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Mount Vernon, Knox County, Ohio

Letter to the KP Editor:

Two weeks ago, the jury in John Snyder's second trial was unable to reach a verdict on the charges that he raped and committed sexual battery against his daughter. This was the identical outcome to Snyder’s first trial. It also marks the second time in a year that a Knox County jury failed to convict a man of sexually assaulting a young female family member; the other was Curt Swartz, who was found not guilty of raping his niece, last June. In both cases, the victims and their testimony were attacked on the theory that 'kids make up things' (or lie) and that their accounts were not sufficiently consistent or specific. While it is certainly true that credibility is an issue to be examined in every trial, these two theories are based upon misunderstandings and misperceptions.

Kids do make up and lie about things, but sexual assault - particularly by a family member or friend of the family - is not one of them. When kids do not tell the truth, it is usually to get themselves or someone they care about out of trouble. A child who claims that their father or uncle sexually assaulted them does the exact opposite; they know that their story may very well get someone they or their family love into trouble (very grave trouble, as is made clear to them throughout the process). Research has consistently shown that false allegations of sexual abuse by children are extremely rare. In fact, children tend to minimize and deny abuse rather than exaggerate or over-report such incidents. This makes sense when we think about who has an interest in telling the truth and who in lying. The child victim puts themselves at considerable risk as a result of recounting what was done to them. Even without criminal charges, the victim may be rejected by their family, or the family may be torn apart and the victim may see themselves as responsible. The victim may be "punished" by being placed in foster care. If the case goes to court, the victim has to describe the intimate details of the abuse to strangers, with the abuser merely feet away. In contrast, what the perpetrator stands to lose depends upon the victim's story being believed. At all costs, the incentive for the perpetrator is that the victim be discredited and disbelieved.

Dr. Rebecca Campbell's video presentation, The Neurobiology of Sexual Assault (https://www.nij.gov/multimedia/presenter/presenter-campbell/Pages/welcome.aspx), explains how the trauma of sexual assault interferes with a victim's ability to accurately recall the events because their memories are impaired. As Campbell explains, “We have a societal expectation that that [ ] the victim of a major crime . . . ought to remember with perfect clarity exactly what happened . . . It is not an expectation that has any scientific merit.” Kids who make allegations of sexual assault immediately enter an adult world that is foreign to them. They have to grapple with ideas they don’t entirely understand. In order to tell their stories, they have to learn a new language and put complex experiences into unfamiliar words. A less-than-clear accounting should not be an unexpected result. Going a step further, children who have suffered multiple abusive episodes can present conflicting information, sometimes interweaving and overlapping information from years of abuse. This is because the more often that a child has been abused, the more emotionally damaged they are. To ask these children to give clear, specific and consistent accounts is neither realistic nor fair.

Thinking that because children make up and lie about things that they will do the same regarding claims of sexual assault, and feeling that children should be able to tell the facts in a clear and consistent manner, are commonly held but mistaken beliefs regarding child sexual abuse. However, unless and until we reject these misconceptions, justice will not be done for the victims or for our community. If you would like more information about how you can help ensure an accurate narrative for child sexual abuse claims in Knox County, please contact New Directions. Together, we can make a difference in our community.

Matt Hellman
Executive Director, New Directions

New Directions is the rape crisis center of Knox County. For all victims of sexual violence, New Directions offers free and confidential services including a 24-hour crisis hotline, hospital accompaniment, individual advocacy and group support. New Directions' phone number is 740-397-HELP. Information is available at newdirectionsshelter.org and on Facebook at New Directions Shelter of Knox County Ohio.

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