Child Sexual Abuse: Occasionally A Rush to Judgement?

June 15, 2015 Updated: April 23, 2016

A spokesman for The Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy in Las Vegas has told reporters that it had fired a teacher, after she and her former boyfriend were arrested for sexually assaulting an adolescent who was not a student at the school.


Shannon Giardino, 41, and her ex, Jose Adrian Garcia were arrested last week. Giardino faces two counts of sexual assault and one count of child abuse. Garcia has to answer to seven counts of lewdness and sexual assault of a child under 14.


Welcome to the modern day Witch Hunt. Cases of child sexual abuse and assault cases are starting to dominate the headlines, gossip circles, and America’s prison system.


People labeled as pedophiles are shunned like lepers and reputations are destroyed before the accused can even make it to the courtroom.


Las Vegas criminal defense attorney, Nick Wooldridge, says, “I am always skeptical of these charges because of the sheer damage they do to a defendant’s life and reputation.”


“What makes me pause is that the rules of evidence are relaxed in certain ways for sex prosecutions and defendants charged with such a crime often find it hard to get a fair trial,” Wooldridge added.


Commenting on the Giardino/Garcia case as reported in the News Sun, Wooldridge said, “In this instance, I’m interested to see how the couple is actually alleged to be involved.  This is a tough case, and the odds are stacked against them [the defendants].”

The allegations coming out of the Prep Academy are far from the first accusations of child sexual abuse. If history is any indication, and the two individuals who have been accused are later found not guilty, a rush-to-judgment may have already brought an end to their lives as they know it.

In the early 1800s, two spinsters ran a school for girls in Edinburgh. One of their students accused them of being lesbians. The charge was baseless and in time the women won a libel suit, but not before they had lost everything, including their school.


If the story sounds familiar is is because Lillian Hellman used it as the beginning of “The Children’s Hour,” her 1934 play about a couple of school teachers whose lives unwrap after a malicious student falsely accuses them.



The McMartin Case


A famous Scottish proverb says, “A lie travels halfway around the world before the truth can get its boots on.” A person doesn’t need to go back to 19th century Scotland to find the wisdom in that proverb.  A simple trip to the 1980s will suit.


In 1983, a mother, whose mental instability would later be exposed, accused the operators of a day care center near Los Angeles with raping and sodomizing dozens of small children.


The trial, which drug on for years, became one of the longest and costliest in America. Just like the lives of the two Scottish women, lives were unwrapped and undone.  No one was ever convicted of a single count of wrong. Actually, many of the early allegations were so outlandish that people later wondered how anyone could have believed them to begin with.


According to the accusations, teachers chopped up animals, clubbed a horse to death, sacrificed a baby and made children drink blood. The charges also said that teachers dressed as witches and flew through the air.


The McMartin case turned loose a nationwide hysteria about child abuse and Satanism in schools.  Reports started rolling into law enforcement agencies telling of horrific practices and often the Devil was in the details.


Criminal cases were plenty. One that received extraordinary attention involved Margaret Kelly Michaels in Maplewood, NJ. Michaels was accused by children of sexually abusing them with knives, spoons, and forks and had even urinated in their mouths. All of the children reported the sexual abuse took place at the Wee Care Day Nursery, yet none showed any signs of injury.


Six years later, Michael’s conviction was tossed out.


Another prominent case from that era involved charges of rape and sodomy in Edenton, NC at the Little Rascals Day Care Center. As in the McMartin case, there were bizarre accusations about babies being murdered and children thrown in the ocean with sharks. The defendants were found guilty, but their convictions were later overturned, and all charges dropped.


Americans seem especially prone to this type of episodic insanity, and frequently news organizations share the blame. In the McMartin case, the media weren’t innocent observers. A pack mentality crept in from the first moment when a local television journalist initially reported the charges.


Across the country, ordinary standards of fairness, reasoned skepticism and objectivity were tossed out of the window as journalists worked to outdo each other in finding increasingly monstrous behavior by the primary defendants.



Richard Wesley


Richard Wesley was an elementary school counselor and child behavioral specialist in Covington, Kentucky, who had been falsely accused of child sexual abuse. In March, 2015, a federal appellate decision in Wesley v. Campbell determined that Wesley had the right to sue the arresting officer, Joanne Rigney for false arrest.

Wesley had been accused by a 7-year old student of sexually assaulting him and two other students at the school’s administrative center.


Rigney waited almost 90 days after the student first made the allegations before she got a warrant for Wesley’s arrest. In her warrant application, Rigney failed to include a range of information which demonstrated the unreliability of the student and his allegations.


The case against Wesley fell apart shortly after the arrest when the student, and the student’s mother, refused to cooperate with the investigation.

Throwing out cases like Wesley’s upon appeal isn’t unusual. In cases such as United States v. Shaw, Stoot v. City of Everett, Cortez v. McCauley, the courts found that a young child’s unsubstantiated and unconfirmed allegations were too undependable to form the basis for probable cause.


An analysis of appellate court cases shows that it appears that no federal court of appeals ever found probable cause based on a child’s accusations without other confirmation to validate the child’s story.

In truth, many accusations are found to be bogus before they even get on the court docket.


Sham “Sting” Operations


Florida’s WTSP Reporter Noah Pransky researched sham “sting” operations in the state and his investigation revealed that frequently the cases seem to involve the police going after men who were seeking adult companions, and then trying to convince them that they’re interested in minors.


In one case, a 27-year old Cape Coral man was arrested during the Lee County Sherriff’s Officer (OCS) sting in May 2014. The man was arrested despite the fact that he didn’t even travel to meet a child for sex. Sherriff’s deputies responded to the man’s legal “casual encounters” Craigslist ad, pretending to be a 14-year old girl, despite the ad saying, “age for all women must be over 18. No one under 18 email me.”


The man repeatedly informed the detectives that he was “not OK” with meeting an underage girl, but because he didn’t immediately end the conversation he was arrested for using his phone to solicit a sexual act from a child.  Detectives went to the man’s home and arrested him as a sexual predator of children.


Prosecutors found there was insufficient evidence to prosecute, yet the man’s name remains on LCSO’s press releases and other media outlets’ news services.






Actual sexual predators should be investigated and caught. What’s happening in America doesn’t seem to have anything to do with legitimately going after predators.


Instead, it appears more like a combination of entrapment, phony online stings and high profile shaming of innocent people.


It would be comforting to think that mindless, frenetic news coverage is a thing of the past, but who can make that claim with a straight face?