Return to Victims of Memory Web Page
Chapter 7: The Accused
I know thou wilt not hold me innocent.
I shall be condemned;
why then do I labor in vain?
If I wash myself with snow,
and cleanse my hands with lye,
Yet thou wilt plunge me into a pit,
and my own clothes will abhor me.
--The Book of Job (9:28 31)
Interviews in This Chapter:
Hank and Arlene Schmidt, accused parents, and Frank Schmidt, their son
Bob Sculley, accused father
Julia Hapgood, wife of accused
Dr. Aaron Goldberg, accused father
Joe Simmons, accused father
Gloria Harmon, accused mother
Bart Stafford, accused sibling
Rhonda and Paul Hallisey, accused by facilitated communication
It's difficult to convey the horror of being
falsely accused. As Franz Kafka's character Joseph K. discovered in
The Trial , condemned but innocent people begin to believe
they must have done something wrong, especially if the particulars are
never specified. Almost all of the accused parents represented in this
chapter have, at one point or another, questioned their own innocence.
After all, it is their own beloved children who are arrayed against
them. Like Paul Ingram, the policeman whose tragic story is recounted
in Lawrence Wright's book, Remembering Satan (1994), they
think, "My girls know me. They wouldn't lie about something like this."
Some, like Ingram, fall under the sway of zealous therapists/ interrogators
and confess to crimes that they never committed. In this chapter, for
instance, Joe Simmons explains how he came to believe that he had been
the high priest in a satanic cult that abused his son Johnny. Fortunately,
most parents eventually conclude that they did not overtly sexually
abuse their children.
Yet when you've been attacked so ferociously, when
you've been called a perpetrator and told that you stole your children's
innocence, robbed them of their childhood, you begin to believe it on
some level. You must have done something pretty bad. As
Joe Simmons observes, "One minute, I was a responsible member of the
community, trying to be a good father, and the next I'm like Charles
When "crunch time" arrives, accused older
brother Bart Stafford observes, people often find that their friends
and even family members turn on them. I have also had this experience,
to a limited degree, but I think I understand it. People don't want
to believe that a completely innocent person could be accused of such
an awful crime by his or her children. If that were true, it could happen
to anyone--it could happen to them . Thus, we observe a
variation of the familiar blame-the-victim scenario. Job's friends,
his supposed "comforters," enacted this drama long ago. Eliphaz asks
Job, "Think now, who that was innocent ever perished? Or where were
the upright cut off?" Job understands what he really means. "You see
my calamity," he tells Eliphaz, "and are afraid."
Yet anyone could be accused of incest
without any foundation in fact, given the proper circumstances.
The one characteristic shared by the majority of accused parents is
that they are--disproportionate to the overall population--mostly middle
to upper-class educated Caucasians with the initial ability and willingness
to pay for their children's therapy. Aside from that, they do not appear
to have a great deal in common. At the FMS Foundation meetings, octogenarians
who never spoke about sex with their children sit next to accused parents
in their 40s or 50s whose parenting philosophies were completely different.
Some were exceptionally close to their children; others were emotionally
or physically distant. Some were strict with their children, others
permissive. Many remain in intact, secure marriages; others are either
long-divorced or tolerate poor relationships. The only common denominator
appears to be a troubled child who seeks therapy.
A third of the parents who have contacted
the FMS Foundation never learn exactly what their children think they
did. Others find out the precise allegations by word-of-mouth or, like
the Hapgoods, by snooping. I can testify that not knowing what you're
supposed to have done is maddening, for any number of reasons. You're
left guessing, wondering whether it's something really awful or only
a hug or a look misinterpreted as "emotional incest." It can actually
be a relief to know the worst, to be accused of satanic ritual abuse.
At least then you know you didn't do it--unless, of course,
you believe that you, too, repressed the memory.
In many cases, there's a sibling domino effect.
One daughter retrieves incest memories and tells her sisters. Some of
them not only believe her, but seek therapy to find their own memories.
After all, if the father did this to one daughter, isn't it likely he
would have done it to the rest? Indeed, if he's such a pedophile, perhaps
he also assaulted his son. That's how Frank Schmidt, whose story follows,
briefly came to believe that his father had sodomized him. The cases
in which multiple siblings cut off all contact are particularly difficult.
Not only have the parents lost more, but observers usually conclude
that the allegations must be true. Otherwise, why would several children
be saying the same thing?
Most of the parents I interviewed oscillate
between anger and compassion for their children. With time, they usually
understand that their children are not primarily at fault. They have
been "duped," as Arlene Schmidt puts it, by their therapists and self-help
books. Some, like Julia Hapgood, do not totally forgive their children.
"Everyone is responsible for what they do," she says, admitting that
there are days when she hates her daughter. Another bitter woman wrote
to me that her daughter had thrown her mother away, and now she doesn't
have a mother to come back to, as far as she is concerned.
Certainly, such bitterness is understandable.
Therapists and books encourage accusing children to act as spitefully
as possible. Accusatory letters often arrive on special occasions such
as Father's Day, Thanksgiving, or Christmas. One mother told me that
her daughter had dumped on her on Mother's Day of 1991; the mother later
discovered that one of her best friends had received a similar bomb
on exactly the same day.
On the other hand, some accused parents appear
almost inhumanly compassionate. I didn't have room for Doug Ellison's
full story here, for instance, but it is remarkable. The 75-year-old
retired clinical psychologist was accused by Flo, one of his four daughters,
but he lost all of his children, who believed their sister.
Then Flo contracted cancer. She finally agreed to see her father, but
Flo died at 38 while he was driving across the country to be by her
side. At the memorial service, another daughter passed out photocopied
letters from Flo accusing her father of incest, so he wouldn't "get
away with it," as she put it. Despite all of this, Ellison does not
blame his children, or even their therapists, whom he sees as victims
of dogma themselves. "I don't think anger serves anybody here," he told
It is difficult not to blame therapists,
however, especially when so many hurt, bewildered parents have sought
counseling themselves, only to be given advice similar to Gloria Harmon,
whose son Robert accused her of incest: "Acknowledge that Robert is
entitled to his feelings, they are valid and he is hurting. Seek to
understand what you did and are doing that hurts him." Either that,
or, as with the Schmidts, the therapist gives them John Bradshaw books
and encourages them to discover how they were abused as
Many parents have been sued by their children
in either civil or criminal courts. Because of the enormous legal costs,
quite a few cases are settled out of court, even though the parents
privately admit no wrong-doing. I interviewed Elbert and Josephine Wells,
for instance, who are 89 and 83 respectively. Their 53-year-old daughter
confronted them at her aunt's 50th wedding anniversary celebration,
then sued. They have settled out of court, primarily because of their
advanced age. "We don't want years of court appearances and stress,"
Josephine explained. Other accused fathers, such as Jack Collier of
California, refuse to give in to false allegations. At great expense,
Collier won his case, but he has still lost his daughter. Still others
lose their cases and find themselves in jail, massive debt, or both.
Some parents are so devastated that they
can barely drag themselves out of bed every morning. In his 1994 book,
What You Can Change and What You Can't , psychologist Martin
Seligman offers the bleakest prospects for those suffering from post-traumatic
stress disorder. His prime example is a couple whose 14-year-old son
was killed in an automobile accident; the parents cannot shake their
grief. The mother is suicidal, and the father can't talk about it. The
situation of accused parents is analogous and, in a way, worse. At least
with death comes closure, finality. Accused parents live with the constant
knowledge of loss that is needless, angry, and on-going. It is hardly
surprisingly that we meet a couple such as the Schmidts in this chapter.
Their lives are, as Hank Schmidt puts it, "in the toilet."
Quite often, it is the wife of an accused
father who takes the most active role in fighting the therapist, seeking
reunion with the child, and declaring her husband's innocence. There
are several possible explanations. Perhaps the men are so shattered
by the experience that they cannot deal with it. Or maybe it's just
that males in our society don't generally deal with such emotional issues
very well. Finally, it is possible that some wives need to keep asserting
their husband's innocence because they inwardly wonder whether he really
did molest the children--a possibility most of them entertained at the
beginning, at least briefly.
Some wives believe the charges, and marriages
blow apart. Thus Bob Sculley, who tells his story in this chapter, lost
not only his daughter but his wife. Another father described to me how
he first found out about his daughter's allegations one night when his
wife confronted him and said, in a shaking voice, "I know all about
you and Lisa." When he told her he didn't know what she was talking
about, she said, "They always deny it." Although she left him for a
while, she eventually returned to the marriage, which continues under
strained circumstances. Although their daughter will not speak with
her father, she and her mother talk frequently on the phone. Husband
and wife do not discuss the accusations.
A surprising number of mothers
have been accused of incest by their sons or daughters. Gloria Harmon's
sad story is, unfortunately, not uncommon, though usually the mothers
are brought into the accusations only as the memories expand beyond
the father. In reality, evidence from always-remembered abuse indicates
that women rarely sexually abuse children.
Because of the enormous variety of these
stories and the number of people who are affected, I interviewed far
more people than those represented here. I wanted to include Fred Orr's
full interview, because it demonstrates what this process can do to
a marriage, but will summarize it here instead. Orr's case is not unusual;
I have heard from many other men whose marriages were destroyed after
their wives entered recovered-memory therapy.
For three years, Orr believed that his wife
Shauna really harbored multiple personalities because of sexual assaults
by her father, brother, and grandfather. He read the section for supportive
spouses in The Courage to Heal , Laura Davis' companion
volume, Allies in Healing , and tried his best. Orr listened
to Shauna's dramatic recounting of therapy sessions, helped her save
pickle jars to smash on the garage floor to get out her anger, and even
made her a tee-shirt featuring her eight alters (Goodie, Spock, Commando,
Ivory, and It, among others). He hated his in-laws, ripping up their
Christmas check in self-righteous fury, even though he had heard that
Shauna's father was so distraught by the allegations that he often curled
up in a fetal position in the corner of a room and wouldn't move. "I
figured he was just feeling guilty."
Nevertheless, Shauna began to turn against
her husband as well. "She did these boundary exercises," he told me.
"It started with no sex. Then, it was don't touch, with an invisible
line down the middle of the bed. Then it was off to separate bedrooms.
Finally, her therapist, a Ph.D. psychologist who ruled her life, told
her to get divorced." In a way, Orr was relieved. "She'd been chopping
up wieners with a butcher knife, fantasizing they were her father's
penis. You should see the look on her face when she does that. I was
glad to get out of that house."
I also regret not having room for my interview
with John and Thelma Sloan, whose story bears a resemblance to my own.
They, too, have lost two daughters, one of whom is a lesbian therapist.
"The fact that Laura has a female partner is not of any concern to us,"
John Sloan said. "In fact, we like her very much." Neither daughter
has come forward with details of the abuse. Both are very bright, college-educated
women in their 30s, loved Anne McAffrey fantasy books, and now talk
frequently about boundaries. John and Thelma consider themselves feminists,
never physically punished their children, and adopted an open parenting
style. Ironically, Thelma was a rape crisis counselor in the early '80s
and worked with incest survivors who had always remembered
what happened to them. "In some ways the progression to an emphasis
on repressed memories is understandable," she told me. "It was hard
at that time to get people to believe that incest was really a widespread
One of the terrible realities for accused
family members is that they cannot seem to do anything right. Even the
most innocuous attempts at communication are routinely twisted and re-interpreted
for their clients by recovered-memory therapists. "Dear Sis," wrote
one sibling, "Mom and I have been thinking about you. Can't wait to
see you again....In the meantime, take care of yourself. Love, Sis."
While this may appear to be a benign postcard on the surface, therapist
David Calof found sinister hidden meaning in every word. "Take care
of yourself," for instance, he interpreted as a hidden injunction for
the client to kill herself. It is this inability to break through on
any level that is so heartbreaking and frustrating to accused family
To order the book directly from the publisher, Upper Access Books, click