Published December 13, 2006 / Tahlequah Daily Press
Most reasonable people would agree that, when it comes to protecting children from predators and abusers, society should take every necessary precaution. And since we have it from the highest authority that we are, indeed, our brothers’ keepers, every member of society bears a degree of responsibility for protecting all children – not just our own.
So it’s a good idea to uphold laws that require certain individuals – like teachers and childcare workers, for instance – to report cases of abuse when they see them. And whistleblowers have to be protected, too, because a person who abuses his (or her) kids is very likely to lash out against anyone who would expose the wrongdoing.
Yet in Cherokee County and elsewhere, there’s another problem police officers and social workers need to address, and that’s the occasional abuse of the law people who file bogus reports. Almost everyone has a friend or family member who has been victimized by a small-minded, petty individual who exacts a personal vendetta by filing a false report. The reasons for such unconscionable behavior are many, but none hold water.
Over the past 20 years, at least three daycare workers in Cherokee County have talked to the Daily Press about the nightmares that unfolded when they were accused of abusing their charges. Later, it turned out none of the allegations were valid. One was made by a parent who refused to pay her bill; one was filed by a bitter ex-husband of the worker in question; and the third was concocted by a boy who had been scolded after bullying other children.
Even the Daily Press has not escaped the cross-hairs of miscreants bent on destroying families. In the past two decades, no less than four employees – and probably several more – have been maliciously targeted. The same can be said for many other businesses, too.
Although most false accusations are made anonymously, it’s not hard in such cases to figure out who did the deed. Often it’s a former spouse who’s involved in a custody dispute with the targeted employee. Sometimes it’s a child who’s been grounded or otherwise punished, and wants to retaliate against the offending parent. In the past, case workers have indicated false child abuse reports are often logged against managers by fired employees looking for revenge. And then there are the “exes of exes” – spurned lovers of the spouses of victims, who can’t seem to put aside their jealousy at being thrown over for a better mate. And on and on.
Most folks don’t read about people who are wrongly accused, because officials soon close the investigations after finding no evidence of crime. And yet, many of the intended targets are traumatized – sometimes permanently – by the initial proceedings. And so are the children, who have no clue why they’ve been dragged into the sinister plot.
Though the target may be innocent of all charges, word that a report has been filed sometimes leaks out into the community. And even if it doesn’t make the city grapevine, close friends and family members still find out, and may harbor just an inkling of doubt. If nothing actually happened, they may wonder, why did someone say it did?
That’s why it’s important that social workers and law enforcement officers make a special effort to clear the names of the innocent. Even if a case never goes public, private reassurances among those in the know will help alleviate lingering concerns.
At the same time, law enforcement officers should vigorously pursue and prosecute the maladaptives who, while filing a report with the claimed intent of protecting children, is aiming to harm them and their loving families.
For anyone involved with similar circumstances, it hasn’t escaped notice that individuals who file false reports are often themselves guilty of the crimes of which they accuse others. In fact, at least one area individual prone to fabrications against “enemies,” either real or perceived, has several children who have appeared in public filthy, with soiled underpants, torn clothing, dried mucus on their faces, and teeth that have never seen the business end of a toothbrush. Paradoxically, these children have not been removed from the home; perhaps even now, social workers are still collecting the evidence.
It’s true that many people in this area have abused children – a sad fact of life that often presents itself in areas where poverty has driven many human beings to despair. Most of these cases eventually make the news, as well they should; these people wreak terrible havoc on youngsters, scarring young bodies and minds. They are the worst kinds of criminals, and should be removed from any situation that would allow them to continue their atrocities.
But we shouldn’t forget the innocent victims of allegations, who sometimes seem to draw a far harsher spotlight than the real abusers do. If left to run amok, those who cry wolf can do almost as much damage to children as the abusers themselves.