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Commentary: Please remember — and believe — the survivors of childhood abuse

A sign reading “We won’t forget” hangs from a tree at the site where former Penn State college footb
A sign reading “We won’t forget” hangs from a tree at the site where former Penn State college football coach Joe Paterno’s statue once stood in State College, Pa. on July 22, 2013.
(Photo by Nabil K. Mark / AP)

Amid all the noise of the Supreme Court confirmation circus and the #MeToo movement, one group of victims has been left out of the discussion: children — little boys and girls as well as teenagers. Based on my own experience, sexual assault is more traumatic for children than for adult survivors.

When senators and others insisted that an accusation of sexual assault must not be believed without “corroboration,” what I understood them to be saying was, “Go, predators! It’s open season on women and children.”

This is because sexual assault, by its nature, is done in secret, without witnesses, and generally not memorialized by the assailant. Sexual assault is terrifying for children.

They are unlikely to tell anyone what has been done to them, especially if they think they brought it on themselves, or that they will not be believed. And young children are even less likely than adults to be able to describe the date, time and street address. So corroboration is often impossible.


Some who insist on corroboration have conjured up a fear of false accusations. But humans are quite capable of evaluating the credibility of an accuser on the basis of the circumstances.

For example, does the accuser have anything to gain by the accusation? Is it made in the context of an ongoing dispute or conflict? Is there a history of resentment toward the accused, apart from the alleged act?

We all do this kind of evaluation in an informal way in dealing with people. We don’t just give up and say we can’t tell a liar from one who is telling the truth. And in a court case, cross-examination of the accuser and the accused is well-designed to elicit the truth.

The law and those who enact it should be protecting children, as well as adult survivors of sexual assault, rather than encouraging predatory behavior by requiring impossible “corroboration.”


Eleanor Egan, a former city planning commissioner, lives in Costa Mesa.