Vagneur: When my friend got wronged
The “autumn of accusations,” some may call it. Most recently, Washington, D.C., has been disrupted by accusations of sexual abuse, attempted rape and other sordid and illegal behaviors. Maybe we should call it “allegations without corroboration,” but as detailed below, the past contains its own history of a similar kind and its ramifications are dangerous and real.
The call from a close friend came at an unusual time of day. “Listen, Tony, I need a favor if you can swing it. I’m in jail, been accused of molesting my daughter by my soon-to-be ex-wife, and I need a little bail money.”
That’s the kind of thing that hits you square in the gut and gets your heart racing. Suddenly, and without forewarning, you’re right in the middle of someone else’s very serious problem, but there it is.
“Well,” I slowly asked, “did you do it?”
His daughter was maybe 3 or 4 at the time.
“Hell no,” he said without hesitation.
That was decades ago, eons before the #MeToo movement and back in those days when such an act was unthinkable and there was very little publicity about it. Accusations in divorce proceedings are usually taken with a grain of salt, knowing the vituperative notions some people get in the heat of battle, but a charge of such sexual abuse was, at the time, as it is today, almost as unconscionable as being accused of murder.
The allegation simply on its own was enough to get my friend locked in jail and charged with a serious offense. His bail was just south of $100,000, a little more than my lunch money could afford, so I put my house up to secure his release. However, before the deal was accepted, I had to listen to a lecture from the presiding judge that the charges were very grave and, before it was all over, I might lose my house. He was acting like he had already decided on guilt or innocence.
Memory fails me as to how the criminal implications were worked out, but it seems they were, probably because there was nothing to substantiate the allegation. But that was only a small piece of the ongoing nightmare. My friend could no longer visit with his daughter unless in the presence of two adults, approved by the social service department and also in the presence of a social worker familiar with similar cases.
Visits were limited to 30 minutes each, once a week, at my house with my wife and me, and the obligatory social worker. It was incredibly uncomfortable for everyone present, but those were the rules of the game. It was an artificial situation apart from the real world which, thankfully, was eventually released when an obvious lack of need was demonstrated. God only knows what my friend’s young daughter might have thought about the situation.
This is a small valley and even if such events don’t always get published in the paper, word seems to travel through some kind of unofficial and rumor-filled channel. Otherwise fine, upstanding men, on some level akin to a lynch mob, thought they would right the wrong they perceived had been committed even though the criminal charges had been dismissed, leaving only a squint-eyed whiff of suspicion hanging in the air.
One late evening, as my friend left a local watering hole, he was jumped by these above-mentioned vigilantes who beat the living hell out of him, leaving him with a ruptured spleen and damned near dead. The men were arrested, but the unspoken message remained — to be accused is to be guilty.
The battle continued, with my friend seeking custody of his daughter, or at least reasonable visitation rights, but with the accusation of molestation staining every attempt, it seemed impossible. His now ex-wife moved far away and visitations with his daughter fairly well ceased.
But after a few years, the lie began to unravel a bit around the edges, as lies almost always do and my friend saw an opening to right the ship. The ex-wife had remarried, had a new baby and, with her life in a totally different direction, seemed amenable to sending the now 7- or 8-year-old daughter out to Colorado for a summer visitation. Only it was not that simple — there had to be a court hearing to change something so serious and, of course, the original complaint of sexual molestation had to be addressed once again.
Seated in the courtroom, the ex-wife, the mother of the daughter, at last confessed to the fact that she had been lying for the past four or five years and for whatever reason, had fabricated the entire charge. Full custody was granted to the father.
There were no winners, no one lived happily ever after but, in the end, things got better for everyone. Maybe.
Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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