Wimberly argues that the problem is compounded by the fact that judges listen to the opinions of these investigators. "The investigators assume the person [making the accusation] is telling the truth,'' Wimberly says. "There's no one who challenges these opinions. This is one crime where the individual is presumed guilty.''
Most of the cases handled by VOCAL involve divorce and child-custody cases, in which one parent accuses the other of sexually abusing a child so the accusing parent can win custody. He notes, however, that "there is also a trend toward schoolteachers and school counselors being accused. It's linked to the increase in CAPP [childabuse prevention programs] being presented in schools. They're very suggestive, very leading.''
Wimberly does not object to all abuseprevention programs, but he suggests that teachers carefully assess them before they are introduced at school. He also recommends that all teachers discuss student problems with administrators and other teachers. These colleagues could testify on the teacher's behalf if a student later brought charges against the teacher in retaliation for issuing a failing grade or disciplining the student.
"Teachers need to remember that they can be too demonstrative,'' Wimberly warns. "The arm on the shoulder, the one-on-one talks after school, unfortunately, can be used against a teacher.'' Teachers should always be sensitive to the fact that even innocent behavior may be misconstrued.
For details, call VOCAL at (916) 863-7470.