Monday, December 13, 2010

Prosecutor puts man on trial for raping a five-year-old because the kid was believable

After three years of hell during which he considered suicide, David Goodman, 24, was found not guilty in connection with charges that he raped a five-year-old boy in a case his lawyers and family insist should never have been prosecuted.  The alleged incident occurred when Mr. Goodman was a summer camp counselor.  Why was the case brought?  Well, the prosecutor believed the boy, and the state had a diagnosis of the boy's alleged post-traumatic stress disorder after camp.  Mr. Goodman's lawyer said law enforcement and prosecutors had to ignore a "small mountain of evidence" to believe the boy, including discrepancies between his version of what happened and his mother's description.

Now here's the most disturbing part: "Children's advocates, pediatricians and prosecutors say kids rarely lie about sexual abuse, and it is crucial their allegations aren't greeted with the dismissive skepticism that has stigmatized sexual assault victims."

Sigh. When it comes to adult women, the sexual grievance industry long insisted that women don't lie about rape because no woman would subject herself to the ordeal she is put through to tell a rape lie.  Assuming arguendo that were true (and it isn't), how would that work for a five-year-old boy?  Does he have even the slightest comprehension of the supposed "ordeal" he's going to be put through?  The question scarcely survives its statement.

More to the point, many respected experts simply don't share the opinion that kids don't lie about sexual abuse.  In Patrick Kennedy v. Louisiana, 2008 U.S. LEXIS 5262 (June 25, 2008), the U.S. Supreme Court recognized "the problem of unreliable, induced, and even imagined child testimony . . .." Although the case dealt with whether the death penalty is appropriate for child rape cases, the high court's more general discussion of this point is most instructive:

"Studies conclude that children are highly susceptible to suggestive questioning techniques like repetition, guided imagery, and selective reinforcement. See Ceci & Friedman, The Suggestibility of Children: Scientific Research and Legal Implications, 86 Cornell L. Rev. 33, 47 (2000) (there is "strong evidence that children, especially young children, are suggestible to a significant degree--even on abuse-related questions"); Gross, Jacoby, Matheson, Montgomery, & Patil, Exonerations in the United States 1989 Through 2003, 95 J. Crim. L. & C. 523, 539 (2005) (discussing allegations of abuse at the Little Rascals Day Care Center); see also Quas, Davis, Goodman, & Myers, Repeated Questions, Deception, and Children's True and False Reports of Body Touch, 12 Child Maltreatment 60, 61-66 (2007) (finding that 4- to 7-year-olds "were able to maintain [a] lie about body touch fairly effectively when asked repeated, direct questions during a mock forensic interview").

"Similar criticisms pertain to other cases involving child witnesses; but child rape cases present heightened concerns because the central narrative and account of the crime often comes from the child herself. She and the accused are, in most instances, the only ones present when the crime was committed. See Pennsylvania v. Ritchie, 480 U.S. 39, 60, 107 S. Ct. 989, 94 L. Ed. 2d 40 (1987). Cf. Goodman, Testifying in Criminal Court, at 118."

In light of these concerns, prosecutors need to have heightened sensitivity for the rights of the presumptively innocent accused of such heinous crimes.  As awful as child sexual abuse is (and there are few things as repulsive), in "he said/she said" cases where both sides offer plausible accounts, prosecutors should not play Russian Roulette with the lives of men accused of this crime -- they should not roll the dice and "hope" to "get lucky" with a conviction -- simply because the child tells a good story.  A man's fate should not hinge on the acting skills of a pre-schooler.

And that, of course, leads us to ask: why on earth would any college-age male be a camp counselor and put himself through this horror?

Thanks to Colin for the tip.