THE   S. A. I. D.    SYNDROME
         Gordon J. Blush, Ed.D and Karol L. Ross, M.A.
                           March 1986


     A 7-year-old female child reported to her aunt that her sister
had been abused by their father during a recent visit with him.  She
stated, "Daddy rubbed butter and poured milk on Mary's pee-pee."  Thus
a chain of events was set into motion that was not resolved until more
than a year later.  The aunt told the children's mother, and the
mother immediately contacted resource people to assist in the
situation.  Because of an ongoing divorce conflict, the most immediate
resource person that the mother consulted was her attorney.  The
attorney filed a motion in court asking that all contact between the
children and the father be severed until the court could appropriately
assess and evaluate the situation.  The children were also immediately
seen by a mental health professional who, after beginning to evaluate
and work with the children, reported to the mother that she believed
there had been sexual molestation, especially of the younger child.  A
letter was written by this mental health professional to the court
indicating this without benefit of anything other than the information
reported by the mother and the therapist's observations of the
children.  The court responded by severing the rights of the father,
and he reacted by enlisting the aid of his attorney.  For the ensuing
months, the two adults were embroiled in an adversarial court room
process that pitted experts against experts, caused the children to be
assessed and reassessed, and deepened the conflict between the adults.
Ultimately, it was found that the story as related by the older child
was false.  Proof positive of this child's motivation came when, in a
separate and and unrelated incident, she reported to her mother that
she had been sexually molested by a classmate on a school bus.  The
similarity of her stories and an investigation by school officials
exposed this child's pattern to be related not to the truth of the
situation as much as to her pattern of punitive retaliation when she
became angry.

     In working through this particular case, it finally evolved,
under professional intervention, that both of the girls would re-
establish contact with their father.  Several years later there has
still been an ongoing relationship between the girls and their father,
and there has been no further complaints of physical or sexual abuse.
A 13-year-old adolescent girl reported that during a visit with her
father he "tickled" her inappropriately and she was sexually
traumatized as a result.  No mention of this one isolated incident was
made until several years after the alleged abuse when the girl
complained to her mother that she no longer wanted to visit her father
and his present wife.  The mother had, up to that point, been fairly
insistent that the girl do so.  The mother offered the explanation of
the "tickling" incident and immediately went to court and requested
the judge's assistance because the father had "molested" the girl.
The girl herself tearfully lamented to the judge about the incident in
question.  However, under further investigation, the girl readily
acknowledged that the incident had happened only once.  Further
investigative involvement with this family resulted in the daughter
and the father developing a dialogue in which the girl admitted that
her real reason for not wanting to visit was her anger at him for the
controls that he imposed upon her during her visits and her dislike
for his present spouse.  The inappropriate tickling incident
ultimately became the girl's agenda when the father's household task
demands upon her sufficiently enraged her to take action to resist
further visits.  Eventually, the nonvalidity of the girl's complaints
were acknowledged by her in conversations with the father.


    These are only two of a growing number of incidents in which we
have been professionally involved.  They point up the very difficult
task that professionals encounter when involving themselves in the
role of child advocacy, whether it be as professionals in the legal
community, the mental health community, the law enforcement community
or the justice community.  More and more reports of sexually abused
children are being made and directly channeled through these agencies.
We readily acknowledge that the awareness of the problem of sexual
abuse of children is increasing.  However, we have begun to accumulate
an undeniable amount of information that suggests that there is a
variation on the theme of child sexual abuse to which professionals
should be alerted.

    We have labeled this phenomenon the SAID Syndrome which stands for
Sexual Allegations In Divorce.  This acronym describes the particular
phenomenon which occurs when a sexual abuse allegation develops within
a pre- or post-divorce context and when a family unit has become
dysfunctional as a result of that divorce process.  It is our belief
that when sexual allegations in divorce occur (the SAID Syndrome), an
entirely different set of dynamics and variables may exist.  These
Sexual Allegations In Divorce need to be addressed in a discriminately
different manner than the sexual abuse allegations in a non-divorcing

     Initially, the data in this paper was a clinical curiosity to us.
However, working in the context of child advocates assigned to a
family services, court-related clinic, we began to exchange
information, compare clinical notes, and work conjointly on some case
investigations, a pattern began to manifest itself.

    The clinic setting in which this data has been gathered is that of
a family services clinic that functions primarily as a diagnostic
agency within a circuit court.  Investigations are conducted at the
request of judges once a case is determined by the court to be a
matter requiring evaluation on a psychological and social basis.
Primary in the evaluation process are those matters in which custody
and visitation problems exist and wherein the minor children are the
key issue before the court.   The investigation procedure mandates
that both parents as well as all minor children over the age of five
participate in the evaluation.  Thus, our population consists
primarily of individuals having difficulty during or after marital
transition.  We are investigators who are essentially child advocates.
Since judges often have time-related difficulties and other restraints
placed upon their ability to obtain information, our clinic operates
in the capacity of gathering and transmitting any and all pertinent
information about that family as it relates to the issue before the
court.  We submit recommendations to the court as well as a written
document reporting the data upon which those recommendations are

    During this investigation and evaluation process, it has been our
experience that it is very common for one parent to present an
uncomplimentary picture of the other parent.  Each is trying to
present him/herself in a positive light in order to make him/herself
believable and trustworthy in forwarding personal advocacy.  Both are
fully aware of the adversarial role into which their divorce
relationship has evolved, and each frequently presents a rather
lengthy list of serious concerns.  There are numerous allegations that
parties make against each other in order to "make their case."
However, what we are beginning to note with alarming regularity is
either the covertly implied or overtly expressed allegation of some
sexual impropriety, misconduct, or abuse on the part of the other
parent involving their child or children.  This "ultimate concern" is
appearing more and more, whereas a few years ago we were hearing these
only on rare occasions.

    Because of the dramatic increase in the frequency with which this
allegation is occurring and because of the magnitude and gravity of
the allegation, we feel a need to share with fellow professionals the
dynamics we are finding in these particular situations.  The
ramifications of these allegations are far more "lethal" for the
individuals involved and the future of the family unit and its
potential to function than are those of most other types of
allegations.  Our experience is that often times the alleged
perpetrator find him/herself in a position where suddenly and without
due process either socially or legally, his/her access to the minor
child or children has been terminated by a court order.  The
individual finds he/she is unilaterally excluded from an already
disrupted family situation, and this dynamic is compounded by the
social stigma of the sexual allegation.  Additionally, in an
increasing number of cases, the perpetrator is also confronted by the
judicial system and then has to contend with the potential of a felony
charge and being drawn into the criminal justice system.
Professionals in positions that cause some of these events to be set
into motion need to reassess and refine their roles in cases where the
SAID Syndrome may be the primary dynamic.

    We recognize that our data is drawn from a specialized situation.
We further acknowledge that in many instances the handling of a sexual
abuse allegation is done in an effective, professional, and ethical
way.  However, to believe that there are not significant deviations
from the norm is to be naive, incorrect, and possibly dangerous to a
whole system that espouses child advocacy as its primary concern.
Initiating the management of a case based upon misdiagnosis and error
carries many negative implications, including professional liability.
It also raises the issue of challenging the validity of a victim of a
potentially traumatic situation.  Our intention is to help fellow
professionals identify when they may be caught in the midst of a SAID
Syndrome.  We hope that the communication of our data will reduce and
minimize error factors that could make the child advocate


    The history of intervention in child abuse cases has been based
upon concepts that are seen consistently throughout the professional
literature as well as through information disseminated to the public.
It is interesting to note how overly generalized and yet firmly
believed they have become by lay persons and professionals alike.  It
is difficult to find in the professional literature, articles which
raise the issue that children can and will lie under certain
motivational circumstances.  It is treated as if it is unthinkable that
they would ever do so with regard to such a negative experience as
sexual abuse.

    In a number of pamphlets and educational booklets, the following
"facts" are consistently communicated to the parents of potential
victims of sexual abuse:

      Believe the child, no matter how hard it is.  (Even if the
      child made up the incident, help is needed anyway.)  (What
      everyone should, 1983, p.8)

      Believe the child.  Children rarely lie about sexual abuse.
      (Health and Human Services [HHS], 1984)

It is true that children have imaginations and that they sometimes
lie, as do adults, but it is very uncommon occurrence for a child to
fantasize or make up a sexual assault incident.  Avoid the message:
"You can't believe a child, they have such wild imaginations."
Studies have shown that children seldom lie about sexual abuse.
(Illusion Theater, 1981)

Observe physical and behavioral signs...Extreme changes in behavior
such as loss of appetite.  Recurrent nightmares...and fear of the
dark.  Regression to more infantile behavior such as bedwetting, thumb
sucking, or excessive crying...Fear of a person or an intense dislike
at being left somewhere or with someone.  Other behavioral signals
such as aggressive or disruptive behavior, withdrawal, running away or
delinquent behavior, failing in school.  (HHS, 1984)

    Information source after information source being presented by
various social and health organizations take on this common message
format.  The hazard in these instructional messages is that
overgeneralized statements concerning behavioral signs, which may mean
sexual abuse, can just as realistically be symptomatic of any number
of other problems occurring in a child's life.  Divorce, peer
problems, school related problems, and general developmental processes
are all equally competing clinical hypotheses for such behaviors and
should be treated as such in initial investigative stages.  The
dilemma is additionally compounded when concerned parents read what
the "experts" have to say in these generalized ways and then take the
"expert truths" and jump to conclusions to further reinforce their
perception of what has occurred.  This is not an easily dissuaded
belief once it has been perceived as truth by the adult who feels
responsible for the safety and well-being of the child.  It also
cannot be easily discarded or changed once the child has been
questioned about the incident on multiple occasions.

     The literature frequently holds the position that "children do
not lie about sexual abuse."  In their article in a volume of the
JOURNAL OF SOCIAL ISSUES, which in its entirety addresses the topic of
the child witness, Berliner & Barbieri (1984, p. 127) summarize the
findings of Conte and Berliner and of Burgess, Groth and Holmstrom and
they concur with those authors "...there is little or no evidence
indicating that children's report are unreliable, and none at all to
support the fear that children often make false accusations of sexual
assault or misunderstood innocent behavior by adults.  The general
veracity of children's reports is supported by relatively high rates
of admission by offenders.  Not a single study has ever found false
accusations of sexual assault a plausible interpretation of a
substantial portion of cases.  Faller (1984, p. 475) states, "...we
know that children do not make up stories asserting they have been
sexually molested.  It is not in their interest to do so."  Rush
(1980, p. 155) asserts, "Those who have ever worked with children can
attest to the fact that their perception of their environment and
experience is far more concrete than fanciful.  Among the volumes of
literature on disturbed children, the problem of lying is almost never
discussed.  Any nursery or grade school teacher will verify that
children differentiate between 'make-believe' and reality often more
accurately than adults."  Rush also says (p. 17) "When caught in
behavior which might elicit adult disapproval, children might lie to
protect themselves..." but maintains (p. 156) "But children cannot and
do not make up stories outside the realm of actual experience."
The problem with this type of reporting in the literature is that it
tends to emphasize the positive findings in those surveys that have
been made and thus tends to ignore any counterposition or situations
under which exceptions might occur.  Although almost all of the
articles acknowledge (albeit minimally) the potential for children to
create false reports, practically none of the literature addresses
itself to those circumstances, situations, or conditions under which
this phenomenon might occur.  It appears that the professions dealing
with the sexual abuse phenomenon have been simply given a "most
common" dynamic that does occur in accurately reported actual cases of
sexual abuse.  This has evolved into an unchallenged "scientific
fact."  There has been no real assistance given to the professional by
pointing out the elements of those cases where the "common truth" may,
in fact, not to be true.

     Some of the literature does refute the credibility of children's
reports about general phenomena as well as sexual abuse in particular.
Goodman (1984, pp. 164-165) offers, "Another problem that can affect
legal outcomes concerns children's cognitive ability to construct
false reports.  Like adults, children sometimes make false reports.
These may be intentional lies...or they may be unintentionally
fabricated or suggested."  Goodwin, Sahd & Rada (1979, reprinted 1980,
p. 37) state, "Despite the recent increase in research on incest, the
question of false accusation has largely been neglected in the
psychological and psychiatric literature.  A search of psychological
abstracts for the past ten years yielded only one report...which dealt
with the problem of false accusation."

    Although the reported evidence suggests that the number of false
reports is quite low (a fact consistent with our experience), it is
interesting to note that Goodwin et. al. (p. 41) also report in one
case example a situation highly consistent with one of the several
themes that we are finding to be true of the SAID Syndrome.  In this
particular case it is indicated that "...the mother and both daughters
said the accusation was a hoax.  They said the girls had been coached
by unidentified older girls to accuse the stepfather in the hopes that
his would make the mother leave him."  The emerging presence of the
SAID Syndrome is also reflected by Goodwin et. al.(p. 43) when stating
"increased enforcement of child abuse laws has made false accusations
a more potent manipulative weapon for children and teenagers."  And
they warn (p. 43) "Failure to recognize a child's fabrication can
subject the family to unnecessary legal action and unwittingly support
the use of similar manipulative techniques by other susceptible

     In reviewing the literature the first formal reporting
of the SAID Syndrome appeared to be made by Kaplan & Kaplan (1981).
In this article they reported (p. 81) " the authors' clinical
practice, they have encountered a situation, not yet reported, which
presents the mental health professional and judiciary with a number of
technical difficulties.  The problem arises during divorce and custody
proceedings when a child, for the first time, accuses the parent with
whom he/she is not residing, of sexual abuse.  This raises the
possibility that the parent with whom the child is residing has
prompted the child to make the accusation of sexual abuse against the
alienated spouse and non-custodial parent."  Kaplan and Kaplan present
a thorough case history of such a situation and they conclude their
article (p. 94), "In cases where the initial accusation of sex abuse
occurs after parental separation, and refers to a time when the
parents were living together, the possibility that the custodial
parent has prompted the accusation toward the non-custodial parent
must be considered."

     More recently, Benedek and Schetky (1984) in their article
entitled "Allegations of Sexual Abuse in Child Custody Cases" which
was presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Academy of
Psychiatry and the Law in October, 1984, report "...we have recently
evaluated several children and families who have made false
accusations of sexual abuse.  These allegations arose in the context
of child custody and visitation disputes." (p. 1) At the same
conference, Schuman (1984) discussed several cases where--in six of
the seven histories summarized--sexual abuse allegations surfaced in
conjunction with "acrimonious divorce litigation." (p. 11)  In this
article entitled "False Accusations of Physical and Sexual Abuse" he
cites Shipp "In some quarters there is such a degree of sensitivity or
outrage about possible child abuse that a presumption exists that such
abuse has occurred whenever it is alleged" and then Schuman warns "It
is possible for a reverse skew to evolve in which incest or other
child sexual abuse can be overperceived and overalleged."  (p. 1)
Further in his recommendations, Schuman advises the evaluators to
obtain information from multiple sources and explains "Domestic
relations cases are unfortunately fertile ground for nonvalid
perceptions and/or allegations of misconduct of all forms." (p. 26)
Paulson, Strouse & Chaleff (1982, pp. 51-52) further confirm these
finding by cautioning:

"It is also important for the interviewer to remember that sometimes
children fabricate incest stories in order to intimidate and blackmail
a parent.  This is especially so when resolution of and earlier has
allowed the perpetrator to return home.  The young child, aware of the
consequences of a further allegation of incest against the
perpetrator, can use this knowledge to threaten, coerce, and defy
conformity and discipline demands within the family.  The socially
precocious, seductive young girl can make normal hugging and kissing
between parent and child grounds for further allegations of
molestation.  The stepparent may be jealously seen by the child as
depriving him/her of rightful attention and affection from the
biologic parent.  For mothers there is constant anxiety and distrust,
wanting to trust both the child and the parent, yet constantly
suspicious and torn between the child and the

These clinical dynamics that have only just begun
to appear in contemporary literature suggest that children caught in a
frustrating power struggle may opt to attempt to control the situation
via a newly-evolved "offensive weapon"--the sexual allegation.
Probably the most meaningful, clinically sound, socially and legally
acceptable position in this dilemma would be to reframe the problem of
whether children lie or do not lie about these matters.  Our position,
based upon our actual investigative experience, is most adequately
reflected in literature by Sgroi, Poter & Blick (1982, p. 39) who
propose, "Every reported case of child sexual abuse must be
investigated to determine if the complaint is valid:  that is, did
abuse of the target child actually occur or not?  The process by which
this happens is termed validation.  It should be conducted in an
orderly fashion by knowledgeable individuals who are prepared to deal
with the consequences of the outcome."  These authors further charge
(p. 39) "every clinician or professional person who works with
children should be aware of the essential elements of validating child
sexual abuse.  Investigators or individuals who perform validation of
cases may be personnel of the statutory agencies or clinicians or
both."  Within the text of this article a recommended process for
taking an investigatory approach to the initial allegation is

     A similar suggestion, to first investigate rather than
react to the situation is offered by Jiles (1980, p. 61) who states
"...the worker must speak with the child and make some determination
about the validity of the report and gain as much diagnostic
information as possible."  This suggestion that a tempered, rational,
carefully thought out and planned strategy for evaluating the entire
family situation before any decisions are made is the most obvious and
desirable approach for all parties concerned in both actual and false
sexual abuse cases.  These proposals which emphasize investigation as
a first step are highly consistent with our perception of the
appropriate attitudes, strategies and techniques which should be
utilized at the very outset of a sexual allegation case.


                   Professional Role Definition

     When a sexual allegation of any kind is made, a very necessary
beginning strategy for professionals is to regard their role as
clinician-investigators, not clinician-therapists.  If they perceive
that their first and foremost task in intervention is to
therapeutically deal with the impact of the experience upon the child,
they are then focusing their behavior on treatment.  Treatment
processes are not consistent with investigative behaviors that demand
objectivity, skepticism, and open-mindedness in gathering data from
all sources involved in the situation.

     If a therapeutic orientation is taken before all of the
conditions and variables surrounding the complaint are known, the
therapeutic alignment with the child and/or complaining parent
distorts perceptions of the situation and begins to reinforce the
reported incident as probably being valid.  The perceived validity of
the complaint then produces an obligation for the professional to
embrace the "victim's" position, creating the undesirable potential
for an over-reaction to the situation.  When this occurs, elements of
fear, anger, and conflict, which are already in existence, are

     This dilemma points out the inherent conflicts that
are produced for the professionals who are called upon to intervene in
these difficult situations.  Professional therapeutic training
dictates being empathic with persons seeking assistance.  In sexual
allegation situations, the professionals are asked to determine the
validity of the allegations, to provide therapy, and to recommend
steps to resolve the dilemma for the family.  The result is that
professionals are asked to do several tasks which are contradictory.
Most "helping" professionals are not highly trained or experienced in
specialized investigative processes.  A further compounding of these
conflicting roles for the professional occurs when the justice
community seeks "expert" opinions regarding the "truthfulness" of a
given sexual allegation.  Increased use of mental health and
behavioral science people by courts and other dictate that the first
major problem for professionals is for them to differentiate between
their roles of investigator vs. therapist.

                  Investigative Questioning Sequence

     Another important beginning strategy in the SAID phenomenon is
the question sequence for the professional.  Of necessity, this
consists of an immediate and complete conversation
with the custodial parent or presenting adult.  Structured
interrogation with this person should initially and specifically focus
on the following:

 1) Dysfunctional family elements such as a family on the verge of
    marital breakup.

 2) Divorce activity that has already been started.

 3) Divorce activity that has been unsuccessfully in progress for some

 4) Unresolved visitation or custody problems.

 5) Unresolved money issues as it relates to the divorce.

 6) The involvement by the parent(s) in ongoing relationships with

   Any evidences of the aforementioned "red flag" dynamics are the
professionals' first clues to the potential of a SAID case.  While
phenomenon, these are prima facie evidences that a case is a SAID
phenomenon, the professional who disregards these first red flags is
potentially in error in his/her conclusions.

     In addition to maintaining an investigative posture and initially
ascertaining whether there are any divorce elements, there are other
specific dynamics that are the most symptomatic and diagnostic of the
SAID phenomenon.  Obviously, the more of these dynamics that one finds
in the entire family situation, the more probable it is that a true
SAID Syndrome exist.


          Family Events Sequence Leading To The Allegation

     The first critical clinical indicator of a SAID case is the point
in time when the allegation is first communicated.  In reports of
sexual allegations, we have learned to initially take a close look at
the allegations and to examine and evaluate how they fit into the
chronology of the marital dissolution.  The prior family dynamics
including who, what, where, when, and how the allegation first
surfaced are indicators which need to be investigated.  We have
learned to carefully examine not only the specifics of what the child
has reported but how this allegation came to be known by the reporting
adult, which child within a family made the allegation and under what
circumstances, and exactly what were the more recent events occurring
within the family relationship pattern when the allegation was

                 Total Context of Allegation:

     The second clinical indicator can occur only when one examines
the whole picture or "gestalt" of the situation; what other legal
actions have occurred at the time, what other legal actions were about
to occur with regard to child support, potential change of custody
maneuverings by the non-custodial parent, or the arrival of a new
relationship bringing the potential of a new adult-parent into the
family constellation. We examine the whole picture and treat the
initial revelations with more of an investigative attention to detail
in terms of sequence of events rather than focusing on one single
dynamic such as the child's articulations. What everyone has to say
becomes part of the overall pattern more than the issue of factual
versus fictionalized statements. One of our concerns is that
therapists or other intervention "specialists" may become excessively
focused on the truthfulness of the child's statements or other
isolated information rather than utilizing the investigative method of
looking beyond the child's articulations to determine the total
context in which the allegation is made.

       Personality Profile of the Presenting Parent -Female

     A third critical clinic al indicator in the SAID syndrome is the
personality pattern of the reporting parent. When the custodial or
primary parent is the maternal figure, our data suggests that this
individual may show a profile consistent with that of the hysterical
personality. In these instances, this hysterical pattern of the female
usually takes on one of the following configurations:

     I) The female emotionally presents herself as a fearful person
who believes she has been a victim of manipulation, coercion, and
physical, social or sexual abuse in the marriage. She has tended to
see herself as a powerless victim of the other parent's past as well
as present behaviors. She also has tended to see the man as being a
source of physical threat, economic punitiveness and retribution, or
an individual who simply has not understood the physical safety and
psychological needs of the children.

     II) Another type of manifestation is the "justified vindicator."
In this instance, a hostile, emotionally expansive, vindictive, and
dominant female has directly appealed to "experts" in both the mental
health and/or legal communities. She frequently becomes insistent that
formal punitive legal measures be taken via prosecution before
reasonable proofs have been demonstrated. One of the accompanying
phenomena with this type of female parent is that she will frequently
have concurrent criminal action pending with her domestic legal

     III) Another personality pattern which requires clinical
consideration is when the reporting adult is possibly psychotic. This
is relatively rare in our experience. However, we have had several
such cases in which the woman initially presented as not being
psychotic. A more detailed inquiry of the allegations concerning how
the incidents took place made it more evident that their functioning
in reality was sufficiently borderline so as to clinically constitute
a psychotic or psychotic-like diagnosis and the allegations had to be

     Regardless of whether the female pattern has been that of the
passive, fearful, apprehensive individual, the "justified vindicator",
or even that of the psychotic, she is emotionally convinced of the
"facts" and will not be dissuaded from her perceptions. The intensity
with which she relates to the world through her emotions significantly
overshadows her use of a rational reasoning or problem solving
approach to the situation. This emotional appeal can become convincing
and very misleading to the inexperienced and/or "well-intended"

           Personality Profile of the Presenting Parent - Male

     Our data thus far reflects that the parent most often reporting
sexual allegations is the female. This may merely reflect the reality
that, in the majority of cases, the female is the primary caretaking

     However, in those instances in which the male becomes the
reporting parent, the following typical pattern has emerged. He is an
individual who usually is intellectually rigid, has a high need to be
"correct," has been hypercritical of the mother throughout the
marriage, and verbalizes in a number of "nit-picking" ways the
suspicion that she has been a non-vigilant and borderline unfit
mother. He typically makes allegations more against the males with
whom she has become involved rather than necessarily making direct
allegations toward her as the actual perpetrator of the sexual abuse.
The male sees her as the person whose passive or silent endorsement of
the perpetrator is her contribution to that situation. He also makes
statements about the frequency with which she leaves the children
unsupervised, in the care of incompetent or inappropriate babysitters,
or generally "at risk" in the home.

               Personality Profile of the Child

     The comprehension and clinical understanding of the
child/children is also a critical element in correctly diagnosing the
SAID Syndrome. In SAID instances, the child/children will typically be
found occupying the key position in the adversarial struggle between
the parents who cannot directly communicate with each other. The
adults then communicate excessively through the child/children. As a
result, the child becomes the "communication conduit" making him/her a
part of adult insights, feelings and information which begin to shape
his/her perceptions. These perceptions evolve into positions of
increased control and opportunities to manipulate the non-
communicative parents. Thus, the child/children attain excessive power
which contributes to their loss of behavioral control. The amount of
direction they give to their parents is disproportionate to their
capacity to fully comprehend or appreciate the inappropriateness of
their position.

     In a number of instances in which we have seen this pattern of
behavior, the child has evolved into a unilateral and arbitrary
dictator (even as early as two or three years of age). We have also
found that younger children tend to align both their rational
or spoken agenda and their emotional allegiance with the dominant
parent and will often "mirror" or "parrot" that parent's descriptions
and feelings about the situation in question. These younger children
appear to do so for several reasons.

     I) They have a limited verbal ability with which to articulate
their own agenda.

     II) Their immaturity causes them to be unable to test and
comprehend the reality of the situation in which they find themselves,
i.e., the politics of adult divorce.

     Also, these children often reflect one or more of the following

     I) They give responses that appear to be highly rehearsed,
"coached" or conditioned.

     II) They spontaneously initiate conversation during interview by
quoting the same phrases accompanied with the same affect as did the
controlling parent who presented the complaint.

     III) They use age-inappropriate verbal descriptions with no
demonstrated practical comprehension of what they are really saying.

     IV) They offer a spontaneous and automatic reporting of the
act(s) perpetrated upon them in the absence of any direct questions
soliciting this specific information.

     V) They offer inconsistencies in various aspects of reported
incidents. These variances may involve specifics (who, what, where,
when); frequency (only once or twice, exaggerated to many times); and
subjective perceptual experiences (very frightened, not scared, hurt,
not hurt, etc.)

     VI) They lack the appearance of a traumatized individual both
emotionally and behaviorally.

     We have also found that as children approach adolescence, they
develop a more vindictive, rather than mimicking, agenda. They tended
to speak in absolutes with exaggerated emotional content. For example,
adolescents, who in a very intense protest, proclaim that they "never,
ever" want to see the other parent because of the perceived wrong that
has been perpetrated in their lives is usually  indicative of
something quite different. We have found that with these kinds of
adolescents, the basic agenda is one of not getting their own way.
Another issue may be that the other5 parent has been imposing limits
on them with which they disagree, and they hope to eliminate that
source of frustration by holding to their vindictive agenda. In those
instances in which we have seen adolescents who have actually been
sexually abused, they tend to be far more emotionally constricted,
embarrassed, tearful, traumatized, or sullen as opposed to being
outrageously vindictive and profoundly public in their criticisms of
the allegedly abusive parent.

        Personality Profile of the Alleged Perpetrator- Male

     Another important aspect of the SAID Syndrome is the diagnostic
profile of the alleged perpetrator. This person demonstrates the
following characteristics:

     I) He is an inadequate personality with marked passive and
dependent features.

     II) He presents a socially naive perception of the adult world.

     III) He initially takes a "caretaker" role toward the female
during courtship and the early stages of marriage.

     IV) He needs to "earn" love by yielding to the wants and demands
of the spouse.

     Because of these dynamics, it is this type of male who typically
finds himself in a relationship with a more dominant female,
regardless of whether her dominance is due to emotional hysteria or
self-centeredness and vindictiveness.

    As a result of these dynamics, the adult-male victim is puzzled
and impotent to explain what has happened to him. He is unable to
effectively or appropriately respond to the allegations by the other
adult, the children, or any other person who has been drawn into the
situation. In a relatively helpless and ineffective manner, this
individual, to the inexperienced investigator, can look "guilty"
merely by virtue of his inadequate response. To a more adequate adult
ego, a false allegation such as one made in the SAID Syndrome would
bring an intense and immediate response. In many of these cases, the
inadequate male does not react this way. This creates a surface level
appearance of guilt due to lack of a direct or assertive response on
the part of the alleged perpetrator.

     Victimization is further enhanced by virtue of the male's
immature psychosexual development. This immaturity often creates
behaviors in the marital relationship which are perceived and reported
by the female as being perverse, inappropriate, or just plain "sick."
In the SAID Syndrome these perceptions by the female will be offered
as "proof" that if her relationship with the man has been disturbed,
then his relationship with the children must now be similar. The
allegations most often made against the male by the maternal parent
include behaviors such as voyeurism, vacillation between his pleading
for and demanding sexual contact, and "inappropriate" sexual behaviors
in the marriage. The inadequate male is also often perceived as the
perpetrator of other inappropriate behaviors with females and
occasionally males. These allegations include innuendos about
involvement with babysitters, neighbors, people at work, etc.

     In summary, the males in our data base of SAID cases do exhibit
characteristics similar to those individuals who do engage in the
actual sexual abuse of children. The literature reflects that an
individual who is inappropriately sexually involved with children is
often consistent with the inadequate personality with the same
features of passivity, dependency and immaturity as is the case with
alleged perpetrators in the SAID situations. Because of these similar
profiles, the clinical discrimination between the SAID case and an
actual incest of sexual abuse situation can be very difficult. Again,
this points up the importance of assessing all component elements of a
given situation rather than merely focusing on one dynamic such as an
individual's personality pattern.

     Although the frequency of incidents where the female is the
alleged perpetrator is minimal, we have begun to see an increase in
this type of allegation as well. As indicated earlier, however, the
complaints against the female usually take on the generalized
qualities of her being an "unfit" mother rather than one who is
involved in some kind of sexual abuse of the children./

        The Professional as Potential Victim of SAID Syndrome

     While the alleged perpetrator is one victim in the SAID Syndrome,
there is another unsuspecting potential victim. This is the
professional who becomes involved in the intervention process. Many
times, after a sexual abuse allegation is made, the presenting parent
immediately takes the child to a therapist or some other intervention
specialist and reports to that person that the child has been sexually
abused. This occurs most frequently via the mother making allegations
against the father. She expresses not knowing exactly what has
occurred but manages to offer information that, because of the serious
social and legal implications, takes on a critical importance to which
the professional must be responsive. All too often, the intervening
professional sees the case on a preliminary basis in a limited and
biased perspective and frequently responds to the presenting parent's
report rather than viewing the situation as part of the family's
marital and divorce conflict.

     In many of our SAID cases we have heard therapists acknowledge in
retrospect that they could not recall obtaining specific information
regarding the conditions surrounding the complaint of the presenting
parent as it related to the divorce situation. It was not until much
later in the intervention process that the professional became aware
of some of the existing familial conflicts. The entire clinical focus
of the situation all too often appears to be established once the
presenting parent raises even the passing suspicion of sexual abuse.
It has been our observation that the therapeutic community accepts
this "presenting process" and creates a clinical focus on assumed
trauma and thus the need for immediate treatment of the child.

     Since most intervention agents and therapists are trained to
believe children and accept what they have to say regarding sexual
abuse, the agents then become potential victims by accepting what the
child has to say at face value. This process of accepting a presenting
complaint as valid and truthful without sophisticated inquiry or
clinical challenge creates the vulnerable expert opinion. Once the
initial distortions are communicated by an expert and reinforced
through further contacts with the child and/or other involved adults,
"facts" are created which then shape the outcome of the situation.
This can occur to such a degree that the presenting parent, the child,
the therapist, social and legal agencies, and any other involved
persons accept this "created reality" that has become the truth. Our
experience in the field investigation and follow-up of SAID cases
reveals that the therapist is reluctant to change his/her perception
once their professional opinion has been formulated. This powerful
influence on the whole situation by the intervention agent is such
that it mandates every effort to arrive at accurate assessments so
that the situation is dealt with effectively. Being "safe rather than
sorry" is not an acceptable rationale for guiding professional
intervention in these situations.

     A further concern is that the clinical focus has been so heavily
predicated upon the belief that "children do not lie" so as to make
any other considerations secondary. The ignoring of other information
is often justified in the name of "saving" the child from permanent
traumatic damage. How ironic it is that the intervention agent or
therapist who misdiagnoses a SAID case literally creates a scenario
from which the family may never recover. This damage, once done, will,
in our opinion, perpetuate itself throughout the rest of the history
of the family. It may only partially be undone through skillful
intervention of a qualified family therapist who, under the most
difficult of circumstances, may bring the family members together and
help them understand the dynamics of how the SAID phenomenon occurred.


     There are certain concepts, policies and procedures that we
believe will be most helpful in assisting intervention specialists
working with sexual abuse allegations. These recommendations are
basically intended to help the professional discriminate between the
cases in which sexual abuse has occurred and those in which divorce
and family dysfunction have created the probability of false sexual
allegations. This differential diagnostic procedure is best
facilitated if the intervention professional considers the following:

              Be Aware of the MOST TYPICAL SAID Pattern

     It has been our experience that there is a most typical pattern
that exists in the SAID Syndrome. This includes one or more of the
following dynamics:

     I) The allegation almost always surfaces only after separation
and legal action between the parents has begun.

     II) There is a history of family dysfunction with resultant
unresolved divorce conflict. This usually involves "hidden" underlying
issues both spoken and unspoken.

     III) The personality pattern of the female parent often tends to
be that of a hysterical personality.

     IV) The personality pattern of the male parent tends to be that
of the passive-dependent personality

     V) The child is typically a female under the age of eight who
controls the situation. Additionally, this child may show behavioral
patterns of verbal exaggerations, excessive willingness to indict,
inappropriate affective responses, and inconsistencies in relating the

     VI) The allegation is first communicated via the custodial
parent, usually the mother.

     VII) The mother usually takes the child to an "expert" for
further examination, assessment, or treatment.

     VIII) The expert then often communicates to a court or other
appropriate authorities a concern and/or "confirmation"of apparent
sexual abuse, usually identifying the father as the alleged

     IX) This typically causes the court to react to the "expert's"
information by acting in a predictably responsible manner, e.g.,
suspending or terminating visitation, foreclosing on custodial
arguments, or in some other way limiting the child-parent interaction.

                  The Role of the Professional

     Professionals are essentially trained to accept at face value
allegations or statements made by children. Trainers and specialists
who educate the professionals working with children have established
this principle. Thus, the historical precedent which shapes
perceptions has continued as clinical "truths." To be effective in the
SAID situation, the following guidelines should be kept in mind by the

     I) Remain neutral. Maintaining an open and objective clinical
perception of the situation is the most important first step in
guiding one's own behavior in investigating this dilemma.

     II) Be aware of one's own set of biases. Pre-existing personal
and/or professional biases, e.g., "children don't lie; it is better to
be safe than sorry;" and other over-generalized principles are likely
to elicit from the professional a behavioral response that may be more
damaging than helpful.

     III) Guard against presumption of guilt. Simply because an
allegation is made does not mean that it is automatically true
(especially in divorce situations). Objective listening, unbiased
inquiry, insightful interviewing, and specialized interrogation do not
necessarily exclude the always appropriate professional protocol of
sensitivity to the situation and a general empathic appreciation for
all parties involved.

     IV) Be aware of the ramifications of the input made to the court.
Often times professionals are not aware of the impact that a
communication may have on the situation. The effects may include
unnecessary foreclosure of family relationships, exacerbation of
anxiety and guilt for the child, outrage and despair by the accused
perpetrator, false arrest, errant prosecution, and unjustified
punitiveness. It appears certain that at some point in the future,
professionals are going to have to be held accountable for the
allegations that they make, particularly in a public setting.

     V) The professional should recognize how their alignment with the
reporting parent's agenda reinforces the false validity in a SAID
case. Frequently,m the presenting parent will use the "expert's"
responses to the situation to reinforce his or her perceptions and
feelings of validation and justification.

               The Importance of an Investigative
                    Versus Therapeutic Format

     Common sense and critical necessity mandate that one must take
the role of skillful investigator before evolving any other
intervention behaviors in the SAID case. This is because child sexual
abuse allegations in the divorce situation are initially more a
problem of investigation than of treatment. Immediate and absolute
protection of the child/children is not always the most desirable nor
effective crisis intervention strategy. Traumatic disruption may
create irreparable and permanent breaches among family members. The
most critical and obvious investigation process involves interviewing
and interrogating the reporting parent with regard to the current
status of the family as it pertains to the divorce process; past,
present, or future. In addition, specific questions pertaining to the
alleged sexual abuse itself need to be asked: WHAT exactly happened,
WHEN, WHERE, WHY and HOW. The allegation needs to be scrutinized with
intensity and the details carefully discussed with all involved
parties. Professionals are traditionally apprehensive about proceeding
in this manner lest the child be "traumatized." However, the long
range ramifications of these allegations, if misdiagnosed, can be more
"traumatic" than the stresses of these initial appropriate inquiries.
Without these initial inquiries prior to evaluating, assessing or
working with the "victim," the intervention specialist is acting
unprofessionally, unethically and naively.

            The Collection of Data from Multiple Sources

     After ascertaining where the family is in terms of the divorce
process, it is imperative to also gather data from multiple sources
before forming opinions, making recommendations, or developing
treatment plans. These sources can and should include:

     The presenting adult

     The alleged perpetrator

     The child or children

     Relatives and other family members who may have played a role
     in the process of the transitioning family.

     Any other appropriate social agent who may have  had contact
     with the family, e.g., Friend of the Court investigators, school
     personnel, medical or mental health professionals, etc.

     Law enforcement personnel


     Although many mental health professionals and other intervention
agents may be reluctant to pursue this strategy, feeling it to be
inappropriate  or that it may create more chaos and difficulty for the
victim(s), obtaining maximal data is an absolute necessity. The
emotional "loadedness" of sexual abuse issues does not justify an
impulsive, inaccurate, incomplete, or misguided response on the part
of the professional, especially the professional who has the CRUCIAL
first contact.

     It is apparent that the courts have become increasingly reliant
upon the behavioral and social science community for recommendations
in the decision making process of protecting the "best interests" of
children. Therefore, we professionals are obligated to develop a more
effective data gathering methodology ion order to increase our
capacity to assist them in reaching these decisions.

                    The Necessity of Networking

     Another recommendation is for the utilization of interagency and
interprofessional networks. Only through communication with other
professionals who work with sexual allegations, but from different
perspectives, can we really begin to understand the dynamics of
different case patterns. We have occasionally insisted that
professionals from medical, mental health, law enforcement and legal
communities meet in conference to share and discuss information in
some of our SAID cases. As a result, we are convinced that this is the
best way to profit from each other's expertise.

               The Necessity of Sharing Information

     Our final recommendation is for fellow professionals to record,
accumulate, and disseminate information concerning SAID cases. Without
continued sharing of data we are professionally vulnerable. The SAID
Syndrome is not a phenomenon in which empirical evidence and
"scientific" research can be directly conducted. Therefore, it is
imperative that we share clinical dialogue to further educate
ourselves to the SAID phenomenon as it occurs within the everyday
settings of our various agencies and practices. Our professional
obligation obviously extends into society as a whole.

     Our concern is that evidence suggests an emerging national
hysteria regarding the problem of sexual abuse of children. We believe
the professionals do not want history to reflect that we contributed
to the further distortion of this problem. We must instead
individually and collectively make contributions that directly and
realistically develop effective problem solving processes for families
involved in this dilemma.



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South Deerfield MA: Channing L. Beta Co., Inc.
The above article supplied by National Congress for Men
via NCM BBS (602) 840 4752   9600/N/8/1
Edited from previous partial text from HADD, Seattle WA
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