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Michael Jackson Trial Blog

Welcome to the Jackson Trial Blog. On this page, experts on child abuse offer commentary on issues raised by the criminal trial of Michael Jackson --the pop star charged with molesting a young boy. This is not a forum where we speculate on guilt or innocence. These are issues for the jury to decide. Instead, we use our collective expertise to respond to important issues or questions being raised by the Jackson case.

We would like to begin this blog by encouraging the public to shed their stereotypes about child sexual abuse and about sex offenders. Michael Jackson's public presentation, the way he looks or acts, should not lead people to make assumptions about his private conduct. This is a theme what will be revisited throughout our entries, because it is crucial to recognizing abuse and protecting children.

Blog is written in reverse chronological order

Monday, June 13, 2005
Jackson found not guilty on all counts

With the end of the Jackson trial, the media spotlight on this issue will fade. Yet the crisis of sexual violence perpetrated against children remains.

How We Can Safeguard Our Children

Although it is impossible to be with your child every minute of the day, there are important ways that parents and other caretakers can protect children from becoming a victim.

  • Teach your children that their bodies are their own. They should be taught that it is OK to decline a hug or a kiss, or any physical contact that they don't want or that makes them uncomfortable - even if it is a family member or teacher.
  • Let your child know that if an adult asks them to keep a secret they should tell you immediately - even if the adult threatens them and even if it is embarrassing.
  • Become involved in your children's activities and help chaperone their events. Involved and attentive parents are a big "turn off" for child molesters.
  • Listen to and be respectful of your children's feelings and opinions. The single most effective means of protecting your child is maintaining open lines of communication. You child needs to feel comfortable discussing sensitive matters with you.  If they don't feel they can talk with you about their true feelings or worry that they will be "put down" for expressing them, then you may be the last to know if they are abused.
  • Educate yourself. A good starting place is to read the book Predators, Pedophiles, Rapists, and Other Sex Offenders: Who They Are, How They Operate, and How We Can Protect Ourselves and Our Children (Basic Books, 2003) by Anna Salter.

Monday, May 30, 2005
Victims who become perpetrators

While the verdict is not in, the Michael Jackson trial continues to raise important issues related to child sexual abuse as well as factors related to sexual offending. For instance, Michael Jackson's background suggests that he may have been victimized himself as a child.

In a documentary called Michael Jackson's Secret Childhood ,VH1 News examined Michael Jackson's upbringing and found a life filled with abuse, hard labor, and conflict between his religious upbringing and growing fame. According to this report, Jackson suffered years of mental and physical abuse at the hands of his father, Joe Jackson (e.g., incessant rehearsals, whippings, calling Michael "big nose"). The report shows how Joe Jackson exploited his musically gifted children by forcing them to perform in seedy bars and strip joints from Indiana to Ohio . After the shows his father would gather up groupies and bring them to the one motel room they all shared for his sons and him to have sex. Thus, according to VH1 News, Michael was watching his father and brothers have sex when he was very young - perhaps as young as five. At the same time, Jackson 's mother Katherine - a devout Jehovah's Witness who didn't travel with her children - taught Michael that sex is only for procreation and if you have sex before marriage you will go to the devil. When Michael was 15 his father and brothers set him up with prostitutes and teen groupies. According to the documentary, Michael read to them from Jehovah Witness books about how sex was a sin.

This brings us to the current charges against Jackson . In the trial several boys - including the accuser -- testified that while Jackson portrayed himself as a father figure to them, he also gave them alcohol, exposed them to pornography and sexually molested them. This raises the question of whether Michael Jackson's view of fatherhood might be patterned after some of his own experiences as a child.

While we can't answer these questions with certainty, there is research that addresses some issues we have raised. Namely: How often do abused children -- whether having experienced physical, sexual, or emotional abuse -- grow up to become abusers?

In order to investigate the effects of prior childhood sexual abuse on subsequent offending, Lisak, Hopper and Song (1996) studied 595 college men. The men filled out self-report assessments of childhood sexual and physical abuse and perpetration history. 11% of the men reported sexual abuse alone, 17% reported physical abuse alone, and 17% reported both sexual and physical abuse. Of the 257 men in the sample who reported some form of childhood abuse, 38% reported some form of perpetration themselves, either sexual or physical; of the 126 perpetrators, 70% reported having been abused in childhood. Thus, while most perpetrators had been abused, most abused men did not perpetrate. Both sexually and physically abused men who perpetrated manifested significantly more gender rigidity and emotional constriction than abused nonperpetrators.

Lisak, D., Hopper, J., & Song, P. (1996). Factors in the cycle of violence: gender rigidity and emotional constriction. Journal of Trauma Stress, 9, 721-43.

In a similar study, Briggs and Hawkins (1996) studied both incarcerated sex offenders and a group of non-offending males who admitted being sexually abused as children. Overall, 93% of the incarcerated offenders reported being sexually abused as children. Briggs and Hawkins found that the sex abusers often regarded their own abuse as "normal", sometimes enjoyable, and were abused by significantly more perpetrators than the non-offending sample. In contrast non-offenders were more likely to report their own abuse as negative. Briggs and Hawkins speculated that men who normalized their own experience of sexual abuse may be more likely to perpetrate sexual abuse themselves and then fail to understand the harm they have caused.

Briggs, F., & Hawkins, R. M. F. (1996). A comparison of the childhood experiences of convicted male child molesters and men who were sexually abused in childhood and claimed to be nonoffenders. Child Abuse and Neglect, 20 , 221-33.

There is evidence to suggest a history of abuse may also be related to offending in women.

Whitfield & Stock, 1996, as cited in: Brown, D., Scheflin, A., & Whitfield, C. L. (1999). Recovered memories: he current weight of the evidence in science and in the courts. The Journal of Psychiatry and Law, 26 (Spring), 5-156.

In conclusion, experiencing abuse as a child has been identified by some researchers as a risk factor for becoming an abuser. At the same time it is important to remember that while research suggests that most offenders have been abused, most abuse victims do not become offenders. Still, it appears that one of the best ways to interrupt the cycle of abuse is to prevent children from being abused in the first place. When this fails, treatment should be readily available so that issues raised by the abuse can be worked through in therapy rather than reenacted in the next generation.

Monday, May 16, 2005
How Society Enables Child Molesters

Charles Whitfield, MD, (2001) researched the defense tactics of accused and convicted child molesters and found that of all the defenses that a child molester has at his disposal, the most effective is our collective desire not to know. We all so much want the abuse not to have happened that when an accused person says they didn't do it, it resonates with our own personal hopes and beliefs about the incident.

Dr. Whitfield points out that child molesters play on our doubts that an otherwise respectable adult would ever sexually assault a child. Because we don't want to believe it, every bit of evidence that is presented to us, no matter how convincing, is filtered out through the fine mesh of our desire to find some other explanation for the child's disclosure. With this kind of internal pressure to disbelieve any and all evidence, our objectivity is impaired. We may then prematurely close our mind to the possibility of abuse making it difficult to carefully consider and weigh the evidence before us.

Consider the following exchange with a mother who recently testified in the Jackson case. She had allowed her son to stay with Michael Jackson on at least 22 occasions. During the visits, the boy slept in Jackson 's bed and Jackson 's maid witnessed Jackson showering with the boy. On the stand, the mother firmly testified to her belief that Jackson would never act inappropriately with a child.

The mother underscored her opinion during cross-examination, when prosecutor Tom Sneddon asked the woman if she was concerned about her son staying in Jackson 's bedroom, essentially locked in the singer's suite with chimes that sounded if someone approached.

"There is a certain trust we developed immediately," she said. "Nothing ever crossed my mind there would be a problem there."

Whether or not her child was abused, it seems like the thought should have crossed her mind.

Anna Salter, PhD, an expert on sex offenders, interviewed numerous convicted child molesters in prison. Most reported abusing numerous children over many years before being caught. These child molesters told her that their chief enablers were the "good" people who do not want to believe that crimes such as child sexual abuse occur. They described how readily people handed over their children to them. The child molesters explained how their fears of being caught decreased as they discovered that most people are not suspicious, they trust others, and do not believe their children will be harmed by other adults who look attractive and act polite.

Unfortunately, the only way for good people to stop enabling child molesters is to become less trusting and better educated on a subject that makes us all uncomfortable.

Mothers deny Jackson molested sons , CNN, May 6, 2005. /

 Salter, A. (1998). Truth, lies and sex offenders (PAL Video), Thousand Oaks , CA : Sage.

 Whitfield, C. L. (2001). The false memory defense: Using disinformation in and out of court. Journal of Child Sexual Abuse, 9(3-4), 53-78.

Friday, May 13, 2005
Michael Jackson to portray himself as the real victim

Recently the papers reported that the defense in the Jackson case will portray him as the victim.

As his defense begins in his molestation trial, Jackson will again present himself as a victim -- but this time his attorneys say it's no performance. They say Jackson is the target of overzealous prosecutors, an untrustworthy inner circle and a family of grifters making false allegations.
Tim Molloy. Jackson defense will portray him as victim. Associated Pres s, May 8, 2005.

Portraying oneself as the true victim is a common defense strategy which has little to do with whether or not the accused is guilty or innocent. In fact, it is a response commonly found in child molesters who are caught. It even has a name: DARVO. DARVO as a concept named by Jennifer Freyd, Ph.D.

DARVO refers to a reaction perpetrators of wrong doing, particularly sexual offenders, may display in response to being held accountable for their behavior. DARVO stands for "Deny, Attack, and Reverse Victim and Offender." The perpetrator or offender may Deny the behavior, Attack the individual doing the confronting, and Reverse the roles of Victim and Offender such that the perpetrator assumes the victim role and turns the true victim into an alleged offender. This occurs, for instance, when an actually guilty perpetrator assumes the role of "falsely accused" and attacks the accuser's credibility or even blames the accuser of being the perpetrator of a false accusation.

In that paper Freyd explained that DARVO responses may be effective for perpetrators.

"...I have observed that actual abusers threaten, bully and make a nightmare for anyone who holds them accountable or asks them to change their abusive behavior. This attack, intended to chill and terrify, typically includes threats of law suits, overt and covert attacks on the whistle-blower's credicility, and so on..... [T]he offender rapidly creates the impression that the abuser is the wronged one, while the victim or concerned observer is the offender. Figure and ground are completely reversed... The offender is on the offense and the person attempting to hold the offender accountable is put on the defense." (Freyd, 1997, pp. 29-30)
Freyd, J.J. (1997) Violations of power, adaptive blindness, and betrayal trauma theory . Feminism & Psychology, 7, 22-32.

Freyd stresses that DARVO is an initial offering based on observation and analysis. It has not been subjected to empirical testing. However, this constellation of behavior is frequently described in the writings of those who work with convicted sex offenders (for instance see Anna Salter's book Predators ). Moreover, Freyd cautions that presense of DARVO-type behavior is not necessarily evidence in support of the accusation of guilt; a truly innocent person may deny an accusation, attack the person making the accusation, or claim the victim role. However, it can't be assumed to be evidence of innocence either.

Thursday, May 12, 2005
Defense Strategies

As the prosecution has rested, and the defense has started to a line of witnesses has been testifying that Jackson did not abuse them, or that they did not see Jackson abuse anyone. Included in this list is MaCaulay Culkin who called the current molestation allegations against Jackson "absolutely ridiculous." "I've never seen him do anything improper with anybody," Culkin told jurors, according to CNN, and he described his over nights at the entertainer's Neverland ranch as "good old fun."

Do the protestations of individual who say they were not molested, tell us anything about the credibility of the children who say they were abused?

The testimony of a string of children who had contact with an accused sex offender who were not molested is a very common defense strategy for the accused. The success of this strategy is dependent on acceptance of the popular myth that child molesters can't help their behavior and therefore abuse impulsively and indiscriminately.

Obviously, robbers don't rob every store they shop in. Likewise, sex offenders don't offend against every child they befriend. Although sex offenders may feel driven to molest children, they rarely do so indiscriminately.

Interviews with sex offenders reveal that most are selective, picking victims who are vulnerable to be exploited because they come from troubled families. Children with involved, attentive parents are usually passed over. Instead, molesters target lonely, troubled children with few adults to whom they can turn. They often gain the child's trust and devotion by befriending them and showering them with attention and gifts. Only later, and only if the child responds well to the grooming process, do molesters start making overt sexual overtures.

Parading children into courtrooms to say they weren't abused makes about as much sense as parading the owners of every shop an accused robber ever shopped in to testify that because he never robbed them, he must be innocent.

For more information see:
Elliott, M., Browne, K., & Kilcoyne, J. (1995). Child sexual abuse prevention: What offenders tell us. Child Abuse & Neglect. 19, 579-94.

Salter, A. C. (2003). Predators: Pedophiles, rapists and other sex offenders. New York: Basic Books.

Friday, April 22, 2005
The Science of Child Sexual Abuse

The new issue of the journal Science (April 22, vol. 308, #5721) includes an article: "The Science of Child Sexual Abuse." The article is by Jennifer J. Freyd, Frank W. Putnam, Thomas D. Lyon, Kathryn A. Becker-Blease, Ross E. Cheit, Nancy B. Siegel, and Kathy Pezdek.

The Science article cites the body of research to date, which shows:

  • Child sexual abuse may interfere with attachment, emotional regulation, and major stress response systems, and is associated with serious mental and physical health problems, substance abuse, victimization and criminality in adulthood.
  • Under-reporting leads to underestimation of the extent of abuse, which currently is reported by 20 percent of women and 5 to 10 percent of men worldwide
  • Although official reports of child sex abuse have declined somewhat in the U.S. during the last 10 years, close to 90% of sexual abuse cases are never reported to authorities
  • Most child sex abuse is committed by family members and individuals close to the child, which increases the likelihood of delayed disclosure and possible memory failure while increasing the potential for unsupportive reactions by caregivers and lack of intervention
  • A 1996 report from the Department of Justice estimated rape and sexual abuse of children to cost $1.5 billion in medical expenses and $23 billion total annually to U.S. victims.

Thursday, April 21, 2005
Potential defense witness in Jackson trial arrested on sex charge

A potential witness in the Michael Jackson trial was accused of having sex with a minor in the basement of her home after telling her he had seen the pop star seduce a girl. Ahmad Elatab of Clifton , New Jersey , was arrested after a teacher intercepted a graphic note of the encounter that the girl was passing to a classmate at her High School. Police said the 14-year-old girl watched pornographic discs and other computer-generated images that Eletab had brought over to her house, police said, and the girl told them Elatab bragged that he had been at Jackson 's Neverland Ranch and had seen the pop star seduce a girl. The girl told officers that they had sex and some parts of the encounter were consensual, but she also said some were not because she said some acts were forced on her. Authorities said Elatab said the sex was consensual and he denied telling the girl he saw Jackson seduce a girl. Eletab admitted he told the girl how "smooth" Jackson is and that he knows how to talk to women. Elatab is on the list of potential witnesses for Jackson 's child molestation trial in California .

Monday, April 11, 2005
Minimizing the Abuse of Males

Last week a number of witnesses testified about Jackson 's frequent groping of young boys in his care. For instance, one of Michael Jackson's former employees testified that he saw Jackson perform oral sex on a boy who later received a large financial settlement from Jackson. In addition, the 24 year old son of an ex-Neverland maid recounted sessions that started with tickling but progressed to fondling.  The man broke into tears while recounting the abuse. A reporter for the British news station Sky News, later walked past an area where jurors were taking a break behind a covered fence and overhead one of the juror's mimicking someone crying, and others laughing (see ABC article) . Although it is not clear whether jurors were mocking the witness or not, fear of such mockery is a powerful social force that often silences abuse victims. The following article by Leadership Council board member Richard Gartner discusses the difficulty that males have in coping with sexual abuse. It also explains why other men often act unsympathetically to male victims.

Male Sexual Victimization
by Richard B Gartner, Ph.D.

Sexual abuse is an interpersonal experience with ominous implications for boys' future interpersonal relationships.  Abusers use power relationships to satisfy their needs without regard to those of victims. In this kind of betrayal, seemingly unbreakable bonds are broken.  Treachery is introduced into trusting relationships.

These boys often grow up distrusting others.  They've learned to think of people as untrustworthy, malevolent, and undependable. This bodes ill for intimate, sexual, and love relationships.  They often become phobic about emotional attachment and maintain interpersonal distance. This may alternate with a sense of merging with a loved one so they hardly know where they end and others begin.

Confusing affection with abuse, desire with tenderness, sexually abused men may have difficulty differentiating among sex, love, nurturance, affection, and abuse.  Friendly interpersonal approaches from others may be experienced as seductive and exploitative.  On the other hand, they may not notice when exploitative demands are being made on them--they've learned to see these as normal and acceptable.

Hungry for interpersonal contact but anxious about it, believing that sexual closeness is their chief opportunity to feel loved but experiencing love as abuse, some sexually abused men solve their dilemma by engaging in frequent, indiscriminate, and compulsive sexual encounters.  These are not free, joyous expressions of erotic, passionate sensuality.  Sex is pursued incessantly, but little intimacy achieved.  They strongly desire love but have no sense of feeling loved once the sex act is concluded. Men are left feeling empty and lonely, while the idea of fully pursuing relationships fills them with a dread of repeating their abuse histories.

A commonly believed myth is that sexually abused boys almost inevitably become sexually abusive men. While a significant proportion of male abusers were themselves abused as boys, there's evidence that very few sexually abused boys become abusers.  Because of the myth, however, many men fear they'll become abusive or worry that if they disclose their history others will think they are abusers.

Another factor affecting sexually abused boys involves a sense of having participated in the abuse, of having been excited by it and perhaps even having initiated it.  Teenagers have little control over the hormones that surge through their bodies.  They're easily aroused sexually.  This leads to a lot of confusion if they are stimulated by images they are shown, or words of enticement they hear or read, or behaviors into which they are led. Feeling guilty about any sexual pleasure he felt during his molestation, a victim may feel guilty and ambivalent about all sexual pleasure. 

In addition, socialized masculine gender expectations teach boys that they can't be victims; that they may express rage but not "softer" emotions; and that men are competitive, resilient, self-reliant, independent, and certainly not emotionally needy.  To maintain a sense of masculinity, sexually abused men may assert that they weren't abused, that they weren't hurt, or that they were in charge of what happened.

"Real" men are supposed to be initiators of sexual activity and to want sex whenever it's offered, especially by women.  For many men, these qualities define masculinity. Their masculine identity is at stake if they are identified as victims because victimhood is identified with being female.

So, many men believe, consciously or unconsciously, that only sissies and weaklings allow abuse: victims can only be women or feminized men (often seen as gay).  Being victimized or acquiescing to victimization means being "not male." Therefore, men often cannot acknowledge sexually victimization.  They can't allow themselves to say that they were traumatized and emotionally devastated by a sexual encounter (especially with a woman) without giving up some sense of manhood.

Masculine gender norms also make it difficult for men to develop or use psychological resources necessary for them to recover from their trauma.  Unable to be emotionally needy or process emotional trauma, they often react to feeling feminized by becoming aggressive or "hypermasculine."  Those who become action-oriented rather than self-reflective are most likely to become abusive themselves.

Finally, when the abuser is male (and even sometimes when she is female), many boys--whether straight or gay--develop fears and concerns about sexual orientation.  Conventional wisdom dictates that sexually abuse turns boys gay, although there is no persuasive evidence that premature sexual activity fundamentally changes sexual orientation.  Nevertheless, a boy headed toward being straight before his abuse is likely to doubt himself, wondering why he was chosen by a man as a sexual object. A boy headed toward being gay may feel prematurely rushed into defining himself as gay, or may hate his homosexuality because of a belief that it was caused by his abuse.  Even boys who say their early experiences were not traumatic were introduced to sex as an exploitation of a less powerful person by a more powerful one.  Whether boys are gay or straight, exploitative introductions to sexuality affect their adult intimate relationships.

For more information:

Myths About Boyhood Sexual Victimization Richard Gartner, Ph.D., responds to common myths and preconceptions about the sexual abuse of boys

More information about the effect of sexual abuse on boys

Friday, April 1, 2005
The Grooming Process

In an interview with a British journalist Jackson admitted that he had shared his bed with many children, including actor McCauley Caulkin. Later, McCauley admitted sleeping in Jackson 's room, but denied that Jackson ever abused him. The prosecution wants to admit evidence from someone who claims they witnessed improper behavior between Jackson and McCauley when he was a young child.

However, even if McCauley is correct and he was not abused, does this mean that Jackson never abused any children? Not necessarily. Robbers don't rob every store they shop in. Likewise, sex offenders don't offend against every child they befriend.

Although sex offenders may feel driven to molest children, they rarely do so indiscriminately. In truth, sex offenders tend to carefully pick and set up their victims. First they tend to pick children who are vulnerable due to parental neglect. Children who are from broken families and whose parents have problems are more attractive to pedophiles than children who have involved and attentive parents. Pedophile then seek to exploit the emotional void in a lonely child's life by befriending them and showering them with attention. Interviews with sex offenders show that the offenders often gain children's trust by using bribes, gifts and games; and by desensitizing them through touch, talk about sex, and persuasion (Elliott, Browne & Kilcoyne, 1995).

Below, a young pedophile describes the careful planning that went into finding his next victim.

When a person like myself wants to obtain access to a child, you don't just go up and get the child and sexually molest the child. There's a process of obtaining the child's friendship and, in my case, also obtaining the family's friendship and their trust.  When you get their trust, that's when the child becomes vulnerable and you can molest the child. (Salter, 2003, p. 42)

Thus, rather than being a sudden, initially traumatic occurrence, most sex between children and adults involves a gradual "grooming" process in which the perpetrator skillfully manipulates the child into participating (Berliner & Conte, 1992). For example, a sex offender may test the child by showing them pornography and/or by offering them alcohol or drugs. The offender tells the child that they will get in trouble if his or her parents find out. If the child keeps the secret from the parents, the molester knows he can proceed. The offender will then methodically escalate this type of activity until he desensitizes the child enough to engage in more overt sexual behavior. Because the child kept the initial secret, the child may view themselves as responsible for the more overt abuse when it occurs. Later, the child may not only fail to disclose it; they may even deny it if asked directly whether it happened.

Berliner, L., & Conte, J. R. (1995). The effects of disclosure and intervention on sexually abused children. Child Abuse & Neglect, 19, 371-84.

Elliott, M., Browne, K., & Kilcoyne, J. (1995). Child sexual abuse prevention: What offenders tell us. Child Abuse & Neglect. 19, 579-94.

Salter, A. C. (2003). Predators: Pedophiles, rapists and other sex offenders: Who they are, how they operate, and how we can protect ourselves and our children. New York: Basic Books.

Book on Predators 

More about Dr. Salter's book from




Monday, March 28, 2005
Allowing in Prior Bad Acts

Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge Rodney S. Melville will rule today whether to allow jurors to hear testimony about earlier incidents in which prosecutors allege Jackson may have molested other children. [see "On the Stand, Jackson's Past? Judge Weighs Evidence Of Alleged Misdeeds" by Amy Argetsinger, Washington Post , Sunday, March 27, 2005]

In most crimes such evidence is kept out, even if the defendant was convicted. However, a few states including California allow evidence from a defendant's past to be introduced in court to help prove new allegations of sexual offenses by showing they are part of a pattern or "propensity" to commit such acts. Evidence Code 1108 has transformed rape and molestation cases in California , making it far easier for the government to prevail in cases that generally lack strong eyewitnesses and tend to pit the word of the victim against that of the accused. However, judges still determine whether to allow the evidence based on whether its potential to prejudice the jury outweighs its usefulness.

Although there are legal arguments for and against allowing in propensity evidence, it is clear that children have been poorly served by our current system for dealing with sexual crimes. Leadership Council Board Member Anna Salter, PhD, addressed this issue in her excellent book Predators, Pedophiles, Rapists and Other Sex Offenders .


Gene Abel and colleagues conducted studies of sex offenders in the late 80's which asked voluntary sex offender clients how many total offenses they had committed (Abel, Becker et al. 1988; Abel, Becker et al. 1987; Abel, Mittelman et al. 1985; Abel and Rouleau 1990).  The studies guaranteed confidentiality in a variety of ways: the interviewers did not have the subjects' names, only their research numbers; they had obtained a federal certificate of confidentiality which said the results could never be subpoenaed into any federal court in this country; the master list was kept outside the country in any case. 

Results stunned the professional community.  Two hundred and thirty two child molesters admitted attempting over 55,000 incidents of molestation.  They claimed to have been successful in 38,000 incidents and reported they had over 17,000 total victims. All this from only 232 men.  Men who molested out-of-home female children averaged 20 victims.  Although there were fewer of them, men who molested out-of-home male children were even more active than molesters of female children and averaged 150 each.

Abel also analyzed the data for all kinds of sex offenses including exhibitionism, voyeurism and adult rape as well as child molestation. This larger sample of 561 offenders admitted to over 291,000 offenses of all kinds and over 195,000 victims.

It is difficult to appreciate just how large a number 195,000 is, but consider that the Louisiana Superdome, site of five Super Bowl's, has a maximum seating capacity of 72,675. If all the victims of those 561 men wanted to meet, they would have filled two and one half Superdomes. 

Despite the astounding figures, most of these offenses had never been detected. In fact, Abel computed the chances of being caught for a sexual offense at 3%. Crime pays, it seems and sexual crime pays particularly well. (p. 11)

The dry research figures only confirm what I have seen over and over in this field: there are a lot of sexual offenses out there and the people who commit them don't get caught very often.  When an offender is caught and has a thorough evaluation with a polygraph backup, he will reveal dozens, sometimes hundreds of offenses he was never apprehended for.  In an unpublished study by Pamela Van Wyk, 26 offenders in her incarcerated treatment program entered the program admitting an average of 3 victims each.  Faced with a polygraph and the necessity of passing it to stay in the treatment program, the next group of 23 men revealed an average of 175 victims each. (p. 13)

March 27, 2005
Mixed Emotions

During this last week of trial, the alleged victim described how Michael Jackson appeared to lose interest in him and how hurtful that was to him. John M. Broder, of the New York Times (see "For Observors of Jackson Trial, the Gates of Neverland Ranch Swing Wide Open"; March 27, 2005; page A12) described the boy's testimony in the following way:

Although the boy claims he was upset by the alleged abuse, what seemed to bother him more was being banished forever from Mr. Jackson's Eden. When testifying about the sexual incidents, the boy's voice and manner were flat and unemotional, and he had to be prompted to express any dismay about the molesting. But when he spoke of Mr. Jackson ignoring him and evicting his family, the boy grew heated. He recounted a time near the end of his stay at Neverland when Mr. Jackson walked past but did not acknowledge him. "It's like my heart broke right there," the boy said.

This raises the question: Is it common for victims of abuse to feel hurt by the loss of the relationship to the abuser?

Specialists in child sexual abuse are very familiar with this dynamic in sexual abuse victims many of whom are intensely ambivalent about their feelings for the perpetrator. On the one hand they may have felt close to the abuser, and may have experienced what they considered "love" or acceptance for the first time. On the other hand, the experience of being discarded when the perpetrator loses interest in them may help them to recognize the exploitative nature of this relationship, and the betrayal inherent in it. 

In a study that explored the process of sexual victimization from the child's perspective, Berliner and Conte (1990) found that most perpetrators were trusted men that both the child and their mother depended on emotionally as well as financially. A common method of persuasion involved the exploitation of a child's normal need to feel loved, valued and cared for. About half of the children also described being given special favors, money or clothes. In the early stages of the relationship the offender typically engaged in a lot of physical contact, and would "accidentally" touch the child's genitals or expose themselves to the child. The shift to overt sexual behavior was often under the guise of acceptable conduct. Children were commonly told either that the behavior was not really sexual or that it was a form of necessary sex education. As a result, a majority of children were initially unaware that they were being sexually abused. As the sexual nature of the relationship progressed, a majority of the children were threatened with repercussions ranging from abandonment to death if they told. Most of the children complied with the offender and few of the children felt that if they had said no, the abuse would have stopped. Indeed, many expressed a belief that it would have continued or that they would have been further harmed.

Among the children interviewed by Berliner and Conte many expressed ambivalence about their feelings toward the perpetrator. The majority (60%) described the relationship as positive; others described it as neutral or negative. Over half said they loved him, liked him, needed or depended on him. Almost half also endorsed the statement, "I hated him" (p. 32).

Berliner, L., & Conte, J. R. (1990). The process of victimization: The victims' perspective. Child Abuse & Neglect, 14, 29-40.

While the victim expresses clear hurt and betrayal about the loss of Jackson ("my heart was broken"), this might make his awareness that he was "used" for sexual activity even more painful.

In fact, one of the most damaging sequealae of sexual abuse by a trusted adult is the conflicting emotions, the loss, and the anger from having felt "special" and then the realization that this "specialness" may have been more for the benefit of the adult's sexual interests, than the child's welfare. Thus, the reaction of the boy as reported by Mr. Broder fits in well into what we know about the dynamics of victims of sexual abuse. 

Moreover, an emotionless recounting of the details of molestation is not uncommon in someone who feel shamed and embarrassed by the experience. The use of an emotionless tone may be adopted in an attempt to separate one self from the reality of the event and to avoid feelings associated with vulnerability. Research shows that victims often cope psychologically by using coping mechanisms such as denial, minimization, and dissociation regarding the abuse itself or its damaging effects (Coons, Bowman, Pellow, & Schneider, 1989; Summit, 1983). On the other hand, expressing anger at the abuser for behavior not associated with victimization (such as ignoring them), is generally accompanied by less shame and thus may be expressed more openly. 

Compared to abuse by strangers, abuse by a trusted adult is much worse as the child has to come to terms with conflicting feelings about someone they love. In these cases, it is impossible to separate out the harm from the actual abusive acts from the harm of the whole abusive context of a relationship which was presented to the child as being based on trust and love and which was actually based on betrayal and exploitation.

March 15, 2005
Denial and Disclosure

During cross examination of the victim in the Jackson case yesterday, it was revealed that he denied abuse when questioned by his school principal.

"...the teenager was asked about conversations he had with Jeffrey Alpert, the dean at John Burroughs Middle School in Los Angeles, where the boy had a history of acting up in class.

Defense attorney Thomas Mesereau Jr., quoted Alpert as telling the youngster: "Look at me, look at me... I can't help you unless you tell me the truth - did any of this happen?"

"I told Dean Alpert he didn't do anything to me," the boy said. "I told him twice."

John M. Broder. Accuser Says He Told School Official That Jackson Did Nothing . New York Times, March 14, 2005.

"Today, the victim explained his prior denial saying: that he told a school administrator the singer didn't molest him because schoolmates were "making fun of me" and he wanted them to stop. According to the victim, his schoolmates were saying he had been "raped" by Jackson."

Tim Molloy, Jackson Accuser Explains Earlier Denial, Associated Press, March 15, 2005.

Such conflicting testimony is confusing for many people. If the boy really was abused, why would he deny it when asked directly about it by an authority figure? Does this mean that the abuse didn't happen?

Contrary to the popular misconception that children are prone to exaggerate sexual abuse, research shows that children often minimize and deny, rather than embellish what has happened to them. Research reveals that fears of retribution and abandonment, and feelings of complicity, embarrassment, guilt, and shame often silence these children. In fact, denials of abuse are common even when undeniable evidence of the abuse is present.

In one study, researchers examined 28 cases in which prepubescent children had tested positive for a sexually transmitted disease. Each of the 28 children was interviewed by a social worker trained in abuse disclosure techniques and use of anatomically correct dolls. Only 12 of the 28 (43%) of the abused children interviewed gave any verbal confirmation of sexual contact.

Lawson, L., & Chaffin, M. (1992). False negatives in sexual abuse disclosure interviews. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 7, 532-42.

Another study involved a perpetrator who pled guilty after videotapes documenting his abuse of 10 children were found by authorities. Because of these detailed recordings, researchers knew exactly what had happened to these children. Despite this abundance of hard physical evidence, the children tended to deny or minimize their experiences. Some children simply did not want to talk about their experiences, some had difficulties remembering them, and one child lacked adequate concepts to understand and describe them.

Sjoberg, R. L., & Lindblad, F. (2002). Limited disclosure of sexual abuse in children whose experiences were documented by videotape. American Journal of Psychiatry, 159, 312-4.

Failure to disclose abuse is particularly common in boys who have been abused by other males. They are often acutely aware of the social stigma attached to being victimized, along with fears that they will be disbelieved or labeled homosexual.

Watkins, B. & Bentovim, A. (1992). The sexual abuse of male children and adolescents: A review of current research. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 33, 197-248.

Although this relevation does help the defense case, it does not rule out the molestation claim. Overall, research suggests that such denials are common -- especially in abused boys -- and particularly if confronted in a setting where they are with their peers.

March 14, 2005
Media Interview with Joyanna Silberg, PhD,
Executive Vice President of the Leadership Council

Jackson's Troubling Trial
US News and World Report
Diane Cole
March 21, 2005

Michael Jackson Blog week of March 7- 11, 2005
Inconsistencies in Children's Testimony: What Do They Mean?  

"The brothers, who are not being named to protect their identity, testified that Jackson encouraged them to drink vodka and wine-which Jackson called "Jesus juice," to look at sex magazines with him and peruse adult sites on the Internet. The boy's account ended dramatically on the story of the inappropriate touching." Nomi Morris, MSNBC Newsweek ,

This week the prosecution presented testimony in the Michael Jackson case from the victim's sister, brother, and the victim himself. The victim described several incidents of molestation. These were corroborated by his brother who claimed witnessing Jackson molesting his brother on two occasions. 

The cross-examination of these witnesses focused primarily on inconsistencies in the children's statements. In the case of the victim's sister, inconsistencies were found between her previous statements about how she perceived Jackson and her current views.

The inconsistencies in the brother's statements involved actual details of the molestation he observed, as well as inconsistencies in his report of his parent's behavior. Previously, he had denied abuse from his parents, but currently claimed they had abused him.

In abuse cases, it is very common for the defense to focus on inconsistencies in young people's statements over time. However, it is important to determine the significance of changes in how one perceives a situation. Does changing one's view suggest that the child is lying?

Not necessarily. There are many reasons why young people's reports about alleged abusive events may change over time. These include:

  1. Developmental changes over time can affect a child's use of language. A young child may say, `It happened a million times." An older child may use more exact language.

  2. If abused on numerous occasion in different places and situations, children may confuse details of the various incidents so that one time the child says it happened at one place and another time they say it happened someplace else.

  3. A child's concepts may get more sophisticated with maturity and experience. For example, previously the victim's sister had seen Jackson in a positive light. In essence, she believed his presentation of himself as a father figure for vulnerable children. She now views him as having manipulated her and her family. In her testimony on March 7, she states, "I had 16 years of abuse and I didn't know what a father was."

  4. Children have mixed feelings about reporting crimes that can get powerful people they care about in trouble. They have a natural desire to protect those on whom their lives are dependent. In addition, they may blame themselves for what happened. This can cause children to deny abuse even when it occurred, and sometimes to deny the abuse after having reported it.

  5. Inconsistencies can result as memories fade over time. Studies with both adults and children show that the central essence of a memory or gist is usually well preserved over time, but the peripheral details may fade. Thus, it is not uncommon from crime victims to remember things out of order, or to forget details of their experience.

  6. Finally, inconsistencies may result from the whole process of preparing victims and witnesses for court -as it often involves series of interviews and repeated questioning. While older children are more resistant to suggestion (over age 8), sometimes the way questions are asked can affect recall of peripheral details, particularly if children want to please the interviewer. This does not mean, however, that the events did not happen. 

For more information:

Lenore Terr. Unchained Memories: True stories of traumatic memories , lost and found. (Basic Books, 1994).

Whitfield, C. L. (1995). The forgotten difference: Ordinary memory vs. traumatic memory. Consciousness and Cognition 4, 88-94.

Lyons, T. (2002). Applying suggestibility research to the real world: The case of repeated questions . Law & Contemporary Problems, 65,  

March 2, 2005
Stranger Danger and the False Denial of Sexual Abuse

This is the title of a presentation done by Thomas D. Lyon, J.D., Ph.D., Professor, USC Law School . The presentation was given at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Seattle, February 2004.

In his talk, Dr. Lyon noted that media coverage of stranger child abductions may distort public perceptions regarding the risks of child sexual abuse. Stranger abductions are popular in the media precisely because they are so rare, whereas sexual abuse by people familiar to the victim is quite common. The virtue of media coverage, however, is that close analysis of some high-profile cases reveals that perpetrators are often involved in more mundane abuse that has gone undetected or was not believed. Many of these nonstranger cases were not believed because the public harbors dangerous assumptions about how a child who has been molested should look and act.

False Assumptions About Abuse

  • The abuse must be violent and leave physical evidence
  • The victim must appear traumatized at all times
  • The victim must resist further contact with the perpetrator
  • The victim must be able to state the exact number of times that the abuse happened

Dr. Lyon discussed a case in which a man alleged to have abused his girlfriend's 9 year old daughter and the girl's 9 year old. The accused was acquitted because the jury did not think that the children acted like they had been abused. For example, the girls giggled at times, they couldn't say how many times he had fondled them, and no blood was found on them. In addition, at times, the girls admitted that she stayed home when he was in the house when they could have left. The jury thought that this meant the abuse didn't happen. Eighteen months after his acquittal, the same man kidnapped, raped and murdered a little 6 year old girl. Dr. Lyon's notes that in cases like this, stranger abductions may help the enable the public to accept and believe the familiar abuse that had been overlooked.

Handout: Stranger Danger and the False Denial of Intrafamilial Sexual Abuse ,

March 1, 2005
Dangerous Assumptions

One of the public's most dangerous assumptions is the belief that they will somehow know the type or person who would or would not molest a child.

Sex offenders are well aware of our propensity for making assumptions about private behavior from one's public presentation. In fact, as recent reports of abuse by priests have shown, child molesters rely on our misassumptions to deliberately and carefully set and gain access to child victims.

According to Dr. Anna Salter, Ph.D., a foremost expert in sex offenders, "a double life is prevalent among all types of sex offenders . . . . The front that offenders typically offer to the outside world is usually a `good person,' someone who the community believes has a good character and would never do such a thing" (Salter, 2003, p. 34).

In her years of work with sex offenders, Dr. Salter has found they commonly employ a variety of tactics which allow them to gain access to children while concealing their activities. For instance, many seek responsible positions that place them in close proximity with children. They also tend to adopt a pattern of socially responsible and caring behavior in public. Many have practiced and perfected their ability to charm, to be likeable and to radiate a facade of sincerity and truthfulness. This causes parents and others to drop their guard, allowing the sex offender easy and recurring access to children.

In fact, Dr. Salter has found that the life a child molester leads in public may be exemplary, almost surreal in its righteousness. In her book, Dr. Salter presents the following description written by a child molester who had used his position as a church choir director to gain access to boys.

I want to describe a child molester I know very well.  This man was raised by devout Christian parents. As a child he rarely missed church.  Even after he became an adult he was faithful as a church member. He was a straight A student in high school and college.  He has been married and has a child of his own. He coached Little League baseball.  He was a Choir Director at his church.  He never used any illegal drugs.  He never had a drink of alcohol.  He was considered a clean-cut, All-American boy.  Everyone seemed to like him. He was a volunteer in numerous civic community functions.  He had a well-paying career job.  He was considered "well-to-do" in society.  But from the age of 13-years-old he sexually molested little boys.   He never victimized a stranger. All of his victims were friends.  . . I know this child molester very well because he is me!!!!

Soon after writing this, the author of this confession was released on parole.  Upon release, he quickly infiltrated a church where he molested children until he was again caught and returned to prison" (Anna Salter (2003). Predators: Pedophiles, rapists and other sex offenders: Who they are, how they operate, and how we can protect ourselves and our children. New York : Basic Books. pp. 36-37).

The LC is committed to enhancing public awareness about child sexual abuse, and combating misinformation. Despite the increasing publicity surrounding child sexual abuse, we are surprised that there continues to be public misinformation about the harm that child sexual abuse can cause.

In the letter to the editor reprinted below, LC advisory board member Dr. Philip Kinsler responded to a Boston Globe Letter to the editor by Dr. Susan Clancy that stated, "For children, sexual abuse is rarely painful or terrifying at the time it occurs."

The Boston Globe
Letters to the Editor
Children are Harmed by Sexual Abuse
February 27, 2005

AS A PROFESSIONAL who has devoted many years to trying to aid in the healing of child sexual abuse survivors, I was surprised by the peremptory tone and deficient scholarship in Susan Clancy's Feb. 20 letter regarding child sexual abuse (''The concept of repression").

The notion that child sexual abuse is usually not harmful is ignorant at best and provides pernicious support to pedophiles at worst. This pseudoscience was thoroughly debunked in the controversy over the infamous Rind study in 1998 alleging similar notions to Clancy's.Clancy states she does ''not believe that repression exists."

Personal belief does not belong in scientific discussions.

There are more than 85 studies in the literature, conducted using multiple research paradigms, that verify the phenomenon of fragmentary or total traumatic amnesia. No study that has asked survivors the question has failed to find a robust number of persons reporting the phenomenon.

The difficulty of creating this phenomenon in laboratories using word lists with college sophomores is a problem of research design and paradigm; not a lack of effect of trauma on memory. And Dr. Jennifer Freyd has shown that word-list experiments carefully done do find traumatic memory effects.

As a therapist, I have worked with survivors of priest abuse and seen first hand their shattered faith in themselves, in the priesthood, in the church, in God. The notion that most victims of sexual abuse are gently groomed for an experience they do not find distasteful is shocking in its ignorance. Studies of the natural history of abusive families indicate that in familial abuse there is typically a mixture of family violence, parental alcoholism, and child sexual abuse.

Tell me that my clients who have been raped at gunpoint by drunken relatives firing guns near their heads to obtain compliance have not been harmed. Clancy's letter is a biased document whose errors of logic and scholarship do not reflect the state of the science and serves to support the dangerous notion that children can give consent to and are not harmed by sexual abuse.


Lyme , N.H.