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Experts testify on child abuse syndrome in Carbajal case

In testimony that could either support or cast doubt on statements made by the alleged victims in the trial of former Mountain View soccer coach Pedro Carbajal, two expert witnesses were questioned about a condition known as Child Sexual Abuse Accommodation Syndrome. Carbajal is charged with sexual abusing his three young nieces.

Beginning on Thursday, Jan. 27, and running through Friday, Jan. 28, Deputy District Attorney Dan Fehderau and defense attorney Darby William questioned and cross-examined each expert witness about the syndrome, which was named by a psychiatrist in the 1980s to explain the counterintuitive behavior often exhibited by sexually abused children.

Superior Court Judge Griffin M. J. Bonini, the jury and members of the public listened to the testimony in Department 26 of the Santa Clara County Hall of Justice in San Jose.

Fehderau called the first expert witness, Carl Lewis, a former police officer and current private investigator, asking him to explain the four basic tenets of Child Sexual Abuse Syndrome.

According to Lewis, the syndrome was first described by Dr. Roland Summit, a psychiatrist, who conducted extensive studies on children who had been sexually abused.

Summit found that young victims of sexual assault commonly keep their abuse a secret for long periods of time, feel helpless in the presence of their attackers, behave in a way that accommodates the assaulting adult and give unconvincing and conflicting accounts of their abuse if and when they ultimately come forward.

In cases where a family member or someone close to the victim perpetrates the assault, "the child will be confused" by the betrayal, said Lewis, who estimated that he has worked on more than 500 child sexual abuse cases over the course of 17 years.

The children in these cases sometimes worry that they have done something wrong, he said. These feelings often result in the child wanting to keep the abuse secret, and the victims often find ways to put up with their attackers and delay telling others.

The three alleged victims in the case claim that their uncle, Carbajal, sexually molested them five to 11 years ago. The eldest says she was raped when she was around the age of 8 or 9; the two younger girls have testified that they were inappropriately touched and groped by Carbajal when they around the same age.

The alleged victims, all of whom are sisters, say they waited to come forward because they were scared that they would break up their family if they disclosed the alleged abuse, and said they weren't always sure what had happened was wrong.

"I didn't know if that was what uncles do to nieces," the eldest niece said during her testimony.

In her cross-examination of Lewis, William took to a line of questioning which sought to demonstrate that the syndrome was never meant to be used in the courtroom.

"It's not a divining rod," Lewis said, in response to one of William's questions.

Nonetheless, Lewis said, it is a useful tool to help explain why children of sexual abuse may not come forward immediately after an assault has occurred and is meant to remind adults that their "preconceived ideas on how abused children should look, how abused children should act ... are often without merit."

William later called her own expert witness on Child Abuse Accommodation Syndrome, Dr. Annette Ermshar, a clinical psychologist with expertise in child sexual abuse, physical abuse and trauma.

Ermshar told the court that Dr. Summit had published his research on the syndrome specifically for clinicians and had never intended it to be used in a courtroom. The syndrome, she said, has been "misused and misrepresented" in the legal realm as a diagnostic tool.

While she agrees that sexually abused children often exhibit the behaviors described by the syndrome, the sheer fact that a child is exhibiting such behavior does not mean that that particular child is a victim.

"Children do lie," Ermshar said. "Children do make things up, for whatever reason."

William previously questioned the alleged victims if they had any reason to be angry with their uncle before coming forward with their claims, and at one point she asked the eldest of the sisters if she had ever called Carbajal a "snitch."

The sisters all denied having a score to settle with Carbajal.

Before he was arrested in February 2009, Carbajal coached a Mountain View soccer league for at-risk youth and was active in the community.

In a show of support, a group of four to eight people identifying themselves as "friends and relatives" of Carbajal have sat on his side of the courtroom in varying numbers since the trial began on Jan. 14.

Comments

Posted by reader, a resident of Waverly Park
on Feb 3, 2011 at 7:45 am

Sounds like the victims are being considered guilty until proven innocent. Is it any wonder that rape and sexual assault are greatly underreported crimes?


Posted by Ron, a resident of Waverly Park
on Feb 3, 2011 at 2:26 pm

No. It sounds like the defense lawyer is trying to give his client a decent defense. I have no idea if he did these things or not, but he has every right to have his lawyer ask if the accusers might have some motive for making this claim. If he did it, let him rot. But if he didn't, he should be able to challenge his accusers.


Posted by writer, a resident of Blossom Valley
on Feb 3, 2011 at 2:33 pm

It's a scary world to live in if people can make accusations of heinous behavior against an individual who has annoyed them, and, offering zero evidence of that behavior, destroy that person's life.


Posted by Girl, a resident of Whisman Station
on Feb 3, 2011 at 11:13 pm

These girls are def not what they portray to be. The eldest one was on national tv for "chongalicious" for the popular KDTV Univision show 'Cristina' and making complete fool of herself. Bad example for her child- a toddler.


Posted by reader, a resident of another community
on Feb 4, 2011 at 10:32 am

I agree with the last two comments - it is scary to think that. he lost 2 years of his life if he is innocent(and he has kids too).

From other reports I have read it does seem like they have alternative motives. Big ups to Darby Williams for countering with a better witness. A retired cop (mis)interpreting a study or a trained doctor/clinical psychologist.... (i'll take the later)


Posted by Neighbor too, a resident of Blossom Valley
on Feb 4, 2011 at 10:07 pm

What is so scary is how women (possibly mothers) defend that man and judge the "victims" after THREE girls decided to come forward. Just a question...if a prostitute was raped, would it make it OK because she is a prostitute? I don't think so! People are judging these females as if they asked to be molested at such young age by the man whom their family wrongfully trust, if he was to be guilty.


Posted by response to neighbor, a resident of Shoreline West
on Feb 7, 2011 at 3:16 pm

i dont think people are judging them for that. i think they are judging them because it seems that they might be making the thing up.

obviously if it is true - that he did commit a crime - it should be punishable regardless of who the victim is. i just think there is a separate motive for these girls to make this up.


Posted by MV Member, a resident of Cuesta Park
on Feb 7, 2011 at 8:13 pm

I believe he is innocent, and hope he gets out soon for his family he has back home.


Posted by Friend, a resident of another community
on Feb 8, 2011 at 6:16 pm

Me too, I feel in my heart he is innocent. I'm not judging the girls, I'm taking into account his character and everything I know of him- however, I've been known to be wrong, so my biggest desire is that the correct verdict is given. I hope that whomever needs to face consequences for their actions, get(s) the chance to do so.


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