Cited Article

Note, Ridicule or Recourse: Parents Falsely Accused of Past Sexual Abuse Fight Back

Case Citation

Hungerford v. Jones, 722 A.2d 478 (N.H. 1998)

Background

Holding that a "therapist owes accused parent duty of care in diagnosis and treatment of adult patient for sexual abuse where therapist or patient, acting on advice of therapist, takes public action concerning accusation.”

Citing Quote

It is indisputable that "being labeled a child abuser [is] one of the most loathsome labels in society" and most often results in grave physical, emotional, professional, and personal ramifications. S. v. Child & Adolescent Treatment, 161 Misc. 2d 563, 614 N.Y.S.2d 661, 666-67 (Sup. Ct. 1994) (quotation omitted). This is particularly so where a parent has been identified as the perpetrator. Even when such an accusation is proven to be false, it is unlikely that social stigma, damage to personal relationships, and emotional turmoil can be avoided. See id.; Recovered-Memory Therapy, supra 53 Wash. & Lee Rev. at 792; Note, Ridicule or Recourse: Parents Falsely Accused of Past Sexual Abuse Fight Back, 11 J.L. & Health 303, 304 (1996-97) [hereinafter Ridicule or Recourse]. In fact, the harm caused by misdiagnosis often extends beyond the accused parent and devastates the entire family. See Zamstein v. Marvasti, 240 Conn. 549, 692 A.2d 781, 794 (Conn. 1997) (Berdon, J., dissenting) (noting that therapist's negligent diagnosis of sexual abuse could destroy relationship between accused parent and child); Ridicule or Recourse, supra 11 J.L. & Health at 329. Society also suffers because false accusations cast doubt on true claims of abuse, and thus undermine valuable efforts to identify and eradicate sexual abuse. Ridicule or Recourse, supra 11 J.L. & Health at 331. Third, the prospect of misdiagnosis and resultant false accusations is enhanced where a therapist bases a diagnosis on a psychological phenomenon or technique not generally accepted in the mental health community. Ridicule or Recourse, supra 11 J.L. & Health at 306; see Hungerford, 142 N.H. at 133-34, 697 A.2d at 930. The concept of repressed memories of sexual abuse is extremely controversial. See Hungerford, 142 N.H. at 130, 697 A.2d at 925. Moreover, the various techniques used by therapists to "recover" allegedly repressed memories of past sexual abuse are also controversial and have been criticized as being suggestive and resulting in false memories. See Recovered-Memory Therapy, supra 53 Wash. & Lee Rev. at 770; Hungerford, 142 N.H. at 125-26, 697 A.2d at 924-25 (determination of reliability incorporates examination of therapeutic technique).

Article Publication Date

1997

Volume

11

Issue

1