NEWS- Sex abuse: Another dad sues Social Services


Two civil suits filed in federal court allege fathers were unfairly targeted by Albemarle County Social Services over molestation charges.

According to many sexual abuse experts, mothers of young children almost never lodge false accusations of sexual abuse against the father of their children. 

"Almost never" are the operative words, according to two Virginia fathers who allege that four Albemarle County Social Services social workers and a Newport News therapist joined with the mothers of their daughters in relentless and baseless persecution of them even after courtroom evidence emerged to prove their innocence. 

The first father, a Nelson County man using the pseudonym John T. Nelson in court documents to protect his daughter's identity, filed a $4 million suit in December 2006, as detailed in a June 14, 2007 Hook news story ["Social dis-services? Dad sues for $4 mil over alleged molestation."] 

The second suit, filed in August 2007 and which the Hook recently discovered, names the same five defendants and outlines similar allegations. That father, a Spotsylvania County man known as John Proctor in court documents, asks for $7 million to compensate him and his six-year-old daughter for the anguish of enduring "the most unspeakable and disgusting false allegations" and "wholly improper government intrusion."

Proctor's attorney, Fredericksburg-based Leila Kilgore, says she and her client learned about Nelson's case after reading the Hook's article as they prepared to file their case in federal court.

"We were stunned," says Kilgore. "There was some relief for my client that he wasn't alone. It bolstered his feeling that he had to do something."

Of note, says Kilgore, are the parallels between the cases. Both Proctor and Nelson were engaged in protracted custody battles over their preschool-aged daughters when the girls' mothers accused the men of sexual abuse, and an investigation by Albemarle County Social Services began. (While Nelson's child resides in Albemarle County, Proctor's case was assigned to Albemarle County Social Services– illegally, Proctor's suit alleges.)

Nelson's attorney, Kirk Schroder, declines comment on the case citing a gag order, except to say, "The pleadings speak for themselves."

The mother of Nelson's daughter, called "Cathy Rio" in the suit, says she can't talk specifically about what Nelson stands accused of because of an ongoing custody battle currently being appealed. Those papers are sealed, and all involved parties are under a gag order, says Rio. But she strongly disputes the notion that the investigation and ensuing custody battle were baseless.

Though neither the Nelson nor Proctor cases contain lurid details of the alleged abuse, in both cases, after investigating, Social Services lodged a "Level one founded" disposition– the most serious– in the central registry of sex offenders located in Richmond. In both cases, however, those founded dispositions were overturned following review by the central office. 

Also in both cases, Albemarle County's investigator, Lori Green, sent the girls 100 miles away to Newport News for a forensic interview by therapist Viola Vaughan-Eden, rather than having them interviewed by local therapists. Both Nelson and Proctor allege Vaughan-Eden's involvement in their cases was inappropriate, with Proctor calling Vaughan-Eden a "professional license for hire."

The plaintiffs both allege that Vaughan-Eden lacks the forensic training to perform such an interview, and in each case, the men allege, she failed to audiotape the girls' statements, which the suits claim is standard protocol to protect both the accused parent and the child. 

According to Nelson's suit, Green allowed the mother of his daughter to furnish Vaughan-Eden with information Green knew to be "false and prejudicial." The suit alleges Green gave the mother 24-hours notice of the forensic interview, providing time, the suit alleges, for the mother to coach the child to make allegations. Proctor also alleges that Vaughan-Eden, a board member-at-large of the American Professional Society on Abuse of Children, ignored evidence of "coaching" by his daughter's mother, even after it had been noted and entered into evidence during hearings in state court.

Kathy Ralston, director of Albemarle County Social Services and a defendant in each case, referred all inquiries about the cases to county-appointed attorney Richard Milnor. Milnor, who also represents Social Service employees Lori Green, Cindy Casey, and John Freeman, did not return the Hook's repeated calls, nor did Vaughan-Eden.

Though the defense isn't talking, their counter-filings suggest they will mount a vigorous defense. In their response to the complaints, the defendants deny all allegations. Each of the social services employees has also filed motions to dismiss, citing the immunity provided by their government positions.

Claire Kaplan, director of Sexual and Domestic Violence Services at UVA, says the notion that vindictive mothers drive such accusations is unfounded. Indeed, various studies estimate the rate of false allegations is small– ranging from 2-8 percent. The National District Attorney's Association estimates that one in five children are victims of sexual abuse, most of them at the hands of someone they know and trust.

Kaplan further says mothers who believe their children have been sexually abused have an uphill battle to fight in court, particularly because it's so difficult to prove the allegations. Defense attorneys often claim mothers are making false accusations by vilifying them as angry, hostile, hysterical. Anger, says Kaplan, doesn't prove an allegation is false.

"Wouldn't you be angry if your child was being sexually abused?" she asks.

Trial dates have not yet been set in Nelson's and Proctor's cases.