A child abuse case in Iowa is raising serious questions about the actions of both the state’s Department of Human Services (DHS) and the judge presiding over the case. Namely, did the actions of the DHS and the judge allow two young girls to be sexually abused by their own father? An op-ed by Rekha Basu of The Des Moines Register breaks down the case:
Court records show that in 2009, the girls’ mother, Emalee Goedert, 31, moved out with the girls because her daughters claimed their father improperly touched them.
The DHS concluded in 2009 that the allegations against [the girls’ father Michael] Konzen were “founded,” meaning …the evidence the department gathered substantiated the children’s claims.
Once the case reached the trial phase however, Judge Monica Ackley did not call Goedert or any of the counselors or child protective workers ready to testify about the allegations of child abuse. According to court transcripts, the Konzen’s attorney alleged that the allegations were fabricated–a claim that Ackley seemingly accepted quickly. Goedert’s lawyer, Catherine Cartee, shared her memories of the initial court date:
“We had seven therapists waiting to testify about him sexually abusing his children,” she said. “We got there and the judge basically demanded we settle. She told us we had 30 minutes.”
As a result of Ackley’s ruling, DHS changed its sex abuse conclusion to “unfounded” 18 months after first deciding there was substantiation of abuse. The agency did so even though a DHS official cannot point to any new information that would alter the facts his investigators documented.
Subsequently, DHS has declined to “found” multiple reports of abuse against Konzen made on behalf of his daughters. In one instance, the younger daughter told her preschool teacher “that her father kept touching her privates over Thanksgiving break,” but DHS deemed the allegation not founded.
The case’s history shows an ongoing cycle of the girls’ claiming to have been sexually abused by Konzen–claims originally found to be “credible” by DHS workers–only to have DHS and Judge Ackley ultimately side with Konzen. In one instance, Judge Ackley even accused the girls’ maternal grandmother of planting the sexual abuse claims in their heads. She made this allegation based on her “background” in child psychology, even though she has never practiced in that area.
The girls still spend half of every week with Konzen despite the many abuse claims. According to their mother, the girls have “regressed” and show behavior that experts say is consistent with child sexual abuse:
Interviewed by a police officer working with DHS, Konzen denied sexual contact, but he acknowledged wrestling and showering naked with the girls, tickling them all over, and taking a bath and cuddling naked with the older girl when she had a fever.
“There seems to be a pattern of inappropriate sexual behavior,” the DHS report said.
While the case is still in progress, one is left to wonder how it has taken so long for these allegations to be resolved. Basu writes:
Three years after the first accusations in this case went to court, and with the girls regularly spending time with their father, [a] thorough review of the evidence still has not occurred.
In telling the story of this family, the purpose was not to judge the truth of allegations against Michael Konzen, but to illustrate the need for the court system and child protective system to be independent, assertive guarantors of children’s safety. When an allegation of child abuse has been made, no decision on custody should be made without thoroughly reviewing the evidence.