Rare Ruling Supports Child Sexual Abuse Victim
Tonight, for the first time in 294 days, Aleidria Lichau and her son will sleep in safety and the same home. Her son will no longer face visiting a father who demands the child play the “penis game.” Aleidria will not face persecution and jail for trying to protect her son as long as she stays in safe, Costa Rica instead of dangerous, United States.
The boy revealed his father’s sexual abuse starting when he was two-years-old. This is not news because one-quarter of children in the United States are sexually abused before the age of 18, according to the Adverse Childhood Experience [ACE] research from the CDC. The family court in New York City refused to protect the boy and gave custody to the abusive father. This is not news as family courts give custody to alleged sexual predators 85% of the time even though deliberate false reports by mothers occur less than 2% of the time.
We know these life-destroying actions are not news because a prominent reporter interviewed Aleidria, but so far was unable to get her story published. This is the same media that took so long to expose previous scandals in the Catholic Church, Penn State, college campuses, the military, Olympic athletes, the Boy Scouts, and offenses that sparked the “Me Too” Movement.
What is a Good Mother Supposed to Do?
Although the father abused the mother, Aleidria sought to maintain the father’s relationship with their son after she decided to leave her abuser. This undercuts the standard alienation ploy used by abusers, but courts routinely ignore inconvenient facts in the rush to believe the mother is an alienator. When the boy was two, he revealed his father made him play the “penis game” but was uncomfortable discussing it with strangers, so authorities believed they could not take any action.
* * *Trigger Warning * * *
When the boy was three, the mother had to go to a court-related meeting and left her son with his best friend and the friend’s mother. The boy convinced his friend to go into a bedroom and remove his clothes. By the time the mother found them, the boy’s penis was sore from trying to push it up his friend’s bottom, and he had peed all over his friend’s back. This behavior could not have been coached and was clearly caused by exposure to sexual abuse. Nevertheless, the evaluator, who claimed to be an expert in child sexual abuse, dismissed the incident as the “boys playing doctor.”
As if this wasn’t enough to prove the boy was sexually abused and needed protection, there was more. His teacher started keeping the boy near her because he was abusing other boys. Mothers in the area reported that several other boys impacted by this boy’s behavior engaged in inappropriate sexual behavior.
Family courts believe mothers’ reports of child sexual abuse only 15% of the time and only 2% when fathers use their standard alienation tactic. At the same time, mothers make deliberate false reports less than 2% of the time. This means the courts send children to be further sexually abused the vast majority of the time. The fact that two evaluators and the judge could not recognize the father’s abuse in this case, despite such clear evidence, illustrates why courts get such a high percentage of sexual abuse cases catastrophically wrong.
This leaves mothers with an impossible choice. They can obey the court order and send their precious child to a father who is likely to continue sexually assaulting the child. This will probably ruin the child’s life and prevents the child from receiving much-needed therapy. Alternatively, mothers can run away with their children. In a post 9-11 world, they are likely to be caught, the child turned over to the abuser and the child deprived of the mother who would be jailed. This is the conundrum faced by Aleidria. She decided to risk everything for the (small) chance of saving her son.
The Case Moves to Costa Rica
Aleidria researched her choices and decided to move to Costa Rica because they have a reputation for treating refugees humanely, and she believed it was less likely her abuser would find her there. However, her abuser used his substantial financial resources and found her.
The abuser, supported by the NY courts and the US government, tried to get her returned to New York, where she would be persecuted. Aleidria sought asylum and also contested a Hague Convention case because she and her son would be endangered if they were returned to the US.
While the case was being decided, the boy was held in a foster home. The trial judge was biased and allowed the father supervised visits but refused visits for the mother and maternal grandmother. At the trial, the father had two attorneys and was given all the time he wanted to present his case. It was after four o’clock by the time the mother’s side was heard. The judge told all of her witnesses to be brief and refused to let me testify about the inability of New York courts to protect children.
Predictably, the judge ruled for the father and ordered the child sent back to his abuser. The mother filed an appeal with the nation’s highest court. I submitted an affidavit in support of the mother. We were greatly relieved when the highest court ruled for the mother. The boy continued to report his father’s abuse even after not seeing his mother for many months. Again, this strongly confirms the reports were real and not based on coaching.
Criminal charges were brought against the father, and his passport was taken to prevent him from fleeing. The mother had a supervised visit with her son, but custody was delayed so the child could testify in the criminal trial. The biased trial judge again ruled for the father and ordered the child returned to the US despite the high court’s ruling.
The mother again appealed this lousy ruling. The highest court has now issued the final decision, which is expected to be the last word on this case. The trial judge was held in contempt for violating the high court’s orders and sharing confidential information with the US government. The court gave custody to the protective mother that has now restored the relationship between mother and son.
We are celebrating because a boy who was in grave danger has been protected from further harm. Costa Rica’s highest court has made the best decision possible. I expect the Battered Mothers Custody Conference will honor Costa Rica as we did for the Netherlands that saved Holly Collins and her family. [see video below]
Think about what this successful case looks like. The boy was repeatedly sexually abused by his father. He will live with the guilt of abusing other boys. He was separated from his mother, family, and friends. He had to move away from his home for the chance of safety. This boy will need substantial therapy to overcome what the father and the courts did to him.
This is what happens when family courts fail to use necessary research like the ACE and Saunders studies; when they rely on “experts” who don’t know how to recognize domestic violence and child abuse; when they focus on unscientific alienation theories; when they act on the belief that children benefit from a relationship with abusive fathers; when they are encouraged to retaliate against mothers trying to protect their children and when they continue to look the other way as professionals engage in gender bias.
This boy demonstrated tremendous courage by speaking up against an abuser who was likely to gain control over him. The courage comes from a mother who risked everything, including her freedom to protect her precious son. The grandmother used her life savings to save her daughter and grandson. It shouldn’t be so difficult, particularly when the real evidence is so strong.
The family court has some questions that need answering. Why don’t they have a process to create reforms after tragic mistakes? How can it possibly be right to risk children’s lives without critical tools like current scientific research and experts with specialized knowledge about domestic violence and child abuse?
The Costa Rican judge was held in contempt. Why don’t US judges face accountability?
Why can’t all courts make it mandatory to err on the side of protecting children?
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Domestic Violence Writer, Speaker, and Advocate
Barry Goldstein is one of the leading domestic violence authors, speakers, advocates, and a frequent expert witness.