On September 17, 1992 the Family Court of Kings County, New York heard a disturbing case involving the two children, two boys and a girl who were possibly being abused by their father. The allegations of sexual abuse stated that the father pinched and squeezed the buttocks and genitals of the boy children. However, it was claimed that this handling occurred while they were wrestling and playing. The father stated that he did handle the boys, but it was in no way sexual. He stated that it was just horsing around type of behavior. He stated that he had grabbed the boys’ genitals and buttocks during wrestling, but that he had been similarly touched as a child and had not considered it wrong. He stated that he realizes that it “transgresses proper parental boundaries.” The professionals called upon to review this case state that in order for the touching to be considered sexual abuse, there must be an element of sexual gratification in the touching that does not appear to be evident in this case. The doctor who examined the children stated that she could not say with absolute certainty that the boys had been abused. She advised that there were perhaps inappropriate parental boundaries, but that is not abnormal. Many parents involve in interplay with their children especially in “early stages of development that consists of touching, squeezing, patting, and pinching various parts of the child’s body including buttocks and at times genitalia.” The doctor stated that the difference is that when the child is older, the same behavior is not acceptable. She stated that some parents lack the respect for the child’s right to privacy of his own person that the child should develop as it grows and matures. The parent therefore, continues with the same games only now the child or society perceives them as inappropriate. It is agreed that there seems to be a gray area in the parental child relationship that must be examined with extreme care in order that normal parental interactions are not erroneously defined as sexual abuse. By falsely identifying this behavior as sexual abuse, a parent /child relationship can be severely damaged.
Another aspect of this allegation that must be examined is the aspect that the mother may have coached the children to make the allegations. The allegations were made to a third party outside of the normal interactions in the home which is not normal. The mother stated that years before, she had made the children watch a video tape about reporting sexual abuse. The court officers have observed the mother’s displays of illogical thinking and reports of her being incoherent. The mother has publically accused the father of sexually abusing the boys and has refused to comply with court ordered visitations because she states that he is a sex abuser. It is difficult to determine if the alleged abuse actually occurred, or if during normal family type play, touching was engaged in that had nothing to do with sexual gratification. Since it is unable to determine the intent behind the touching, the court has no choice but to dismiss the sexual abuse allegations in this case. Not only was the court unable to find that there was intent involved. The timing of the allegations to fall shortly before the hearing of this custody case is suspect especially, since it is alleged that the contact was several years earlier. Something that they do consider has led to the some of the bad feelings that the children have towards their father is the ongoing domestic violence that the children observed growing up in the home.
The doctors all testified that these children stated that they had observed their father punching their mother on numerous occasions. They advised that they observed him hitting and kicking her and that on one occasion, he broke a guitar over her legs. There are no medical documents to verify these allegations, but all of the children have testified to the domestic abuse in the home. The children stated that there were nights that they were forced to flee the house in the darkness because of the physical aggression that their father was showing towards their mother. The children have demonstrated psychological scarring based on the pattern of domestic violence that they were exposed to in the home. They recalled several instances where the father took a gun and held it to the mother’s head and threatened to kill her. The psychologists who examined the children stated that the “amount of physical assault, violence, verbal obscenities and denigrating treatment the parents have exhibited towards each other have imprinted fear, apprehension, and anxiety in each of the children.” (Dr. Meltzer’s expert testimony) The court feels that enough evidence exists to demonstrate that these situations did occur and that they had devastating effects upon the children of this couple.
The court found that the mother, a nurse, had accused the father of sexually abusing the children during the course of the divorce proceedings. However, the mother’s behavior in court was erratic to the point where the court required the mother to submit to a psychological evaluation. The psychological evaluation of the mother showed that she was suffering from a psychotic disorder that was characterized by her inability to have rational thought. The court personnel observed rapid mood swings and odd speech mannerisms exhibited by the mother. The mother also refused to take the children to therapy appointments because she felt that she was better equipped as a nurse to handle their problems at home. The mother’s house was noted to be in disarray with broken windows and bannisters. The children are frequently absent from school even when the parents were together. One child missed as many as 59 days of school in one school year.
The mother’s mental illness was also addressed. It was determined by testimony that she was viewed as being manic-depressive and that she demonstrated, “disorganized thought, rapid speech and mood swings,” Sister Alice who is a social worker for the state of New York further testified that the mother’s mental illness is so overwhelming that is has impaired her ability to care for the children.
The social worker and the court officer noticed that she had difficulty acknowledging that there were other professionals who could perhaps offer care to her children that were beyond her ability. The court officer cited that the mother had a grandiose self-image that led her to question any and all care that her children may receive from others. It was described at pitting herself against the educators, psychiatrists, social workers, and the court in that she had refused to undergo psychiatric counseling either for herself and her children. She continues to substitute her own impaired judgment for that of trained professionals and the court. The court finds that she is neglectful based on impairment of emotional health because she refuses to pursue a course of therapy recommended by the qualified professionals of the court. The mother is distrustful of school officials and refused to let her children ride the school bus because she distrusts the school bus operator. Although the house is less than a mile from the school, the mother often claims an inability to bring them to school. However, when the children are at school, the mother drops in constantly interrupting their daily routine. The school has requested that she stay away. The court finds it difficult to understand how she can show up at the school repeatedly during the school day, but not be able to take the children to school at all on most days. The mother claims that the children refuse to go to school and that she cannot make them among other excuses. The mother is found to be mentally impaired and that impairment makes her neglectful of the children’s emotional and psychological wellbeing.
There is no question that the children are having difficulty in school based upon their absences. When they do attend school, they are often late and tired. Two of the children, despite being very smart are failing in school. One was held back in the fifth grade and another was in danger of being held back. The professionals that have contact with these children all believe that the children’s academic difficulties were due to the problems in their home. When the children refused to go to school, the mother would just let them stay home. The father, who worked nights was generally home during these incidents but failed to ensure that the children went to school. On one occasion, when the social worker came to check on the children, they were found sitting on the roof of the house. She stated that she believed that the mother’s mental issues kept her from being able to care sufficiently for the children.
The court finds, in conclusion that this is a family that is torn apart by physical violence and mental illness. The court decides that there is no credibility to the allegations of sexual abuse; since there is no way for them to prove intent. The court finds that the children do suffer from emotional and psychological impairment due to the domestic violence that is prevalent in the home.
The allegations of educational neglect are valid and are shown to be directed at both parents for failing to ensure that the children attend school on a regular basis. The court finds reason to charge this mother with neglect for the emotional and psychological impairment of the children resulting from her own mental illness.
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