Part one: Cross-examination of the falsely accusing Middle-School Child
I have spent the better part of the last twenty-nine years trying to find the voice of a middle school child after interviewed by police, guided by well-meaning or insensate clinicians, and unable to completely surrender or defy their mother, whether that parent be supportive or skeptical. For that middle school child—especially when a girl–parents fall into two categories: loved and hated–often simultaneously and multiple times on the same day. For the relatively well-adjusted adolescent girl with unconditionally loving parents, the life of a 14 year old is filled with new emotional truths that are often indistinguishable from factual lies. I have never heard an adult woman say, I wish I could be 14 again. There may be one out there, but she has never crossed my path.
While I never expect a recantation in a sexual assault case, skillfully executed walk-backs like the one referenced above have caused at least one prosecutor to say, “The only person in the room who caused no victim harm is the defendant.” So when there is an actual opportunity to have a conversation with a victim after reading and listening to interviews, where some of the traditional characteristics of a false accusation were present before, I look for and try to ask questions which provide an opportunity for the accuser to “walk back” from details. This makes it more likely than not that the accuser, often unintentionally, gets unlocked from a story written by adolescent impulses and then ratified by adults whose roles or professions are subject to “confirmation bias” and governed by the tireless mantra that no one would lie about a sexual assault.
For the middle school child navigating the tunnel of adolescence, the word “because” has many different meanings. Mostly, it is followed by “because, I don’t want to”, or “because, I forgot”. For many adolescents, “Because” is a complete sentence in and of itself. For the inquiring and worrisome parent who asks, for instance, why a cell phone was not answered, this one word sentence becomes both maddeningly familiar yet simultaneously opaque. “Because” translates into It’s none of your business, and I don’t know, and I hope they don’t find out. “Because”, a seemingly simple two syllable word, becomes part of the nearly impenetrable shield of adolescent deflection deployed by every teen who finds themselves in situations where either telling the truth or admitting they’re still just a kid would be equally painful and awkward. If, as Oprah Winfrey once said, adolescence is a tunnel that runs between childhood and adulthood, then “because” is the name of the railroad car that gets an adolescent from the beginning to the middle of what can feel like a very long and lonely tunnel for some.
Yes, intentionally, this has started in the middle and in subsequent posts, I will explain why cross-examination of a falsely accusing victim always begins with finding the middle school child–even when that child has grown up.