Presumed guilty until proven innocent; Even then you’re still guilty

This past Thursday men and women from around the country convened to share their experiences facing down false allegations of abuse. The event was a sobering testament to how the former War on Crime has morphed into Open Season on the Innocent, or so it would appear.

The meeting was the first-ever False Allegations Summit, held in Washington, DC and sponsored by a group called Stop Abusive and Violent Environments. Yes, there were anguished sighs and tears as persons recounted their daily battles – for some, obsessions — to exonerate themselves and restore their good names.

The Summit led off with the revelation that 11% of Americans report they have been falsely accused of child abuse, domestic violence, or sexual assault. This astonishing number means tens of millions of persons have had their foreheads branded with the scarlet Abuser label.

The Summit then featured presentations by a parade of stakeholder organizations that have witnessed first-hand the effects of false claims.

The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers highlighted the “immense, often irreparable harm caused to our clients for false allegations, not only to reputation and personal relationships, but often to the accused individual’s livelihood and even health.”

The Home School Legal Defense Association documented repeated instances where an anonymous hotline call triggered an unannounced visit by a social worker, sometimes ending in the strip search of a bewildered child. These are not isolated cases – nationwide, over 85% of child abuse allegations are found to be unsubstantiated:

The American Coalition for Fathers and Children then testified how an allegation of child abuse or domestic violence often becomes a tactical ploy for an impending child-custody dispute. “When a father can be sentenced to months in jail for simply leaving a gallon of milk on his child’s doorstep, we have indeed reached the point of ‘hysteria’ about the issue of domestic violence,” ACFC executive director Michael McCormick commented.

The National Coalition for Men representative recounted the plight of Raul, a ship-welder who was caught in an unhappy marriage with an abusive woman. She began to accuse him of a litany of offenses including sexual abuse of their baby. As the conflict escalated, the woman’s family started to threaten the man. Just two weeks ago, Raul was discovered lying in the California desert, a gunshot wound to the head.

Then Encounters International described how so-called Green Card Girls play the abuse card to secure their work authorization and citizenship. Recalling her childhood experiences in the former Soviet Union, Natasha Spivack told the spell-bound audience:

“In Stalinist Russia, innocent people were presumed guilty if reported as ‘Enemies of the Motherland.’ They were sent to the Gulag or executed without due process. In the United States of America, citizens are presumed guilty if reported as ‘Domestic Abusers.’…they lost their jobs, their mental health, their reputation, their trust in justice, and their self-esteem.”

Then it was then the turn of the victims, the persons falsely accused, to speak out and break the shroud of silence and shame that too often envelopes the lives of the wrongfully charged.

Cheryl Shanks of New Jersey recounted how her former husband fabricated claims of abuse so he could get special treatment by the immigration authorities: “This ordeal began in August of 2003…The price on my family has been immeasurable. My son has his own therapist who he sees weekly.”

Carl Starling of Maryland described how his former wife accused him of repeatedly striking her with his fist, but didn’t experience the need to pay a visit to the hospital emergency room to tend to her wounds.

Gordon Smith of Delaware described the Mad-Hatter experience of having an abusive wife who sought to be absolved by accusing him of the very actions that she had committed. When he sought to file perjury charges, the prosecutor demurred, leading Smith to deplore the “state-sponsored protection” of false accusers.

And Terri Quick of Pennsylvania described the ordeal of her son who had engaged in consensual sex with a girlfriend. When the relationship went sour and she decided to re-connect with her previous flame, he suddenly found himself accused of rape. The evidence was all circumstantial, but enough to secure a conviction.

But it was Ben Vonderheide of Pennsylvania who stole the show:

In 2007 his ex-girlfriend was found guilty of three counts of making false statements to law enforcement officials. Despite the conviction, the ex- continues her campaign to vilify dad in the eyes of her son, and family judges refuse to lift a finger to stop the calumnies. “You’re presumed guilty until proven innocent, and even then you’re still considered guilty,” Vonderheide wryly told the audience.

Are things as bad in the United States as they were in Soviet Russia? Of course not.

But accounts of anonymous informants, a galling presumption of guilt, ideologically driven prosecutions, a no-way-out criminal justice system, and the tacit condoning of perjury all point to an abuse industry that is spinning out of control.

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