CUSTODY CASES: PROTECTING YOUR CHILD FROM SEXUAL ABUSE
PREPARING YOUR CUSTODY CASE Your goal is to protect your child or children from being sexually abused. In a custody case, which translates into the abuser hopefully at least getting supervised visitation if not therapeutic visitation or none at all for a while. The sooner you can get a court order limiting the abusers access to the child the better. Most states have laws allowing the Court to enter an emergency temporary custody order to protect the child from abuse, and also there is usually the option to apply for a domestic violence temporary restraining order to protect the child from sexual abuse.
Deciding which immediate option to use should be discussed, as with all the other possibilities mentioned in this article, with your attorney. It is best to go to Court as soon as possible for a temporary order either stopping visitation or making it supervised until the sexual abuse allegations can be investigated by CPS, doctors, and a forensic psychologist.
CHRONOLOGICAL HISTORY To prepare for your case you should create a detailed chronological history of all of the things that have occurred that might be evidence of sexual abuse to give to your attorney. This history should include anything that might be relevant to the possible sexual abuse, such as:
Sexual acting out with a sibling or another child or adult Use of a toy or object in a sexual manner Repeated irritation around private parts Disclosures (child telling you or someone else about the abuse) Venereal disease, yeast infections, urinary tract infections Dates of visits or time spent alone, including at night, with the alleged abuser Complaints of pain urinating or using bathroom Enuresis or encopresis after being potty trained Self-mutilation (cutting, hair pulling etc.) Discharge from vagina or in underwear Blood or tears around vagina or anus Night terrors Saying or doing things that show a more advanced knowledge of sex Masterbation (although most masterbating in children is normal behavior) Abuser shows child favoritism, gives child gifts
Also write down other relevant information such as: List of all people who have access to the child (possible abusers) List of all witnesses who might have heard or have seen the child say or do something unusual, and all caretakers, with their names, addresses and telephone numbers Make chronological history of any physical abuse of child, siblings, or yourself from abuser. Write about abuser's history, including any history of being abused, of any other people in his family who were abused or abusers, any criminal record, history of alcohol or drug abuse, names and addresses of his former wives or girlfriends. Use of child pornography by the abuser.
DOCUMENT, DOCUMENT, DOCUMENT Throughout your case, you need to document, document, document. Take photos of any injuries and of anything else you can document, for example, the child dressed by abuser in provocative, or age-inappropriate clothing. Keep all physical evidence, which is anything you can touch, such as soiled underwear (put it in a ziplock bag), objects child has used sexually, provocative or nude photographs that the abuser has taken of the child, pictures the child has drawn that seem sexual, and stories or letters the child has written that are relevant. Request all medical records from your child's pediatrician and hospitalizations if any visits had any relevance. Get complete copies of your child's school files to see if there is anything helpful in there.
After consulting with your attorney about the legality in your state, tape conversations between you and the abuser, particularly during the exchange of the child for visitations and phone calls. If legal in your state, and generally it is not legal, tape conversations between the abuser and your child. You can also discuss with your attorney secretly videotaping some of your child's sexual acting out behaviors. Communicate with the abuser during the pendency of the case in writing as much as possible (email is a great alternative) so that you can use it in evidence at trial.
You also should confide in at least one, preferably two friends, not just family members, about the things that are going on as they happen, soon after they happen, when you are upset about things because later these people will be able to testify and corroborate what you said happened and because there is a hearsay exception for excited utterances that will allow them to testify to what you told them.
DOCTORS & THERAPISTS Take your child to the doctor if there is any complaint from your child about pain in the private parts or some other evidence of sexual abuse, such as sperm or a discharge in the child's underwear, or if the child tells you something that makes you think that the child has been sexually abused. It is critical that you take your child to a doctor or a therapist soon after the child tells you or another person anything about the sexual abuse so that you (or the other person) will later be able to testify to what the child said at trial. Remember, if there is physical evidence on the child, not to bathe the child first and to take any relevant clothing in a ziplock to show the doctor.
It is far better to take your child to the emergency room of your city's public hospital right away than the child's pediatrician. Most emergency rooms have doctors who are trained to handle sexual abuse examinations and most ER rooms have special social workers who will make the call to CPS to report it, which looks better than the report coming from you, especially if you are in an ongoing custody case. When you go to the doctor, be sure to tell the doctor everything the child told you. You can afterwards take your child to her/his pediatrician for a followup and to let the pediatrician know what has been happening. Again tell the pediatrician what your child told you.
These statements will be written in the doctor's and hospital records and can later be used as evidence as there is a hearsay exception for statements in aid of treatment. The child's statements that prompted you to take the child to the ER or doctor also can come into evidence under this same hearsay exception. It is impossible to get the child's statements into evidence without a hearsay exception. However, if your child makes any statements to you, you need to be very careful not to put words into your child's mouth or head. Use only open-ended, non-leading questions, that begin with words like how, when, where, or what (Stay away with questions beginning with did).
It is best to not ask your child too many questions at all. Let the professional child abuse investigators ask the questions. It is also a good idea to put your child in therapy or to encourage your child to speak with the school counselor so that there are other third parties who can later testify to what the child has said.
Excerpted from article by Arlaine Rockey on www.ArlaineRockey.com