PROSECUTED BUT NOT SILENCED
By Maralee Mclean
In Prosecuted but not Silenced, Maralee McLean exposes the dirty secret that most of the public is blissfully unaware of. The secret is that our custody court system routinely fails to protect children from dangerous abusers and especially sexual predators. Although mothers make deliberate false allegations of abuse less than 2% of the time, 85% of child sexual abuse allegations result in custody to the alleged abuser which means the courts are sentencing many children to a childhood living with their rapists.
Denying the courts could be hurting so many children is the natural reaction of court officials, the media and the public. Prosecuted but not Silenced provides an important service by drawing attention to this incredibly cruel scandal. The author’s story helps bring attention to the need to reform custody courts and illustrates how such tragedies are permitted to continue. Some people may have trouble believing the events described in the book are true, but we have seen the unbelievable play out in the broken custody court system all too frequently.
There is a fundamental dilemma in telling the story of the failed custody court system. Describing the details of a very personal story has tremendous personal interest and it is human nature to want to protect the child victims. At the same time the reader might wonder if the descriptions could really be accurate or if the case is a rare exception. There is an enormous tendency to want to blame the mothers who are victims of their abusers and then the courts. Alternatively, the author can focus on the research and show the patterns of unqualified and biased professionals and harmful outcomes in which children are not protected. This eliminates the idea that the case was an exception or was caused because there was something wrong about the mother. The problem is that statistics tend to be dry and don’t hold the readers’ interest. Maralee McLean made the good choice of including both the personal story and placing it in the context of scientific research. The most useful parts of the book are when she puts this tragic story in context and I wish she would have done even more to put her story in the pattern of tragic cases.
A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich is a powerful story of a prisoner in a Soviet forced labor camp during the height of Communist Control. Alexander Solzhenitsyn describes an incredibly painful and horrendous situation and yet keeps reminding the reader that he is describing one of the better days. We don’t want to imagine what a bad day would be like. In the same way, Maralee McLean had a lot of advantages that most protective mothers would envy. By far the outcome in her case is not among the worst. And yet she and her daughter experienced horrific abuse at the hands of the father and the court professionals. Even exposure on the CNN documentary which so many protective mothers unsuccessfully seek did not force the court to correct its errors.
For significant stretches of time, the author experienced a classic harmful outcome case. These are decisions in which an alleged abuser wins custody and a safe, protective mother who is the primary attachment figure is limited to supervised or no visitation. A recent research study for the US Justice Department demonstrates that these extreme outcomes are always wrong. The harm of separating a child from her primary attachment figure, a harm that includes increased risk of depression, low self-esteem and suicide when older is greater than any benefit the court believes it is providing. In most cases the extreme outcome is indicative of the use of very flawed practices so that the opposite outcome would probably have benefited the child.
Warning, many parts of this book are painful to read. Anyone who might be triggered because of traumatic experiences in their life should consider whether it is safe to read it. But I hope the public will become familiar with this story and it will move them to demand the needed reforms. Clearly the pain in reading the story is a tiny fraction of the pain experienced by the children the courts fail to protect.
“Prosecuted but Not Silenced” is a riveting account of a mother’s courageous efforts to protect her child from incest, while battling a dysfunctional, and hostile family court system. Her experience contains key elements of all the worst cases I have ever dealt with or written about, but even for someone who is familiar with how these cases play out, this book still has the power to shock, and to remind the reader that we have a long way to go to fix the problem. Maralee is a skilled writer — able to convey complex, painful information in a clear manner, focusing on what is relevant and at the same time making it emotionally compelling. She has conveyed and captured not only the deficits in our system of child protection — but more subtly — the portrait of an abuser and his seduction of key players in the system to his advantage — a pattern that we find repeatedly in cases involving failure to protect a child from incest.
Above all, what stands out is her strength — to have come through this experience and survived — and to have brilliantly strategized maintaining a relationship with her daughter through all of this horror. It is a must read for protective mothers and their advocates, as well as policy-makers who want to bring about meaningful change.
Leora N. Rosen, Ph.D.
Author of “The Hostage Child: Sex Abuse Allegations in Custody Disputes”
“Beyond the Hostage Child: Towards Empowering Protective Parents.”
Prosecuted But Not Silenced: Courtroom Reform for Sexually Abused Children, written by Maralee McLean, calls our hearts and minds to sharp attention. We simply cannot look away from this reality, from this clear cut example of what can take place in and within all too common poorly informed, flawed, biased, and at times even dishonest judicial and legal processes. Far too frequently these processes and their professional participants actually enable the perpetration, and virtual protection of the perpetration, of child sexual abuse. Too often, we find complete misunderstandings, and at times even purposeful blurrings and distortions, of parental rights, parental protections, child abuse, intimate partner abuse, accompanied by wobbly definitional shells such as the odd, risky and most frequently fallaciously applied “parental alienation syndrome” concept that has emerged.
Here, in this daring, disturbing, and in places immensely wrenching, book by Maralee McLean, we are taken on the abuse and litigation of abuse journey of author Ms. McLean and her daughter. And what a bloody path we tread here, a path fraught with double binds, trick twists, traps, and impossible choices. How does an abused woman who is a mother choose between the risk of losing custody on the one hand, and the risk of further sexual abuse of her child if she stays with the parent abusing her child. How does this woman make her way through the tangled web of sloppy, inadequate, nonsensical, uninformed, poorly administered, and cruelly denied justice?
As Ms. McLean writes, “A mother’s first instinct is to protect her child, and when the means and the
power to do this are stripped unjustly from a mother, there are no words to describe the constant heartache that is felt as each day passes by.” McLean tells us “my heart was ripped out every time my precious little girl told me and others what most people would describe as unimaginable.” The abuse this child experienced is indeed difficult to want to know about, and yet we must pay attention to the reality that some children do indeed endure such abuse. We also must pay attention to the terribly inadequate response to this abuse displayed by some courts, evaluators, clinicians, law enforcement officials, and other professionals.
For the most part, society’s eyes are closed, shut, to the reality that too many courts do not protect the innocent from injury or further injury. Rather, the courts too frequently risk, and sometimes even exacerbate further, injury of the innocent. We cannot tell ourselves this sort of thing is not taking place. We cannot say that our system of justice protects us from the tragic failures of justice these misunderstandings, blurrings and distortions promote. We are talking about human lives here.
Dr. Angela Browne-‐Miller
www.DrAngela.com • DrAngela@DrAngela.com
Editor, Violence and Abuse in Society: Understanding a Global Crisis
Author, For Knowing No Hurt No Harm: Hidden, Subtle and Obvious Aspects of Intimate and Other Partner Abuse, Violence and Terror
Author, Still Chattel After All These Years
Author, To Have and To Hurt
Author, Will You Still Need Me
Author, Raising Thinking Children and Teens Author, Transcending Addiction (Second Edition) Lecturer, Alliant International University, San Francisco Executive Director, Continuity of Life, Inc.