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How ‘junk science’ got an innocent father jailed on invented child-molestation claims

In campus rape proceedings, it’s known as “trauma-informed” investigations. In child-molestation cases, it’s known as “hand over hand technique.”

They are both junk science peddled by fake experts, but the former is on the rise and the latter is on the wane – except for one very unlucky Florida father who fell victim to what a psychology professor called a “ridiculous fad.”

The Miami Herald tells the outrageous story of how an elementary school teacher, Miami-Dade Schools, University of Miami and local police got Jose Cordero jailed and separated from his family for months, based on a practice that has been discredited for decades.

His autistic 7-year-old son allegedly made progressively more “outlandish” claims the more he was interviewed in the presence of his special-education teacher Saul Fumero, who used “facilitated communication” to guide the boy’s hands as he wrote.

It started when Fumero claimed the boy was keeping a “diary”:

With Fumero’s “assistance,” the boy wrote that his dad was touching his private parts and “wrote that his dad needed help, but was scared to go to jail,” according to a Hialeah police arrest report.

Hialeah Detective Alexander Dorado began asking the boy questions. With Fumero’s help, the boy wrote detailed allegations for him. “I’m very serious,” the boy supposedly wrote, according to the report.

But it wasn’t only police. The University of Miami’s Child Protection Team, which works closely with police and prosecutors, also interviewed the child — again, with Fumero’s assistance. The boy was even more detailed, saying he recalled “seeing blood and semen and mentioned ‘baby making juices.’ 

Then Fumero helped the boy accuse his “evil” mother of abuse and claim she had “schizophrenia,” and allege his sister had “been conditioned to be a sex slave.” This is when investigators started to suspect Fumero was not a neutral facilitator, and the teacher soon admitted he had no “formal” training in facilitation.

When he was separated from Fumero and “paired with another teacher and specialists, the boy could no longer write a single word, let alone repeat detailed accusations about molestation,” the Herald says.

The paper reminds readers that the University of Maryland was culpable when facilitation was ascendant. It trained a facilitator who got the parents of an autistic teenage client jailed in 1992 based on bogus claims of abuse. Two years later, the American Psychological Association said the technique had no “scientifically demonstrated support.”

There’s still at least one professor who’s willing to defend facilitated communication:

Christine Ashby, the director of the Institute on Communication and Inclusion at Syracuse University, said facilitators are taught to provide stability while the other person is typing but to resist movements to avoid guiding their hands. She said some research supports the method.

“There are a large number of individuals who once required support to communicate and now type independently, read aloud what they type, have now graduated college,” she said. “I think there are a lot of folks where there’s well-documented evidence of success.”

Recommendation to parents: Don’t ask Ashby for help communicating with your verbally challenged child.

Read the article.

h/t Radley Balko

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