This post is very long, but I find that editing it is difficult. It wades into a highly controversial issue that has probably taken a few years off my life: should we always believe accusations of childhood sexual abuse, even when their source is potentially unreliable?
The article below (I've had to put it in a separate post because the line-spacing in THIS post got so hopelessly buggered-up) is based on an enthralling documentary on ABC TV's 20-20 about Aislinn Wendrow, a young autistic woman who supposedly made allegations of sexual abuse against her father. I say "supposedly" because the allegations came about in a very strange and convoluted way. Severely disabled and non-verbal, Aislinn's entire education up to college level had been accomplished by a method in which her hand was guided over a keyboard by a practitioner trained in "facilitated communication".
There is a fey mysterious quality to Aislinn, as if she dwells in a different kind of reality, one more subtle than that which can be punched out on a keyboard. Nevertheless, the family saw the new method as a blessing and a breakthrough, tapping into their daughter's hidden intellectual gifts and feelings. Then came the baffling accusations of abuse, a horrifying ordeal in which the girl's father was placed in solitary confinement for nearly three months without being convicted of anything. Though he was eventually cleared of all wrongdoing, the family was left devastated and completely disillusioned with what must have seemed like an educational boondoggle.
Facilitated communication is a slippery slope. In theory, it should (or at least could) work: the practitioner guides the disabled person's hand, supposedly without coercion or force, assisting them in typing out their thoughts and allowing them to communicate, sometimes for the first time. In spite of the fact that it does not stand up to any sort of scientific testing, some parents of disabled children are still hanging on to the method with bulldog tenacity. Though one can hardly blame them for trying to maintain their hope, I can't help but be reminded of the "theory" that childhood vaccines cause autism.
This is one of those wild ideas that was thrown out there and took hold in the popular imagination. The doctor who originally published the idea has since been completely discredited and his paper withdrawn. But never mind: celebrity Moms, most notably ex-Playboy centrefold Jenny McCarthy, had already embraced the idea and written several "heartwarming" books about it. The public loves heartwarming and wants to believe, even in the face of the facts.
McCarthy believes some autistic kids (including her son) are
"indigo" or "crystal" children with unique psychic abilities. This appreciation seems to fly in the face of her fury over vaccinations: would she prefer her son be not-so-special? If he had been just an ordinary kid, at least three bestsellers never would have been written (or, using another psychic metaphor, "ghostwritten").
But back to the topic at hand. For reasons I don't need to explain, the issue of childhood sexual abuse is like a quagmire in a minefield. I know that the truth can get buried, and victims can be flipped around into perpetrators, people who "destroyed the family" by even thinking that their parents might have abused them. The so-called False Memory Syndrome movement in the early '90s (which, mysteriously, you don't hear about any more) made my teeth ache. I couldn't help but see perpetrators hiding out in this organization, which after all was nothing but a lobby group with no valid research to back up their claims.
But if you try hard enough, and search long enough, you'll find something that passes for proof. People are incredibly stubborn about their beliefs, and many of them can't or won't admit they are wrong.
Once the pendulum swings one way, it can swing forcefully the other way, knocking whole families over for life. False Memory Syndrome reminded me of high school physics: for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. In the early '90s there was an unprecedented outpouring of sexual abuse stories in the media, particularly on talk shows where hosts like Ricki Lake and Sally Jesse Raphael sat transfixed by extreme stories of multiple personality caused by Satanic ritual abuse.
Then, bingo-boingo, here comes "FMS" to knock the pendulum
violently the other way. Some women (including some I knew personally) were so relieved to put down their emotional burden that they recanted accusations which I am convinced were valid.
But how many were valid? How many imagined or coerced? How
many "implanted" by unscrupulous therapists? Dear God, have we
learned nothing at all? For here it comes again, the idea that someone can concoct traumatic memories and make them seem real. The most disturbing element, in my mind, is that these "facilitators" don't necessarily set out to do harm. Their unconscious motivation to help their client leads them to put words in their mouths and ideas in their heads, up to and including sexual abuse which never took place.
How could this possibly work? It could. It's kind of like a ouija board. That pointer isn't going anywhere without the touch of human hands.
I am sure I don't have the last word on this contentious issue, but it has affected my family and will continue to affect me for the rest of my life. Aislinn's story is completely enthralling, and provides one more piece in an increasingly baffling, disturbing puzzle.
Dear Sir or Madam, will you read my book
It took me years to write, will you take a look
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