Court psychological experts in the US, tasked with investigating alleged sex abuse in post-separation custody battles, estimate that about three in four allegations are false. These figures tally with estimates communicated by frontline child abuse investigators in Malta.
In fact, psychologists have posited that allegations that conform to an eight-point checklist are usually false (see ‘Warning signs’ below). The statistical burden is overwhelming: only about 15 per cent of allegations, which are almost always made by mothers against fathers during intense court battles, lead to prosecution and some sort of guilt being established.
In my case, when I was accused of sex abuse by my warring wife without a shred of evidence being produced, I was arrested within two hours. The police searched my house and seized three laptops and a tablet. I did not see my daughter for 48 days, and didn’t even get to speak to her on the phone.
Eventually I began to have contact with my five-year-old daughter in the presence of a social worker. Conditions were strict: I was not allowed to change her clothes or go into the toilet with her when we were out (despite the fact that she wanted me to, that she felt scared in toilets alone).
I had been humiliatingly condemned until proven innocent.
Three months after the accusations were made, a report by the court-appointed investigating psychologist and psychiatrist left no doubt that the allegations were false, and two weeks later a second court report by social workers showed that the child had been told to lie by her mother. But the investigation remained active – another nine months would pass before my computers were given to me.
Eventually, 395 days after the accusations were made, the Attorney General’s office charged me €72.21 for a copy of the report of the magisterial inquiry that exonerated me.
It should have never dragged on for so long. An examination of the wider evidence would have led to an early conclusion that the wrong person was being investigated.
But in an even wider societal context, this ignominious investigation happened in a culture of hysteria about sex abuse, including sexual harassment, which conjures the idea that manhood is somewhat virulent. Proportionality has been lost: instead of designing investigations within the confines of the accusations laid out, the investigators beat around heavily and bluntly in a bid to flush out paedophiles. They seized my computers and tablet to make a sweep for child pornography, even though I was not accused of seeing or having child pornography (See ‘Nudity in the family’ below). This made the investigation a proverbial fishing expedition, its doggedness laid bare after reports had been filed by three court experts that resoundingly rebutted the allegations.
Three months after the accusations were made, a report by the court-appointed psychologist and psychiatrist left no doubt they were false
People ask, why would a mother want to put the father of her child in prison?
Studies show that most of the accusers suffer from a personality disorder, and a minority – around 15 per cent – concoct the accusations to deliver a decapitating blow in the court battle for defined gain. Many psychologists argue that accusing women ought to be examined psychiatrically because that could establish a motive.
Whatever the motivation, the mere allegation delivers immediate and spectacular gains to the accuser. The court typically reduces the relationship between child and accused to a couple of hours of supervised contact weekly, and as the investigation drags on for many months or years the emotional bond between daughter and father atrophies, while the accuser has plenty of time to complete her handiwork: to alienate the child from father. The relationship between father and daughter can be ruined.
The court’s curtailment of access for the accused then provides another alibi to the accuser: a rationale for applying for social benefits, particularly if the mother can circumstantially plead that she cannot work because no extended family can take care of the child. The mother positions herself as a full-time single parent, and the Department of Social Security obliges. In one fell swoop the mother ends up raking in an income (from social assistance, children’s allowance and child maintenance paid by the condemned father) that would amount to what she could make working legitimately as a low-skilled worker.
Eventually, if the allegations are proven false, the accuser can be prosecuted for calumny and perjury but this makes a delicate situation all the more volatile and unpredictable. For the wrongly accused father it could be a bitter victory – a daughter damaged even more.
For these reasons, it is the system that needs to change. False allegations of sex abuse during custody battles seem to be increasing in Malta; whole families are traumatised, as the accusing mother betrays the child’s love for both parents and subjects the child to cult-like induction and severe psychological abuse.
I believe that investigations should be entrusted to a specifically set up team that would include social workers, a child psychologist, court expert or magistrate, and a police representative. The team would carry out an expeditious inquiry which would only escalate to a full criminal investigation if the allegations hold up.
The social security department also needs to review its procedures to put in place safeguards against creating an incentive for false accusations, or incentives for contriving single parenthood (I have written to the Minister for Family about this).
And further deterrence should be enshrined in the separation law by putting in place sanctions against false abuse allegations and parental alienation – the two often go hand in hand. These could range from loss of maintenance to curtailment of access. A landmark ruling in this regard was made by a high court in the UK early this year, which barred the mother from having any contact whatsoever with her daughter on account of the psychological damage she caused her daughter from repeated false allegations of sex abuse by the father.
Nudity in the family
One of the allegations I faced was of showering with my daughter in the nude. Unlike the other claims, there was truth in this one: we used to get into the bathroom simultaneously for washing after coming back from the beach, unthinkingly and out of convenience.
There was nothing new after the separation about this: as a family we had always been fine with nudity at home, sleeping nude and using the bathroom simultaneously. I always told the truth about this, but many people, my lawyer included, expressed trepidation that I would be prosecuted on this basis alone.
Many separated men told me they avoid nudity – a few men even maintained that they don’t even dare wash their young daughter – to avoid giving a pretence to their ex-wife to bandy false accusations. Then I heard a family therapist state that using the bathroom or washing simultaneously can be beneficial, partly so that the father can teach his daughter to be on guard for sex abuse by other men.
I also believe that nudity at home is a healthier attitude for children to adopt than getting the idea so early in life that nudity is something to be ashamed of. And the court, to its credit, confirmed by its stance that there is nothing inherently criminal for a father to wash with his young daughter in the context of openness to nudity in the family.
Many psychologists believe that sex abuse allegations that conform to this checklist are usually false:
1. The accusations arise during separation proceedings in court;
2. There is a history of family dysfunction with unresolved divorce conflict and hidden underlying issues;
3. The female (accusing) parent is often hysterical or has borderline personality disorder, or is angry, defensive and justifying;
4. The male (accused) parent is generally passive, nurturing, and lacks ‘macho’ characteristics;
5. The child is typically a female under eight;
6. The allegations surface via the custodial parent;
7. The mother takes the child to an ‘expert’ who endorses the abuse (this expert can be an abetting lawyer);
8. The court reacts by terminating or limiting access to the father.
Victor Paul Borg is appealing for funds to fight for personal justice in court and mount a public campaign for changes in law and family courts. For more details and donating, visit https://gogetfunding.com/help-wrongly-accused-father-seek-justice-and-reform-system .
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