The Witch Hunt State Claims Another Victim: Clairmont
By Carol Clairmont Weissbrod
Edited by Michael Carter, Justice Denied Staff
Background Information About False Accusations of Child Sexual Abuse
In the past few years, the media have given much attention to false
allegations of child sexual abuse. Most of the focus of this attention
has been on daycare cases. However, since the early 1980s, there has been an epidemic of false allegations against parents. These allegations are mostly against fathers involved in custody or visitation disputes in divorces. My brother, Bruce Clairmont of Pittsfield, MA, is one of these falsely accused fathers. He is serving a twelve year prison sentence for molesting two of his five children -- a crime he did not commit.
Since the late 1970's, there has been a change in the way child custody
is decided in divorces. As more fathers seek custody of their children,
there has been a proportional rise in false allegations of child sexual abuse against fathers. This has led to what Dr. Richard Gardner has termed the "Parental Alienation Syndrome," and to the "Sexual Allegations in Divorce Syndrome" as described by Dr. Gordon Blush and Karol Ross.
The Parental Alienation and the SAID Syndromes begin with the
pre-divorce custodial parent (usually the mother) deliberately denigrating the non-custodial parent. The mother imparts her negative beliefs about the father to the child or children. Many people assume that our memories work like video cameras, accurately recording events as they occur. However, research has shown this assumption
to be false. Memories are subject to errors and to change over time.
The memories of children have been found particularly susceptible to change by suggestion. Thus, the child's past positive experiences with the father can be forgotten and replaced with lies and misrepresentations.
As the custody battle ensues, some parents try to present the other
parent in an uncomplimentary light to make that parent seem unfit in
the eyes of the courts. The mother, as the custodial parent, is in a unique position to enlist the help of the children. Having already
alienated the children from their father, the mother may be able to convince the children that he has hurt them in some way. In his book, Ashes to Ashes...Families to Dust, Dean Tong writes that children can be taught to say things which may or may not be true through reinforcement such as verbal responses and encouragement. He points out that children can be easily coached and manipulated when they are dependent on an accusing parent for their needs. Dr. Stephen Ceci of Cornell University and Dr. Maggie Bruck of McGill University discuss the suggestibility of children in their book, Jeopardy in the Courtroom: A Scientific Analysis of Children's Testimony. Their studies have shown that children can be led to make false or inaccurate statements about very personally experienced events.
Mothers who falsely accuse their husbands of child abuse share some
disturbing characteristics. Psychologist Lawrence Spiegel, in his book, A Question of Innocence, finds that the actions of some accusers stem from severe psychological problems. In the Family Law Commentator, Matthew Miller points out that accusers often become obsessed with punishing the husband and lose sight of the harm being done to the children. Psychologist Deirdre Conway Rand writes in The
American Journal of Forensic Psychology that Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) can be indicative of severe emotional disturbance in the accusing parent.
The accusations of these mothers are often taken at face value by
therapists, attorneys, the police, Child Protective Services workers, and the courts. "Individuals with either PAS or a related malicious syndrome will and do lie! They are convincing witnesses, and their manipulative skills may influence others to follow suit,"state M.R. Walsh and J.M. Bone in an article in The Florida Bar Journal.
Child Protective Services completes the process. The mother reports her suspicions to CPS, who look into the charges. CPS workers are trained to validate, not to investigate, abuse. In his book, False
Allegations of Child Abuse: Attorney and Client Desk Reference,
Edward Nichols, M.S.W, a former CPS worker, finds that CPS workers are an "army of partially-educated 'protective caseworkers' whose sincere ignorance is only superseded by their missionary zeal to rid humanity of the pedophile who, accordingly, is to be found under every rock." The workers assume that the father has abused the children and seek to prove their assumptions. They do not consider the possibility that the child may have been abused by someone other than the father, or that the child has not been abused at all. The children often initially deny that there was any abuse. But after a period of repeated, suggestive questioning the children come to believe that their father has molested them. The true memories are lost and replaced by the "memories" that have been suggested to the children and reinforced by the mother and others.
Bruce Clairmont -- A Victim of Parental Alienation Syndrome, and more
Bruce Clairmont's story begins in June, 1991, when he and his wife of
18 years, Deborah, separated. At that time, two of the children stated
their preference to live with their father. From the onset, Deborah dictated that Bruce have visits with the children only on Sundays between noon and 5:00 PM. Trying to be as amicable as possible, Bruce didn't contest this at first, but it soon became apparent that this arrangement wasn't working.
Because of a fourteen-year age difference between the oldest and
youngest child, it was difficult to plan activities that would interest all five children.
When Bruce broached the possibility of taking the children in smaller
groups at different times, Deborah refused to consider the idea. That
September, she filed for divorce.
On his twelfth birthday in July, 1992, Neal,* the middle child, and his eight-year-old sister, Renee,* were caught in a neighbor's garage, engaging in what could be considered age-appropriate sexual experimentation. (* The children's names have been changed.) That September, Deborah and the children began to see a therapist, Amy
Moran. Moran was an unlicensed social worker, right out of school,
young and inexperienced. Over the next few years, Moran saw the family two or three times a week.
During this therapy, the incident between Neal and Renee was construed as molestation, and Moran and Deborah made the presumption that "something had happened" between Neal and Bruce.
That December, Renee and Neal alleged that when they were younger and their father was still living with the family, Bruce had touched their
genitals while bathing them. Deborah usually bathed the younger children, but Bruce bathed them one night a week when she went
out. Bruce freely admitted to having washed their genitals with a washcloth just as their mother and older sister did. Suddenly, Bruce's usual bathing practice was being questioned as inappropriate behavior. I believe that the reporting of the bathing was Deborah's initial attempt to hurt him by showing a normal behavior in a bad light, fabricating a wrong to show that Bruce had molested Neal and Renee.
The Massachusetts Department of Social Services (DSS) began an
investigation in January 1993. According to their notes, Neal reported that Deborah called Bruce mean and violent in the children's presence. The children were interviewed and denied that their father had done anything other than bathe them. Later that month, after repeated questioning by Deborah, Moran, and DSS workers Marcia Hickson and Roanne Vecchia, Neal and Renee began to change their stories. Various allegations of sexual abuse were made. Over the next
seven months, the stories continued to grow.
In February, DSS advised Deborah to get a restraining order to keep
Bruce away from the children. It was only after Bruce was served the
restraining order that he learned of the involvement of Moran and DSS in his family's lives.
A Guardian ad Litem was appointed by the court in April. Dr. William
Hydon, a licensed clinical psychologist was to interview all family members and others involved to determine what visitation, if any, was advisable.
In late April, several months after receiving the initial reports of abuse from DSS, Pittsfield Police Detective Joseph Collias conducted the first of many interviews with Neal and Renee. The delay was the result of a phone call from Deborah's divorce attorney (a former prosecutor of sex offenders in the DA's office) and from Moran, who said the children needed more time to prepare their statements. Immediately following Detective Collias' first interview of Neal, Collias told Neal he was "holding back." Collias wanted Neal to come back and tell more. Therapist Moran told the children that when they'd "gotten it all out," they could have a celebration.
Although both Collias and Vecchia claimed to be aware of the high
probability of false allegations during divorces, they disregarded this in their investigations. Vecchia later admitted that she did not consider
suggestibility to be a crucial consideration in abuse cases. In articles published in The Boston Globe and The Berkshire Eagle in October, 1996, Detective Collias disclosed that in 1988, he had recovered "memories" of his own childhood abuse. Since that time, he had become a self-proclaimed "believer of children who come forward to disclose abuse."
"Rarely," he said, "do children concoct stories of abuse." Vecchia's and Collias' statements are disturbing in light of the studies that have found children to be highly suggestible. In addition, many psychologists and psychiatrists have pointed to the strong potential for false allegations in divorcing families, especially when there are custody or visitation issues. In Massachusetts, seventy-three percent of child abuse reports filed in 1991 were unfounded. According to statistics compiled by the National Center for Child Abuse and Neglect and
the National Committee for the Prevention of Child Abuse, seventy-nine percent of child sexual abuse reports filed in 1994 were
That May, Bruce was summoned to detective Collias' office. Bruce's
understanding at that time was that he was being questioned about
bathing his children, so he waived his right to have his attorney present. It was then that he learned of the new allegations. He emphatically denied ever having abused his children and offered to take a polygraph test, but none was ever given.
Dr. Hydon's report was released in August and was highly favorable to
Bruce. Hydon's opinion was that the abuse was extremely unlikely to have occurred, and he recommended that visitation resume. In that report, and during his testimony at the divorce hearing in August, 1996, Hydon noted many things that led him to conclude that the allegations were false. Among them were:
1. Bruce was very much unlike a typical pedophile.
2. There were glaring inconsistencies in the children's stories.
3. The children's stories changed significantly over time. Both children's stories contained identical adult language (like searching the "shelves of my mind"). It appeared that they had been coached.Hydon pointed out that the first reports of a child have been found to be most accurate, and these kids had been subjected to dozens of interviews.
4. The actions that Neal described would be painful, not pleasurable,
to an adult male.
5. Neal had a strong incentive to lie to shift the focus from himself to his father. Deborah, Moran, and DSS had together created a climate that would strongly motivate Neal to fabricate.
6. Deborah seemed highly motivated to prevent visitation between Bruce and the children. She was more concerned with Neal telling the story "correctly" than in discovering the truth.
7. Deborah was uninterested in and unconcerned about the
inconsistencies in the children's stories. She seemed more interested in having the allegations validated.
8. Mothers of truly abused children are ashamed to discuss the abuse,
and feel guilty about their own failure to protect their children. Deborah
talked freely and unashamedly about the "abuse."
9. Deborah had no appreciation of the trauma to which she was exposing the children by allowing repeated questioning by so many individuals. Her motive was to prevent visitation at any cost.
10. Failure to inform the father of the investigations is usually an
indication that the allegations are false, and that the mother's motive
is to limit visitation.
For reasons not fully understood by us and by Dr. Hydon, he was not
called upon to testify at the criminal trial.
Immediately following the release of Dr. Hydon's report, Deborah took Neal and Renee to a pediatrician, Dr. Matthew Sadof, for an examination. It had now been about eight months since Bruce had seen his children, and nearly a year since the last alleged molestation. Sadof found nothing remarkable in either child. A skin tag was reported to be near Neal's anus, not an abnormal finding. In Renee, there was "rimming dilation" of the hymen.
This finding may or may or not be consistent with sexual abuse. Sadof
said it could possibly be caused by insertion of something narrow into her vagina, but that it may also appear in non-abused girls. When asked by Sadof, Renee denied having been digitally penetrated by her father. Yet, a short time earlier, she had reported such an incident to Detective Collias.
I see the pediatrician visit as a final attempt by Deborah to "prove"
that the children had been molested. Having failed to convince Dr. Hydon, Deborah tried another approach. If she truly believed that Bruce had molested the children, why hadn't she had them examined sooner?
Surely, the incident between Neal and Renee was a likely cause of any
genital changes in Renee. One could never know if the changes could have occurred during the eight months since Bruce had seen Renee. In my opinion, these two things alone provided plenty of doubt.
On September 22, 1993, Collias testified to a Grand Jury that Neal had an anal tear upon examination by his pediatrician. At the criminal trial fourteen months later, Collias again testified to the anal tear. On
cross-examination, his error was pointed out, but the damage had
already been done. Both juries had heard about the nonexistent tear.
The trial began on Tuesday, December 6th, 1994, in Berkshire Superior Court. Our family had studied the information about false allegations that was available at the time, and we shared this with attorney Leonard Cohen. He claimed to be knowledgeable about the studies. We also expressed the need for an expert witness to explain the suggestibility issue to the jury. At first we believed that such an expert would be retained, but later Cohen informed us that he didn't need an expert witness. We were concerned about not having a witness to dispute what the Commonwealth's "expert" would most likely testify.
Our family also disagreed strongly with Cohen's approach to jury
selection. Cohen wanted a "blue-collar" (his words) jury because he felt that blue collar people would identify with Bruce and with our family. (Bruce was a project manager with a civil engineering firm, not a blue-collar job.)
During his examination of Bruce, Cohen had Bruce tell about his
college education and that of his four siblings. Had Cohen forgotten his
strategy of hoping the jurors would identify with us? How would members of that blue-collar jury have identified with people who had college educations?
Our post-conviction lawyer agreed with us that Cohen should have
included some college people on the jury. We felt that it would take a certain level of education to see how ludicrous the allegations were.
Some of the jurors frankly looked like destitute people who took jury
duty for the free lunch and shelter from the December cold. Some jurors were observed dozing during testimony.
After the guilty verdicts were read, it was obvious to us that these
people had absolutely NO understanding of the concept of reasonable doubt. There was enough reasonable doubt to acquit Bruce five times over, yet he was convicted.
Unfortunately, once you've been accused of a sex offense, you are
guilty until proven innocent. Jurors and judges alike would rather incarcerate a hundred innocent men than let one possible "rapist" loose on the streets.
Cohen expected the trial to last four days. On the fourth day, the
prosecution still had several more witnesses. The prosecution
essentially consisted of "piling on" the same disclosures by Deborah, Moran, Vecchia, Collias, and the children themselves. Renee testified that her dad had molested her "just like in the garage." The garage is where Neal "molested" her. Was she confused about who, where, and when?
The prosecution's "expert" witness, Dr. Jeffrey Fishman, gave testimony to explain why the children had staggered their disclosures. However, the jury had no expert to explain why the kids would repeatedly change their stories and ultimately say they'd been
molested when in fact they hadn't. At his web site, http://www.accused.com, attorney Patrick Clancy argues that expert
testimony about Parental Alienation Syndrome is crucial to explain why the child would fabricate and that PAS is not something that would be apparent to jurors. According to Edward Nichols, "The side with the best expert testimony will prevail, regardless of the truth or the evidence that supports it."
Attorney Charles Jamieson, writing in Tong's book, concurs that without an expert witness, the falsely accused stands a good chance of being convicted.
Bruce's trial extended into the next week. The prosecution rested
midday on Tuesday, December, 13th. At some point during the trial, we learned that Attorney Cohen was going on vacation on Thursday, December 15th. Cohen decided that the trial had gone on long enough and that the jurors were getting restless. He fit his defense, if it could
be called that, into the time available.
Many defense witnesses were sequestered during the trial. One, Father James Joyce, Bruce's parish priest, was prepared to testify regarding Bruce's reputation for truthfulness. The judge disallowed Joyce's testimony because Bruce's character had not been attacked at that point. Then later, Assistant DA Ann Kendall cross examined Bruce and challenged the veracity of his testimony. Here was Cohen's opportunity to get Father Joyce's testimony admitted! Cohen failed to take advantage of this opportunity.
The only defense witnesses who testified were Bruce and one of his
roommates, our brother Brian. Brian, a divorced father of two girls, was in the house during the times when Bruce's children visited. His daughters visited at the same time. There was a third roommate who was often at home during the Sunday visits. The house is fairly small and there is only one bathroom. Bruce's bedroom door was adjacent to the bathroom door and across from the kitchen. Although Neal and Renee testified that Bruce had molested them in his bedroom, not one of the other five children or two adults present ever saw anything unusual. How could Bruce have molested two children repeatedly
with so many people in the house and without causing suspicion? The
defense rested at 3:20 PM Tuesday afternoon.
Following closing arguments Wednesday morning, the jury deliberated for about eight hours. The guilty verdicts were returned Thursday morning. Bruce was sentenced to state prison on December 21st, 1994. Bruce's case was unsuccessfully appealed, and he is currently incarcerated. He was approached recently by the classification board at his prison, and was advised he is eligible for parole in early 2000. But, to obtain parole in Massachusetts, a convicted sex offender must admit his guilt and complete a sex offender program. The classification board told Bruce that it was time for him to face reality and get on with his life. He replied that they need to face the realization that not all convicted people are guilty. He plans to serve the remainder of his sentence rather than admit to a crime he didn't commit.
Under a recently passed law in Massachusetts, a sex offender now faces the possibility of lifetime parole upon his release, or worse yet, lifetime civil commitment.
Contact Bruce Clairmont (There is no prisoner number at this facility):
P.O. Box 7000
Northampton, MA 01061
Contact Carol Clairmont Weissbrod by email at CarolW13@aol.com
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