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Prosecuted but Not Silenced: Courtroom Reform for Sexually Abused Children by Maralee McLean

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Exploitation and Violence
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Prosecuted but Not Silenced: Courtroom Reform
for Sexually Abused Children by Maralee McLean
Barry Goldstein
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Prosecuted but Not Silenced: Courtroom Reform for Sexually Abused
Children by Maralee McLean
Creative Commons License
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Volume 1, Issue 1, Article 5, 2016 DOI:10.23860/dignity.2016.01.01.05
Barry Goldstein
Stop Abuse Campaign
Domestic violence, custody, divorce, child sexual abuse, memoir
N 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 cus-
tody 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 au-
thor's story helps bring attention to the need to reform custody courts and illus-
trates 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 unbeliev-
able 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 moth-
ers 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 profes-
sionals 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 do not
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 use-
ful parts of the book are when she puts this tragic story in context and I wish she
had done even more to put her story in the pattern of tragic cases. There are all too
many well-known examples of mishandled child sexual abuse cases against moth-
ers like Dr. Elizabeth Morgan, Wendy Titleman, Karen Anderson and Yevgenia
Shockome. Dr. Amy Neustein and Michael Lesher studied over 1000 such cases in
their book From Madness to Mutiny.
Goldstein: Prosecuted but Not Silenced
Published by DigitalCommons@URI, 2016
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 Solzheni-
tsyn describes an incredibly painful and horrendous situation and yet keeps re-
minding the reader that he is describing one of the better days. We do not want to
imagine what a bad day would be like. In the same way, Maralee McLean had many
advantages that most protective mothers would envy. Maralee had a good job,
which permitted her to take time off and to pay the expensive court professionals;
she had experienced attorneys representing her; she had the support of family and
friends and she was able to attract substantial media attention. By far the outcome
in her case is not among the worst. Yet she and her daughter experienced horrific
abuse at the hands of the father and the court professionals. Even exposure on the
CNN documentary that 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 out-
come 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 (Saunders, et al, 2012). The harm
of separating a child from her primary attachment figure, a harm that includes in-
creased 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. Nevertheless, 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
Barry Goldstein is the Research Director for the Stop Abuse Campaign (https://stopa- He is a nationally recognized domestic violence author, speaker and
advocate. He is the author of some of the leading books about domestic violence and cus-
tody including The Quincy Solution: Stop Domestic Violence and Save $500 Billion; Rep-
resenting the Domestic Violence Survivor, co-authored with Elizabeth Liu, and two vol-
umes of Domestic Violence, Abuse and Child Custody, co-edited with Mo Therese Han-
nah. Goldstein is the author of the Safe Child Act, which would make children safer in
custody courts by requiring that the health and safety of children must be the first priority
in all decisions. Email:
Goldstein, Barry. (2016). Book Review: Prosecuted but Not Silenced: Courtroom Reform
for Sexually Abused Children by Maralee McClean. Dignity: A Journal of Sexual Exploi-
tation and Violence. Vol. 1, Issue 1, Article 5. DOI:10.23860/dignity.2016.01.01.05. Avail-
able at
Dignity: A Journal on Sexual Exploitation and Violence, Vol. 1, Iss. 1 [2016], Art. 5
DOI: 10.23860/dignity.2016.01.01.05
Saunders, Daniel G., Faller, Kathleen C., & Tolman, Richard M. (2012, June). Child
custody evaluatorsbeliefs about domestic abuse allegations: Their relationship
to evaluation demographics, background, domestic violence knowledge and
custody-visitation recommendations. U.S. Department of Justice. Doc. No.
238891. Available at
Goldstein: Prosecuted but Not Silenced
Published by DigitalCommons@URI, 2016
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
Technical Report
Full-text available
The purpose of this study was to further our understanding of what child custody evaluators and other professionals believe regarding allegations of domestic abuse made by parents going through a divorce. The study had several major goals: to investigate the extent to which child custody evaluators and other professionals who make court recommendations believe allegations of domestic violence are false; to explore the relationship between these beliefs and (a) knowledge of domestic violence and (b) recommendations about custody, supervised visitation, and mediation; to examine whether beliefs about false allegations of domestic violence are related to beliefs that false allegations of child abuse are common; abuse of parents should not be a criterion in custody and visitation decisions; and that parents often alienate their children from the other parent; to examine the relationships between beliefs about false allegations and beliefs about patriarchal norms, social dominance, and justice in the world. We also conducted in-depth qualitative interviews with 24 domestic abuse survivors who experienced negative custody-visitation outcomes, such as losing custody of their children.