When a man is charged with sexually abusing his teenage daughter or step-daughter, is there a methodology to conducting a defense investigation? These cases involve allegations which can send a man to prison and have him branded as a “sex offender” for the rest of his life, effectively depriving him of his freedom and dignity forever. Often there is no physical evidence, prior criminal history, or any corroborating information outside of the alleged victim’s testimony and occasional circumstantial evidence.
Where to begin
The strategy for defending against sexual abuse claims should be identifying a motivation to lie. Making a time line is one of the first things to do, determining work schedules, address histories, school attendance, vacations and school trips for every member of the family. Does the victim claim the offenses occurred after she came home from school? Correlate the school bus schedule and the father’s work schedule to determine if any time actually existed for the assaults to occur as the girl claims.
Where was the victim living when the assaults occurred? Does she have the houses right? Does she claim her father had sex with her at the house on Sunset Street when she was in sixth grade when the family actually lived on Allamanda Avenue that year? Does she claim she was assaulted at home on her fourteenth birthday, while the family was actually at Disney World that day? Surprisingly, none of this will have been confirmed or substantiated by law enforcement.
While prosecutors and “experts” may argue that victims of sexual abuse are prone to make mistakes in their recollection because of the “trauma of the abuse,” defense investigators are also aware that alleged victims make mistakes in their recollection because the allegations are simply not true.
The arresting officer
What training has the officer received in investigating juvenile sexual abuse crimes? You may find that the officer has had more training with automatic weapons and stress management than in the delicate skills of interviewing juveniles and unraveling complex family dysfunctions. Most departments have procedures for conducting interviews with juveniles making sexual abuse allegations. Obtain these from the arresting agency, and determine if all procedures were carefully followed by the officer. Failure to do so will be a strong indicator of bias and premature arrest.
Who to talk to
Develop a concentric circle of witnesses, moving from the outside to the inside circles of the victim’s relationships. The outside circle might include former neighbors, boyfriends, friends and classmates, and their parents. Establish through witnesses any prior inconsistent statements, the alleged victim’s behaviors, or if the alleged victim has a reputation for being truthful.
If the witnesses express reluctance to discuss the case or the alleged victim, it may be helpful to point out at least one inconsistency you have discovered during your investigation. For instance, if the family was actually at Disney World when the juvenile claims an offense occurred at home, point this out to the witness. Ask if the witness believes the victim’s claims.
The next level would be those who are current friends, boyfriends, classmates, and the individuals who either brought the disclosure to the authorities, or to whom the victim made a disclosure. The message will be communicated to the alleged victim that she will be accountable for her claims. This is an important psychological strategy, since the juvenile often has no real appreciation for the seriousness of the charges she has made. While this may seem harsh or cruel toward the victim, there should be ample evidence to the defense team by this time that the allegations may, in fact, be false.
Has the alleged victim exhibited any signs of avoidance behavior? Are there any specific examples that the victim has taken action to avoid the suspect? Has she persistently run away from home? Skipped school, or the bus taking her home? Has she installed locks on her bedroom door, to keep the molester out of her room? Has she consistently avoided visitation with her father, or feigned sickness when he attempted to have contact with her? Such facts may be indicators that something is really going on, which needs to be brought to the attorney’s attention.
Often, since the “victim” has not been attacked, the allegations will be vague. For instance, a juvenile may claim that she could not determine anatomical detail because “it was always dark,” or “I closed my eyes.” If there is no physical evidence of sexual activity, the juvenile may claim that the father insisted on oral sex “all the time.” This lack of detail strikes at the heart of the witness’ credibility. Notwithstanding the absence of physical evidence, a real “victim” is usually able to offer specific details of the assaults which would bear up under direct and cross-examination.
While every suspect may maintain his innocence, the facts are that sexual abuse is a real crime, with real victims and real perpetrators. But no professional investigator would blindly assume that every allegation is true, either. And the place to begin the defense against sexual abuse claims is in acknowledging that false allegations do occur, and that until the charges are proven beyond a reasonable doubt by the prosecution, the presumption of innocence belongs to the defendant.
If you need help with a sexual abuse case call the experts at Complete Legal Investigations today at 561-687-8381.