(Fear of sexual abuse)
“So, Melissa, who’s Daddy’s favorite little girl?”
“I am, Daddy!”
“And did Daddy’s favorite girl have a good time this weekend?”
“Yes, Daddy, yes!”
“So, have you thought about what you want to do next weekend?”
“I want to go to the zoo!”
“Alright, we’ll go to the zoo. Now, go get your things together. It’s time to take you back to your mom.”
“Oh, Daddy, do I have to?”
“Yes, sweetie, I’m afraid that you do, but don’t worry, next weekend will be here faster than you can say ‘baby rabbits’.”
Melissa Gibson went to her room, put her clothes and toys in her suitcase, and carried it down the stairs. She held her father’s hand as they left the house to get into the car for the short trip back to her mother’s house. Melissa hated the fact that her parents didn’t live together anymore. She was six years old and didn’t understand why her and her parents’ lives had to change like this. She did love both her parents, but she had more fun with her father. All her mother ever did was give her rules to follow, but she followed them because she was afraid that if she didn’t, then her mother would divorce her also. So when she returned home, she always made sure that she ran up to greet her mother so that she wouldn’t think that she was favoring one parent over the other. Melissa just hoped that her mother’s boyfriend wasn’t around.
Jean Gibson, nee Harkins, loved her daughter but she hated her ex-husband. He was her first high school love and when she found out that, after ten years of marriage, he was having an affair with a nurse, she blew up. When her husband got home from a “business trip”, all hell broke loose! Before he had gotten home, she had taken his favorite possessions outside, put them in a trash can, and set them on fire. When that had been accomplished, she went upstairs to their bedroom, tore his clothes out of the closet and dresser drawers, stuffed them into a suitcase and set it by the front door. She then poured herself a glass of wine, put as many breakable objects as she could find on a coffee table and sat down on the sofa and waited for him.
Terry Gibson, on that fateful day, had dropped off his girlfriend at her apartment, called his wife to let her know that he would be home in about an hour, and drove to what he thought of as his perfect life. When he opened the front door, Jean was very quick to disabuse him of this notion. Once he was aware of what was going on, he raised his briefcase in front of his face and ran at his wife so that he could stop her. When he had her pinned down on the sofa, quickly turning his head to make sure that she was out of ammunition, he tried to calm her down enough so that she could explain what had upset her so much (he knew already, but he knew, also, that if he could calm his wife down, she would be more receptive to listen to what he had to say.). It took awhile and Jean finally calmed down but she sat on the sofa with a stony face while Terry “explained everything”. When he finished, Jean looked at him and said, “I want you out of here and I want a divorce”. Terry stared at her for a second, took his hands off of her, picked up the suitcases that she had packed for him and left. He didn’t even get angry about his personal possessions that she had burned. However, after the divorce, the nurse was no longer important in his life; Melissa became his main focus.
Jean hated sharing custody with her former husband. She felt that by having all of that fun at her father’s, Melissa was having more fun than being with her mother. Jean worked during the week and after picking up Melissa from school, she had to make sure that she did her homework and the few chores that she asked her daughter to do. Melissa never really complained and so Jean felt grateful for that much at least. The only thing that bothered her was that Melissa refused to warm up to her boyfriend, Jerry. Jerry was five years younger than Jean and tried to get along with Melissa. He seemed to be patient with her and never made any derogatory remarks about the girl’s father. Jean more than made up for Jerry’s lack of complaining by degrading her ex-husband every chance she got; she, however, never did it when Melissa was around.
One night as she was watching television in bed and Jerry was in the shower, a show came on discussing the problems that children of divorced parents had in coping with every day situations such as interaction with school mates, making new friends, or acting out their frustrations through destructive acts. Jean did not feel that Melissa had any of these problems, but the doctor who was discussing this said that it was important for each of the parents to talk to the child, or children, or they could develop serious psychological problems as they got older. Jean remembered when her parents had gotten a divorce when she was eight years old. The constant bickering, mostly brought on by alcohol, caused her to be a shy child. If it hadn’t been for Terry’s persistence and charm, she might have been an old maid. The only thing about her parents’ dysfunctional relationship that remained with her was a distaste for alcohol and sex. It had taken everything that Terry had within to finally persuade her to become a mother. She eventually decided to give in for fear of losing her husband but, after her daughter’s birth, she tried to avoid sex as much as possible. The couple of times that she did give in to him, she prayed that he would get it over with as quickly as possible. Thinking over all of these things gave Jean an idea about how to get even with Terry. It would be another week before she could implement her plan, which was fortunate because it gave her time to get everything in order.
Terry usually picked Melissa up at her mother’s place at 4:00 PM on Fridays. He had honked the car horn when he got there and Melissa would usually come running out of the house carrying her backpack. This particular Friday, when he honked his horn, Melissa came out of the house walking slowly and not looking at her father as she went to the car. Terry was worried, so when she got in the car, he asked,
“What’s the matter? Problems at school?”
“No, Daddy. It’s nothing.”
“Are you sure everything is alright? Are you sick? Come on, tell Daddy what’s wrong.”
“No, I’m not sick Daddy.” Seeing his daughter in this frame of mind worried him, but he decided that he would wait until they got home before he would call his ex to see if she would enlighten him.
“So where would you like to go for dinner tonight? McDonald’s? Burger King? How about pizza? We could go to Chucky Cheese if you want.”
“It doesn’t matter, Daddy.” And having said that, she looked out the car window and grew quiet.
Now he really was worried, because Melissa always picked the restaurant that they went to for dinner. Since it was close, he pulled into the drive-thru for Burger King and placed their usual order. When he paid for the food, he handed the bags to Melissa and drove home in silence. When they got home, he put the food on plates, put the straws into their drinks and ate. Melissa picked at her french fries and barely touched her cheeseburger. Terry decided that he was over his head, so he went to his den and called Jean.
“Hello, this is Jean Harkins.”
“Jean, this is Terry. What happened to Melissa? She’s not her usual bubbly self and she’s hardly eating anything.”
“I really don’t know what’s wrong. She seemed fine to me when she left.”
“Did you say something to upset her? Has your boyfriend being messing with her? If he has, I will have his ass thrown in jail so fast, your head will spin.”
“Of course Jerry hasn’t been messing with her, as you put it. How dare you insinuate that I would put my daughter in danger! You really have some nerve!”
“Alright, alright. I’m just worried about her and I can’t think of anything else that would make her act this way.”
“Well, maybe if you didn’t coddle her so much! I…”
“Coddle her? What are you talking about? That doesn’t even make sense!”
“Well, whatever. Just don’t be so quick to assume that I had something to do with how Melissa behaves. Good-bye!”
As usual, trying to talk to Jean always ended up in an argument and getting any useful information out of her was a waste of time. He hung up the phone and went back to the kitchen, but found that Melissa was not at the table and that she had left most of her food uneaten. He proceeded to put the dishes in the sink and wash them. He had just finished drying his hands on the dish cloth when his doorbell rang. “Now what.” he thought to himself as he went to the door. When he opened it, he saw a woman in her 40s with a clipboard and two female police officers.
“Are you Mr. Terry Gibson?”
“Yes, I am. What is this all about?”
“I am Joanna Linebarger from Social Services. We have received information that you are sexually abusing your daughter, Melissa.”
“WHAT??? Who’s accusing me? Is it my ex-wife?”
“I’m sorry sir, but that information is confidential. Now, if I may speak to your daughter?”
“NO! You may not! This is insane; I would never do something so disgusting to Melissa.”
One of the policewomen stepped forward and said,
“Sir, if you do not allow Ms. Linebarger to interview your daughter, we will arrest you and she will be sent to a foster home. I’m sure that you don’t want that to happen, do you?”
When he heard this, Terry let them in and directed Ms. Linebarger to Melissa’s room. The woman went up the stairs, knocked on the door, and entered. Fifteen minutes passed before the woman returned down the stairs, holding Melissa’s hand. Melissa was carrying her backpack and would not look at her father. The two officers walked up to Terry Gibson, read him his rights, handcuffed him and put him in the back seat of the police car. Melissa never looked up or showed any emotion. Terry Gibson did not see Melissa again until the hearing.
“Ms. Harkins, we rescued your daughter and your former husband has been arrested. You will be notified about the date and time of his hearing. For your daughter’s sake, please show up for the hearing; your testimony will be very important.”
“Thank you, Ms. Linebarger. We’ll be there.”
Melissa walked into the house and went to her room without saying a word to her mother. Closing the door after the Social worker left, Jean Harkins broke out into a wide grin and gave a little chuckle. She went back into the living room, sat on the sofa, and watched TV as though nothing had even happened.
Terry Gibson sat in his cell, wondering what was going on. He had been told, when he was brought in, that he had been arrested for child endangerment and molestation. Even when he knew what he was being charged with, he refused to believe it. He was almost sure that the charges had been trumped up by his wife, but he couldn’t understand why she would do such a thing. They had been divorced for two years now, and if this was her way of getting back at him, he felt sorry for her. He also worried about how all of this was affecting Melissa. He would NEVER do anything like that to his daughter and he was afraid that if this was some sick revenge that Jean had cooked up, how would he ever regain the trust of his daughter.
Two hours after he had been arrested, his attorney arrived. Terry Gibson heaved a sigh of relieve when he saw Sam Anderson sitting in the interrogation room.
“Terry, what the hell is going on? I can’t believe that you would do such a thing.”
“Sam, I am totally innocent of these charges. This is some sort of sick revenge of Jean’s and I don’t understand why she is doing it. I haven’t done anything to make her angry. I’m always on time with the child support, so why is she doing this to me?”
“Why do you think that Jean is out to get you? If you have done everything according to the divorce decree, what would Jean have to gain by falsely accusing you?”
“You’d have to ask her; I have no idea.”
“Has there been anything different about Melissa’s behavior?”
“When I picked her up this afternoon, she was quiet and unresponsive to any of my questions. I thought that something had happened to her at school and that she was ashamed. Last weekend, we were happy and everything was normal, that’s why I think that Jean, or her boyfriend, are somehow responsible for the way that Melissa was behaving.”
“Alright. You’ll go before the judge tomorrow for your preliminary hearing. I don’t know if I’ll be able to get you out on bail, but I’ll try. These are very serious accusations. I’ll check up on Jean’s boyfriend, since some women refuse to believe that their men can do any wrong, she may be blaming you for something that he did.”
“Well, I’ll tell you, if he put a finger on Melissa, I’ll be right back in jail for murder.”
“I’ll pretend that I didn’t hear that. I’ll make sure that they don’t allow you to be put in with the general population, since, as you may know, they don’t take kindly to child molesters.”
“Thanks, Sam. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“All rise!, the honorable Judge Meredith Czurka, presiding.” The 5’6” brunette, 40ish woman walks into the court wearing her black robe and a look that could melt a glacier. Terry is not feeling good about this, considering that the judge is a woman who looks like she has already decided the outcome of this hearing. Sam Anderson leans over to his client to reassure him that this judge is fair-minded but intolerant of any attorney’s tactics that do not come straight to the point. Terry then looks over at Jean’s side of the courtroom and sees that his former wife is sitting at the table stiff as a board and showing no emotion whatsoever. “Thank God,” he thinks, “she didn’t bring Melissa to the hearing.” He knew that if his daughter was sitting in the courtroom, he would have a difficult time hiding his emotions.
“Mr. Orson, will you please begin.”
“Thank you, your honor. I would like to call Mr. Gibson to the stand.”
Although Sam had prepared him for the possibility that he would be called to the stand, upon hearing his name, Terry sat frozen in his chair for a moment but finally managed to stand up and walk over to the witness seat.
“Mr. Gibson, how would you describe your relationship with your daughter Melissa?”
“We get along very well; she is always happy to be with me.”
“And while your daughter spent the weekends with you, did you ever make any disparaging remarks about her mother or her boyfriend?”
“No, I did not.”
“While your daughter spent the weekends with you, did you ever introduce her to any of your female friends?”
“No, I did not.”
“So, Mr. Gibson, you are saying that while your daughter was with you, you were both alone at your place of residence?”
“I object, your Honor!” Sam Anderson stood and exclaimed. The judge looked at the lawyer and said, “I suggest that you either rephrase the question or have it withdrawn, counselor.”
“I will withdraw the question, your Honor.”
“Very well, continue.”
“Mr. Gibson, when bedtime arrived did you bathe your daughter or did you allow her to bathe herself.”
“I let her bathe herself, but I stood at the bathroom door if she needed any help.”
“May I ask, sir, what sort of help she would require?”
“She would sometimes forget to wash behind her ears, and I would help her get out of the tub and towel her off.”
“Did you ever take a long longer time than necessary to dry your daughter off?”
“Your Honor, I must strongly object to where Mr. Orson is leading this line of questioning.”
“Sustained. Mr. Orson, do you have any more questions?”
“No, Your Honor.”
“Mr. Gibson, you may return to your seat.”
Once he returned to his seat, Terry Gibson turned to his lawyer and asked him what he planned to do against this plot to paint him as a child molester. Sam asked him if there was anything that he could use against Jean. He couldn’t think of anything at that time because whenever he picked his daughter up from her mother’s home, she was always happy to see him and never said a word against her mother or her boyfriend.
“Well, since you aren’t allowed at this time to speak to your daughter, I’ll ask the judge for permission to speak to her myself. Your wife’s lawyer may ask to be present if the judge approves, but I don’t think it will be rejected.”
“Then do it, Sam. I want to see my daughter again, and I know that Jean is somehow responsible for all of this.”
When the request for Sam Anderson to spend some time with Melissa in order to obtain her side of the story, the judge agreed. Jean’s attorney immediately requested that he be present for the questioning and the judge also agreed to this. Both attorneys would meet with Melissa the next day; in the meantime, Terry would have to spend another night in his cell.
Melissa Gibson, when her mother told her that tomorrow she would be speaking to her father’s lawyer, was unsure how to feel. She still loved her father, but after what her mother had said to her, her joy was diminished. She knew that her father loved her, but she was confused about what that implied. Could her mother really think that her father would…molest, yes, that was the word, molest her? She didn’t even know for sure what her mother had been talking about, but she had been so insistent about it that Melissa spent a lot of time thinking about the times that she had spent with her father. She ate her dinner in silence that night and woke up once in the night sweating from a bad dream.
The next morning, Sam Anderson sat waiting in the room that the judge had set up for the interview with Melissa Gibson. After the hearing had been over for the day, he immediately went to his office and phoned a friend of his who was a child psychologist. The friend had several theories about what dynamics where involved in the case. Anderson was interested in one thing that his friend mentioned, agraphobia. Anderson had never heard the word before, but after his friend explained it to him, a light bulb went on over his head. He thanked his friend for the information and asked him if he would be free for the next couple days in case he needed him as a witness. His friend agreed, and Sam Anderson went to speak to Terry Gibson. When Melissa Gibson and her mother’s attorney walked into the room, he knew what line of questioning he would be going with and he wished that he had requested a stenographer to also be in the room. Sam managed to gain Melissa’s trust quickly, which was a relief, and, after asking her a few questions without the other lawyer objecting, he knew that he would get his client back with his daughter.
“Mr. Anderson, are you ready to proceed?”
“Yes, your honor. As an expert witness, I would like to call on Dr. Henry Lafontaine.”
The bailiff swore in the doctor and Sam Anderson proceeded to ask him some questions.
“Doctor Lafontaine, would you please tell the court your qualifications?”
“I have a degree in Child Psychology from Yale University and have had a practice in said profession for the last twenty-five years.”
“Is this the first time that you have been called as a witness in this type of procedure?”
“No, it isn’t. I have been called as a witness in around thirty such cases.”
“And based on the notes that I recorded for you in conjunction with this case, what conclusions have you been able to come up with?”
“Well, just based on what the child told you, I can tell you that she has been coached or brainwashed by someone, more likely by her mother.”
Jean’s attorney stood up and objected but the judge allowed the question and answer.
“Is there any reason that she would believe her mother?”
“Yes, the child is attached to her father and sees her mother as being too strict with her. Melissa stated that she was always in a good mood when she was with her father, but when she returned home to her mother, she had to go do her chores. Her mother always seemed to be mad about something, but it is true that she never bad-mouthed her father until the last weekend.”
“And did you come to any conclusion about why Ms. Harkins would suddenly change her attitude about her ex-husband?”
“At first, I had an idea which was confirmed when I was given some further facts concerning Ms. Harkins.”
“Objection, Your Honor!”
“Denied! Continue, Doctor Lafontaine.”
“And would you please tell the court what these facts were and from whom you obtained them?”
“Yes. You, yourself, gave me the information on a taped interview that you had with Mr. Gibson concerning his former marriage with Ms. Harkins. Based on the information from the interview and what Melissa Gibson said, I’m prepared to state that Ms. Harkins is a victim of agraphobia, which is a fear of sexual contact. While married to the accused, Ms. Harkins found various reasons for not engaging in sexual contact after the birth of her daughter. When her former husband had been caught having an affair, she displayed normal anger responses, but it was a fairly long time before she formed a relationship with another man. She had probably been molested as a child herself, so when Melissa returned from her father’s care in such a good mood, it must have been a blow to her ego that her only child, and a female at that, received the love from her father that she believes should have been hers. In her mind, all men are molesters and, having been hurt by Mr. Gibson, she decided that she would get revenge by convincing her daughter that her father had molested her. By doing this, the father would be out of the scene and she would receive the love from her daughter that she believed was due to her.”
“No further questions, Your Honor. Thank you Doctor.”
Terry Gibson was given his freedom and his daughter that very day. Jean Harkins was denied all custody and put in jail for child endangerment and while there, ordered to seek psychological treatment for her problem. Jerry left the same day that she was put in jail.