parents or investigators.
Not only can this confuse the child, it can also create a sense of distrust for the person interrogating them. Additionally, if a child is told that a specific person has wronged them, and that accusation is false, the child will likely never trust that person again. The confusion factor may also affect the child’s ability to trust anyone at all, and can make them think that they can never be sure that what they’ve seen, heard, or witnessed is truly wrong or right.
Situations in Which Accusations Often Occur
There are a number of scenarios that could lead one to believe that a child is being abused. You’ve probably witnessed one yourself at some point in your life. Perhaps you were in the grocery store and saw a mother physically grab her child’s arm in a manner that you perceive as forceful. This could definitely be a form of child abuse, but you can’t make that kind of assumption based off of one instance.
More likely than not, that mother had asked her child multiple times to behave and the child threw a temper tantrum as a reaction, resulting in her grabbing his/her arm. While this may not be the best parental reaction, that doesn’t make it child abuse or domestic violence and it doesn’t mean the child is being abused routinely in the home.
When someone is accused of child abuse, there are a lot of possibilities that have to be considered. Not only can false allegations come from adults, in some situations, they can come from children too. The following are just a few of the situations that could result in an unjust child abuse accusation:
- One half of a couple going through a divorce, and subsequent custody battles, may be tempted to accuse the other of child abuse, simply to win custody of the children.
- A parent who runs into the gas station to pay for her fuel could be accused of child abuse for leaving her child/children alone in the car.
- Many parents allow their children to play in their front yard or a local playground unattended, which could trigger a neighbor or even a family member to report the action as child abuse.
- Just as in the story we mentioned earlier, a complete and total stranger could witness an interaction between a parent and child in a public place and anonymously report the incident.
- A child might say that he or she was “touched” or “abused” because they are desperately seeking attention.
- Likewise, children can easily be confused and coerced by adults into saying something that adults can twist into an accusation.
- Some kids have had experiences with abuse in the past that are repressed. Those feelings can come back up and be imprinted on another adult who had nothing to do with the original incident but who reminds the child of the person who did abuse them.
- Some kids have a problem with an authoritarian father and will claim abuse to try to get him out of the house.
Surviving False Child Abuse Allegations
As you can see, there are multiple scenarios that could lead to an unjust child abuse allegation. The tricky part is knowing what to do in these situations.
In our experience, the single most important thing you can do when initially accused is to speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney right away. As lawyers we know that anything you say can and will be used against you in court, so it’s generally best to talk to as few people as possible until you get in touch with a lawyer who can help you navigate the process.
Additionally, you should also consider the following tips if you are every wrongly accused of child abuse, whether they are sex crimes or allegations of physical abuse:
- Remember, social workers are trying to build a case against you, and they will look for anything they can find that could make you look guilty. Don’t offend them and don’t be defensive, cooperate as much as possible.
- If asked to give a statement, decline until your attorney can be present.
- Don’t speak about the situation to anyone. That includes friends, family, neighbors, even support groups or church friends.
- Try to stay positive. This will help strengthen you and your family, and will keep you from looking guiltier than you are.
- Take notes about everything that happens. Every phone call, every interview, every conversation that takes place about the subject should be either rerecorded (if legal in your state) or written down in detail.
- Likewise, keep track of where you are at all times, who you were with, and why you were where you were.
- Obtain a copy of the charge against you and ask for a letter that states the formal allegations.
- Research your state’s foster care system, the appeals process, and learn as much as you can about your rights.
- When you do have to speak to the authorities or investigators, keep it simple. State the facts and be honest, but don’t ramble or speak more than is absolutely necessary.
- Communicate with your partner or spouse. These kind of allegations can taint a relationship and, since what you need most right now is supports, it’s important to talk honestly and openly about what’s going on so as to assure the other partner that the charges simply aren’t true.
- Establish visitation rights as soon as possible, knowing that these visit will need to be supervised by another adult at all times.
- Continue to live in your home, unless ordered to leave by the court or advised to move by your attorney.
- Find both an independent psychologist and family doctor who are not associated with social services to evaluate your entire family.
Seeking Legal Advice
We cannot stress enough how absolutely critical it is for you to have an attorney you trust when facing this kind of situation. You need to realize that what you’re up against may be the fight of your life and you need to take the situation extremely seriously. You should be prepared and ready to go to court at any time. You should also obtain as much evidence as you can in your favor, including affidavits and character references from everyone you know, friends, family, and children included.
Remember, if you’re innocent you have nothing to hide. Maintain that innocence at all times and never let anyone coax a confession out of you that says that you’ve done something you haven’t. One slip up could be your downfall, so remain alert and aware at all times and stay in constant contact with your attorney.
At Wolf Law LLC, we know how important hope is. Remember, never give up on yourself, because we will absolutely never give up on you. If you need help fighting false child abuse allegations, call us immediately at 720-479-8574 or contact us ASAP to set up your free and confidential consultation.