The conviction of child sexual abuser Allan Hadfield sent a message to people that abuse is illegal and destructive to children. But the sentencing of Hadfield neutralized that message, a local child psychiatrist says.
Hadfield was convicted last December on seven felony counts of sexually abusing and sodomizing his 12-year-old son and 10-year-old daughter. The state Division of Adult Probation and Parole recommended that he be sentenced to a minimum of 15 years in prison on all seven counts, without any possibility of parole.However, 4th District Judge Cullen Y. Christensen sentenced the Lehi man to 10 years probation. He was ordered to serve six months in jail as part of the probationary terms. Hadfield's attorney will ask Christen-sen for a new trial for his client, who's still claiming his innocence.
Dr. Paul L. Whitehead, public affairs representative of the Utah Psychiatric Association, said this "slap on the hand" of a convicted felon has had a chilling effect on another controversial child sexual abuse case that's been under investigation in Salt Lake County for the past 16 months.
The investigation, initiated in February 1987, centers on one family in which four of the five children claim to have been sexually abused by their father.
Whitehead, a child psychiatrist who is counseling two of the four children, said there are many similarities between the Salt Lake County and Lehi cases.
In the Salt Lake County case, as with the Lehi situation, the focus of criminal investigation has been on one father who is accused of abusing his children. However, Whitehead said, the abuse goes beyond that immediate family.
Although Hadfield was the only person charged by the Utah attorney general's office in the Lehi child sexual abuse case, the state investigated allegations that several other adults had engaged in group sexual activities with children in Hadfield's former neighborhood.
The attorney general's office is still considering filing more charges in Lehi.
Whitehead said the main difference between the two cases is that only one of the four children in Salt Lake County is willing to testify against the father.
"The mother in the Salt Lake County case and one of the older victims has said, `it's just not worth all of that trouble and psychological trauma if the outcome is going to be the same as it was in Lehi,' " said Whitehead.
He said the same scenario occurred in Davis County. Several mothers, whose children also claimed to be victims of a so-called child-sex group two years ago, refused to allow their children testify against the abusers.
"The Hadfield sentencing reinforced in the minds of these mothers the wisdom they had in deciding not to file criminal charges against the men," the psychiatrist said. Other cases in other Utah cities are ending with the same result.
Thus, the abusers are walking around free a situation that distresses law enforcement officials and mental health professionals who insist they have evidence that the abuse has occurred.
"The children (in the Salt Lake County case) have told their story in detail to three therapists and all four children have been very consistent in describing what happened, not only with their dad but with several other people named," Whitehead said. "However, one of the children is able to remember more details than the others."
The specialist said that one of the teenagers has undergone hypnosis and interviews in which she was given sodium amytal, "truth serum," a medication that puts a person in a state of extreme relaxation.
"There are those people who believe that if kids can't blurt out everything about sex abuse in 20 or 30 minutes on the first interview, it never happened. But these experiences are terribly difficult sometimes even to remember, let alone to talk about to anyone," Whitehead said.
"The mind can remove the memory of painful events from conscious awareness to make life bearable."
Those memories, however, are of-ten accessible through certain techniques such as hypnosis and amytal interviews.
Despite their anguish, Whitehead said the children's hesitancy to tes-tify against their father is understandable and based on many reasons.
"They are angry at their dad, but they also love their dad and they don't want to get him into trouble. They are in part fearful of his wrath, but also of losing his love," he said. "The boys would like to see their father get (psychological) help they'd like to see him admit the act, which he hasn't done."
Intimidation is also an issue. One of the other people accused of abusing the children is a neighbor. "From time to time the children see this neighbor staring at them, and they are intimidated," Whitehead said. "All of the children are concerned that by filing the charges they will be even more intimidated by this individual."
The psychiatrist said the children are also afraid of exposure and embarrassment that could be associated with another highly publicized child sexual abuse case in Utah. "They don't want their friends to know about this, and if their dad's name comes out in the newspaper, everyone will know they are involved.
"As the Hadfield case was going on, occasionally the (Salt Lake County) children referred to the difficulty the (Hadfield) children were having especially the boy," Whitehead said. "One of them talked about him (the Hadfield boy) becoming physically ill while testifying. They don't want that to happen to them."
But Whitehead said the abused children's primary fear is that they will go through more pain, intimidation and public humiliation for no avail: their father will also receive a mere slap on the hand.
"In my opinion, had the (Hadfield) judgment more carefully reflected the recommendations of the state Division of Adult Probation and Parole, it would have supported people's willingness to go through the psychological trauma of prosecuting those who have wronged them," he said.
Whitehead said that the Salt Lake County attorney's office, while aware of the local child sexual abuse case, has advised the family not to file charges at this time.
"They feel it not only would be too traumatic for the children right now, but the case may well be lost," he explained. "Even with such strong witnesses as there were in the Hadfield family, it was difficult to get a conviction.
"It would be nearly impossible with kids who are reluctant witnesses. Unfortunately, because of this, too many offenders are walking free of consequences while families are broken and children suffer."