The following is a horrific story of what can happen when the parents of a child unable to communicate are charged with abuse. For parents of disabled children it's not that uncommon. I should know. I have a disabled child and it's happened to me three times.
The father, Julian Wendrow, was arrested and jailed for 80 days, 70 of which in solitary confinement. His wife was arrested, fitted with an electronic tracking device and placed on house arrest and, as a result, lost her job as a research attorney. Their disabled daughter was put in foster care and their autistic son was put in a group home.
All of this happened because of a false charge the father had raped his disabled daughter. Now, if you're like most people, you're skeptical of the charge really being false but, in this case, it was crystal clear. The rape charge came about after a school facilitator with only two hours training helped the non-verbal daughter to communicate by guiding her hands over a device like a Ouija board and came up with the message,"My dad gets me up, banges (sic) me and then we have breakfast. He puts his hands on my private parts." There were other messages about rape, living in a home full of weapons and pornography, and that this had been going on for years while the mother let it happen.
The daughter was subjected to a rape exam but no evidence was found and no weapons or pornography were found in the house. The daughter, although 14, has the cognitive level of a baby, doesn't know her own name, and doesn't have the ability to construct the statements attributed to her. A test by a judge confirmed this. With the facilitator out of the courtroom the judge asked the daughter the color of her sweater. The facilitator was brought back into the courtroom and, without knowing the question, asked to facilitate the girl's answer. The facilitator could only come up with,"JIBHJIH". Asked if she had a brother or sister, the response was,"3FE65".
Ultimately, the family won a $1.8 million judgement against the police department and lawsuits are pending against the prosecutors and school district.
What I find so disturbing about this incident is how so many people could charge blindly forward to destroy this family without examining if their only evidence, a highly controversial technique, was flawed. It's also disturbing to me because it's personal. I've had three similar incidents in which I could have ended up in the same situation.
I also have a severely disabled daughter who is unable to communicate as well as two other special needs daughters. On one such incident approximately a dozen armed police officers and agents from Child Protective Services showed up at my home. Their intention was clear. They were there to take the girls under suspicion I was abusing and molesting them. The police immediately removed my teenage daughter from the house and began going door to door questioning my neighbors about me. They interrogated my teenage daughter and her mother in the street trying to get them to make incriminating statements against me.
In the end, my ordeal ended when the worst the police could come up with was a statement from my teenage stepdaughter, "He's the perfect dad." But what if she was mad at me, as teenagers frequently are towards their parents, or what if someone thought they saw or heard something?
In fact, in another incident someone did say they saw something. An employee at a fast food restaurant called 911 and said she had witnessed me slamming my 3-year-old daughter's face forcefully into a table top. You can imagine how police responded to that. Of course, it never happened. What the employee "witnessed" was hearing the blood curdling screams of a special needs child in a full blown meltdown and assumed the rest. Fortunately, the restaurant had video surveillance.
It's tough being the parent of a severely disabled child but to be constantly scrutinized by people who assume every disabled child is being abused only adds to the difficulty. In my case, as a male primary caregiver for female special needs children, I face even more suspicion and the more these incidents happen to me the more some assume he just hasn't been caught yet. Even so, I wouldn't change it. As uncomfortable as it is to be constantly in suspicion, the safety of my daughters is paramount and there are those among us who target children who have difficulty reporting their crimes. Many more are opportunistic and disabled children are an easy temptation. Mothers starve their disabled children to death while social workers look the other way. Please, check out the evidence on my web site, http://www.fatherof11.com/abuse.html
In the end, I'm deeply saddened by the ordeal of the Wendrow family but I'm grateful for a system that, for the most part, is doing what it can to protect our most vulnerable citizens, severely disabled children. After all, it's the system I have to rely on to keep my disabled child safe when I'm no longer around to care for her. What needs to be changed is not the tenacity of authorities who seek to protect our children but the tendency to put blinders on once they're on the scent.