It goes without saying that victims of criminal sexual assault are devastated by the experience. Equally devastating, however, is the impact that a false allegation of sexual assault has on the falsely accused. The stigma of being labeled a sex offender is profound. Prison sentences tend to be lengthy. Parole is seldom granted at the first time the prisoner is eligible. When the prisoner is paroled, he is required to register as a sex offender for 25 years or life, and must wear a GPS monitor for the remainder of his life. Families of the wrongfully accused suffer financial ruin and are often ostracized in the community. If the accuser is a child, the wrongfully accused may face termination of parental rights of his own children.
Fighting the charge in the face of a false accusation is challenging. Jurors react viscerally to allegations of sexual assault. This reaction is significantly intensified when the accuser is a child. Many readily admit they cannot embrace the presumption of innocence in cases involving children. Even though the judge tells jurors that the accused does not have to prove anything, jurors believe to accuser unless the defense proves that there is a reason why a child would lie about something so serious, it must be true. This is a curious phenomenon in that most jurors are parents and, when asked, can tell of many examples of their own children lying about important matters. When presented with plausible explanations as to why a child may make up a story, jurors are much more inclined to acquit.
While there are many reasons (and theories) a child may make up an allegation of sexual assault, some of the common explanations include Sexual Allegations in Divorce (SAID syndrome) where one parent seeking custody of a child may create the story that the child adopts as her own. Research has shown that children, especially young children, believe what their mother or teacher tells them is true. Adolescent children of divorce may make an allegation against a step parent as retaliation, or against a non-custodial parent for imposing discipline. Some allegations stem from a child being exposed to pornography.
Whatever the reason, false allegations of sexual assault are devastating to the accused, the family, and the community. Those who are wrongfully accused require the assistance of an attorney who has experience in dealing with this highly specialized area of criminal defense, including the use of experts who can educate the jury on issues of disclosures in sex abuse cases.