Child Abuse and Retracted Stories

A retracted accusation of abuse not always indicative of accused’s innocence, court rules.

Church Law and Tax 1995-03-01 Recent Developments

Sexual Misconduct by Clergy and Church Workers

Key point: The fact that a minor who accuses an adult of child abuse later retracts her story does not necessarily prove the accused’s innocence.

A Georgia appeals court upheld the criminal conviction of an adult for child molestation even though the alleged victim denied that the molestation ever occurred! A young girl was molested by an adult. Several years later the adult was prosecuted for child molestation. The victim (now 10 years old) took the witness stand and recanted her earlier statements that the adult had molested her. The adult immediately asked the court to dismiss the case against him. The court allowed the trial to proceed and the adult was found guilty of molestation on the basis of the girl’s previous statements that the adult had molested her. The adult appealed, and a state appeals court upheld the conviction.

This case demonstrates that accused child molesters may be found guilty of molestation even though they deny the charge and the alleged victim retracts his or her previous allegations that the abuse occurred. Church leaders should attach considerable weight to a minor’s initial allegation of abuse, particularly when there are corroborating factors present (such as disclosure to friends, and emotional distress). Keep in mind that there may be compelling reasons why a minor would later change his or her previous allegation of abuse. These include threats of harm to the minor, threats of a break-up of the victim’s and the offender’s families, and the prospect of a lengthy prison sentence for the offender as a result of the minor’s testimony. Church leaders also should be aware that they may have reasonable cause to suspect that abuse has occurred (triggering a duty to report child abuse to a state agency) even though the alleged offender denies the charge and the alleged victim repudiates his or her earlier allegation that the abuse occurred. In most states, mandatory child abuse reporters have a duty to report abuse so long as they have reasonable cause to believe that it occurred. This is a much lower standard than the criminal standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt” that was needed to find the accused guilty in this case. Thompson v. State, 442 S.E.2d 771 (Ga. App. 1994).

See Also: Failure to Report Child Abuse

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