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Twisted tales of abuse

Some kids pressured to make false sex allegations by parent waging custody war


In the bitter world of child custody battles, some parents are coaching their own kids to make false sexual abuse complaints - with disastrous results for everyone, experts say.

"We're very concerned and very conscious of allegations that have inklings that there may be custody and access (issues)," says Staff Sgt. Darren Eastcott of the Edmonton police Zebra Child Protection Centre, which investigates allegations of child sex abuse.

"When we are aware of them, we're very concerned about that and very careful of them. If there's a custody or access (dispute) ... there's a little bit of a brighter red light on it," he said. "There's nothing worse than to have somebody falsely accused of these kind of things."

Police don't keep statistics on how many abuse complaints relate to custody battles. But Eastcott said his unit typically encounters such situations a couple of times each month.

The centre even employs a full-time child welfare worker who specializes in custody and access disputes. Investigators have encountered cases where the same child has made allegations multiple times and investigators concluded they weren't being honest, Eastcott said.

"Parents should certainly not be involving kids in custody disputes. That's not fair emotionally to the child, let alone the former spouse," said Karen Smith, director of the Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton.

"I just have no patience for that. There are so many people who have legitimate sexual abuse issues that it's not fair to waste the police or child welfare's time investigating. However ... the numbers of false allegations are very small."

Cops can charge people with public mischief for fabricating a complaint to police, but it's not always worthwhile when a child is caught in the middle, Eastcott said.

"The police do not want to continue kids being used as pawns in custody proceedings."

Of 725 child sex abuse complaints investigated by Edmonton police in 2000, 2001 and 2002, only 160 - about 22% -resulted in criminal charges being laid. But that doesn't mean the other 565 cases were all false allegations, Eastcott said.

"For example, if you have a victim who is too distraught and is not able to participate in the court case, sometimes we either stay the charges or suspend files until they're ready."

Some cases are resolved through mediation, while in others police can't gather enough evidence to make a conviction likely, so they don't consider it worthwhile to put a child through the pain of testifying, he said.