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RICHMOND, BC, CANADA, SEXUAL ABUSE CASE

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This case appears to have been based on false memories, like other abuse cases described in this Web site. However, these memories were not accidentally implanted in children by over-eager and uninformed investigators. Rather, the false memories of childhood sexual abuse appear to have been "recovered" by adult women in their late 20's as the result of therapy or self-hypnosis. The case did not involve ritual abuse. We believe that it could have, if the case had developed differently.

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Michael Kliman, aged 48 in 1998-JAN, is an educator. He worked first as a teacher. For 18 years, he was a vice-principal. On 1992-OCT-2, he was arrested and charged with the sexual abuse of two students in 1975, when the alleged victims were in Grade 6. His accusers were in their late 20's at the time of the charges.

At first, Kliman thought that the case would be dismissed because of the unreasonable nature of the charges. One woman claimed that the abuse occurred in a specific room. But the room was built many years after she had left the school. Other abuse allegedly occurred in a highly visible location in the school, where there was a strong likelihood that any perpetrator would be seen. Kliman was accused of leaving his classroom several times a week in order to abuse the children. He taught at the time in a large open space where he and another teacher handled two classes. Yet nobody, other than his accusers, noticed his absence. In addition, the women's stories changed on several occasions and conflicted with earlier statements that they had made.

One of his accusers had received five years of intensive psychiatric treatment without any indication of childhood sexual abuse. Later, a different therapist was able to "recover" repressed memories of abuse. An investigating officer repeatedly called one of the plaintiffs  until her memory improved.

Kliman was found guilty of abuse at his first trial in 1994-JAN. He appealed. At his second trial in 1996-OCT, the jury was unable to reach a unanimous verdict. On 1997-DEC, a third trial was held before the British Columbia Supreme Court. He was found not guilty because of the inconsistencies and improbabilities in his accusers' testimony. The trial judge did not base the acquittal on the issue of repressed memory. In Canada, the crown (government) can appeal an acquittal if there was serious violations of trial procedures. None were found in this case, so that verdict stands. Mr. Kliman has not yet decided whether to initiate a civil case against his accusers.

It is probable that any similar case which were to begin today would never get to court. A growing consensus among mental health professionals is that childhood memories of serious abuse (particularly repeated abuse) may be blended together and may have some of their details lost. But they are rarely if ever  repressed. They are either always present, or are forgotten over time and cannot be reliably be recovered through therapy.

The fallout from this case has affected many different groups of individuals:
bullet Michael Kliman has had to survive over 5 years of stress, the loss of his reputation, and the cost of  over $500,000 in legal fees
bullet Various lawyers earned hundreds of thousands of dollars from the case.
bullet Survivors of real childhood abuse with continuing memories of that abuse have become less credible in the eyes of the public. It is probable that fewer have come forward.
bullet One of the accusers, who probably never was abused, now believes that she is a survivor of multiple sexual assaults. Details have not emerged about how the other plaintiff recovered her memories.
bullet At least one therapist has earned money recovering probably false memories of abuse.
bullet The province paid financial assistance to the two women on the basis of their claims of abuse. The cost was born by the taxpayers of British Columbia.
bullet As a result of the trials, the people of Canada believed for a time that sexual abuse in the public schools is more prevalent that it is in reality. Some probably still do.

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Reference:

  1. Robert Matas, "A Teacher Relives a Legal Nightmare," The Globe and Mail, Toronto ON, 1998-JAN-13, Page A2.

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