Helping The Accused

What do clients who are being accused of child sexual abuse feel?

Clients experiencing the bewilderment, fear, and anxiety caused by having been accused of doing something so terrible to children they love suffer from what psychologists call ego-dystonic incongruity, a life-threatening form of stress with physical and psychological ramifications.

Just as the client may be calming down from a difficult stressor, something else sets off the stress cascade, and then something else and so on. At any given time in litigation, the client will have the residual metabolites of previous stress activation on which the latest stressors build. In addition to suppressing the immune system and undercutting the codification and retrieval of memory, chronic stress and cortisol can lead to higher levels of heart-choking fat, according to researchers at Wake Forest University. Researchers at the University of California at San Francisco found that cortisol and chronic stress accelerate aging at the cellular level. With the HPA systems activated as well, the additive stress can kill.

In other words, stress can have a sever impact on a client’s health and well-being. Clients undergoing such high levels of stress can become so overwhelmed that they cannot sleep, think, or aid counsel. It then becomes the lawyer’s job to effectively represent that client despite these issues. An ability to understand and address such behaviors, therefore, is invaluable.

Are there specialists who specialize in assisting attorneys whose clients are being accused of child sexual abuse?

Stress management professionals (SMPs) can help lawyers to help clients navigate and survive the stress of protracted litigation. SMPs can be experienced mental health professionals at the master’s degree level like social workers, junior-level psychologists, and licensed counselors. When we anticipate that the coming stress of litigation may be life threatening, we use adjunct SMPs working under the direction of the lawyers as part of the legal team.

How does confidentiality come in to play when hiring a SMP?

The attorney-client privilege acts to protect attorney-client communications from disclosure. The presence of third parties, however, may result in waiver of the privilege.

Because the SMP is a third-party and is likely to be present during many attorney-client communication, sometimes the attorney-client and work-product privileges come under attack in life-threatening litigation. Some argue that they are not as sacrosanct as we would like. Every attorney relying on an SMP as an important part of the litigation team must keep this issue in mind and check the applicable jurisdiction’s rules.