Humboldt County Deputy District Attorney Stacey Eads called Dr. Anthony Urquiza to the stand on day seven of the trial of a former county corrections deputy who has been charged with 13 criminal counts related to the sexual abuse of children and inmates at the county jail.
Urquiza did not testify to any specifics of the current case against Cory Jordan Fisher Sr., but he did explain the process of how he and therapists at UC Davis Medical Center deal with children who have suffered sexual or physical trauma.
Urquiza, an expert in child psychology specializing in the evaluation of abused children, described what is known as child sexual abuse accommodation syndrome.
“Secrecy, helplessness, entrapment/accommodation, disclosure and retraction,” Urquiza said were the five common characteristics shared among victims of abuse.
He then explained each in turn under questioning from Eads.
Secrecy is used by the perpetrator as a means to hide their behavior and it usually comes with a threat of some sort or some other form of coercion, Urquiza said.
In essence, Urquiza said the goal is to coerce the child into silence and that include threats or as he put it, “if you tell someone, no one will believe you,” as a means to silence the victim as well.
That description of threats and the control the perpetrator has over the victim dovetailed with testimony from John Doe 1, who testified earlier in the trial that Fisher would tell him no one would believe him if he told of allegations of ongoing sexual abuse.
John Doe 1 also spoke of the second characteristic described by Urquiza, helplessness.
“Your mother never has to know if we do this,” John Doe 1 testified on day one of the trial. “(Fisher) threatened me that if I did that (told his mother) we would be homeless again.”
John Doe 1, who was a boy when the alleged abuse began and lasted through his teenage years, went on to testify that he was ashamed and feared “others would have an altered view of me” and that he feared Fisher’s temper. He was repeatedly told if he didn’t comply with Fisher’s sexual demands either privileges would be revoked or something would be taken away, such as his cell phone.
Urquiza said children, particularly adolescent boys, can struggle with dealing with the type of abuse they face when it involves an act that can be perceived as homosexual and that children will believe they are partially at fault because they succumbed to the demands of an abuser and allowed the abuse to occur.
That sense of “helplessness,” according to Urquiza, is not uncommon and a child will turn in on themselves and bury the abuse as a means to cope because “there is no other recourse.”
“A lot of kids have a very ego-centric view of the world,” Urquiza said, referring to children believing they have far more impact on the world around them than they actually do. He said children will hold themselves to blame for a parents divorce or they will express shame about participating in sexual abuse because they have difficulty dealing with the raw emotions they experience.
That frustration leads to a sense of entrapment, according to Urquiza. The victim sees no way out and no way to tell anyone about what has been done to them and they learn to disengage or to dissociate themselves from the event.
The type of relationship between the perpetrator and the victim is important as well, according to Urquiza, because it has an impact on when a victim will come forward and report that abuse. He said the closer the relationship, the longer it takes for the victim to “disclose” what happened to them.
“It may be days, it may be weeks, it may be years,” Urquiza said, adding the length of delay in reporting abuse is a good indicator of the nature of the relationship. The age of the victim plays a large role as well because younger victims don’t have the words to describe what was done to them.
The disclosure of the abuse is also a process, according to Urquiza, and not a one-time dump of all the details of the abuse and that process can take quite a while for the victim to deal with. The barriers Urquiza pointed to were family members not believing the claims of abuse, the shame and guilt felt by the victim and that “it’s not uncommon for kids to put blame on themselves.”
The final point Urquiza made was that in many cases the victim will later recant their claims of abuse and that’s usually done after negative reactions from family members or others close to the perpetrator especially if the abuse was committed by a family member.
There was very little cross-examination from Lee who simply asked Urquiza if any of his testimony was to the guilt or innocence of his client, to which Urquiza responded “no, ” adding he had not interviewed or been in contact with anyone materially involved in the Fisher case.
On Tuesday, jurors will be out of the courtroom to take a tour of the county jail. Proceedings will resume Wednesday morning at 9:30 a.m. in courtroom one.
Dan Squier can be reached at 707-441-0528.