Friday, January 27, 2006
Do Children Lie About Sex Abuse?
The sordid story began when Stephanie, just 7 years old at the time, was caught in a bitter custody battle between her parents, LaVonna and Stephan Arena. Worried that she'd lose her daughter, LaVonna took Stephanie and her brother from their home in Texas to a Florida homeless shelter. She then justified the abduction by telling social workers her kids were being molested.Now that she is older and realizes what she did was wrong she wants to ameliorate the situation the best she can.
Stephanie now says her mother used her as a tool to pry her family apart and to get her father to drop his custody claim.
"I am responsible for putting them in prison, and now that I am older and I can understand the consequences of my actions, I need to step up and do what I have to [to] make things right," she told "20/20" in an exclusive interview.She has been trying to make up for her actions since she was 11 years old. The task has been far from easy but Stephanie persisted bravely.
Judge Edward Johnson of Bell County, Texas, warned Stephanie repeatedly that she could face felony prosecution for perjury and a possible 10-year prison sentence if she recanted her original charges. Johnson refused "20/20's" request for an interview.Ironically and sadly, after sending two boys to prison using false accusations, Stephanie's mother "allowed a twice-convicted pedophile to live with her and Stephanie. A judge found her mom's judgment so poor he awarded sole custody of Stephanie to her father, Stephan." The mother seems to have made a habit of false accusations.
Even at her young age, Stephanie refused to back down and was willing — as the judge warned she might — to go to prison.
"I really do think that two-to-10 years is a small price to pay," she said.
It appears, however, that LaVonna's accusations are part of a troubling pattern. Police records and family testimony suggest that on three different occasions she has falsely accused other family members of abusing her kids, including a charge against Stephanie's father, Stephan Arena.False allegations sometimes occur because of over zealous police, mental health professionals and prosecutors. Two of the most infamous cases are the McMartin PreSchool case in California and the Fells Acres case in Massachusetts.
Of course, one of the real dangers of false accusations is that it may cause some cases of actual sexual abuse to be inadequately investigated. But I can barely imagine how scary and frustrating it must be to be the victim of false allegations.
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