Reno Reconsidered (Part B)

The evidence was not there. The kids' stories were outrageous beyond belief. But that didn't stop Janet Reno from trying to destroy Bobby Fijnje.

Later they would play Candyland. Later, too, they would eat homemade muffins and frolic with the anatomically correct dolls. But first, four-year-old Donna had to practice. That was what her therapist, Miss Suzanne, told her. Over and over again.

Because this wasn't just any rehearsal. Tomorrow Donna (which is not her real name) would visit Pam, a counselor at the State Attorney's Children's Assessment Center, and if all went as planned, Donna would tell Pam how Bobby Fijnje, a fourteen-year-old daycare worker at Old Cutler Presbyterian Church, had sexually abused her.

"What did Bobby do to you?" psychologist Suzanne Keeley asked Donna during that audiotaped session August 24, 1989. "Practice with me so that when you go talk to Pam tomorrow, it will be easy. What did Bobby do to you and what did he ask you to do?"

"I don't know," Donna answered.
"You do know, Donna, and you've got to tell," Keeley instructed. "You do know." The rehearsal was not going well. Donna was denying again, something she'd done -- or tried to do -- routinely since her mother had brought her to Keeley five months earlier. Keeley was having none of it.

"What did he do to you?" she pressed.
"He did bad things to me."
"He was bad."
"What did he do to you?"
"He touched my private parts."
"Okay. Where?"
"On my pee-pee."

"He touched you on your pee-pee? He touched you on your pee-pee with what? ...You told me once before he touched you on your pee-pee with something of his," Keeley reminded her. "Remember, we got the dolls down and you showed me that he touched you on your pee-pee with his -- with what?"

"His finger," Donna answered.
"But what else did he use to touch you?"
"With his hand."

"His hand? Stay right there, Donna, now finish this up, okay? You're going to practice with me so that when you go down there, you can tell them what he touched you with."

Keeley fetched the dolls. They were going to play.
"Here's Donna. Okay. You told me that he took your clothes off. Okay. Is that right? You're shaking yes. Okay. You can get him ready, okay. You're taking his clothes off."

The odd game continued for a few more minutes. Then Keeley's tone of voice turned serious.

"Donna, you must, you must get this out once and for all, okay. You must and then everything will be okay. You won't have to keep answering my questions. You must tell."

To help her, Keeley loaned Donna her dolls to practice with at home.
"You are doing the good and right thing by telling," the therapist assured her. "I'm so proud of you. Do you know that? And your mommy is so proud of you and your daddy is so proud."

Keeley was even prouder the next week, because Donna did tell Pam the counselor about Bobby. True, her story was a little confusing. She contradicted herself a few times, and denied much of what she had told Keeley. But Pam seemed to believe her. And of course, Bobby Fijnje was sent away to jail.

Fijnje (pronounced feen-yea) would remain incarcerated for the next twenty months. Eventually he would be accused of more than 100 acts of violent perversion against some twenty children, including Donna, most carried out in the nursery school at Old Cutler Presbyterian Church. In January 1991, the lanky, curly haired boy, by then sixteen, would stand trial as an adult on six counts of sexual battery against a minor. Jurors would hear four months of testimony before acquitting him of all charges.

If the Country Walk case won State Attorney Janet Reno a national reputation as a child-rights crusader, the State of Florida v. Bobby Fijnje ranks among her most humiliating prosecutions. Child advocates now routinely cast the conviction of Country Walk's Frank Fuster as an affirmation of "ritual abuse." Fijnje is cited, less frequently, as a lesson in how panic over ritual abuse can warp the minds of parents, children, psychologists, even prosecutors.

"This was the most inhumane, despicable case I have seen in 23 years," says David Raskin, a professor of psychology at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. "There was no credible evidence of any sexual abuse. None. What you had was a bunch of kids who initially had nothing to say about abuse. Only with the work of a dozen different therapists, over a number of months, and constant pressure from parents, did any allegations emerge."

Raskin points to Donna, whose disclosures spurred the three-year scandal that culminated in the Fijnje acquittal, as a prime example. In August 1988, Donna began having nightmares and told her mother that she was afraid of Bobby, a babysitter at church. Two months later Donna's mother confronted a minister at Old Cutler with her suspicion that Fijnje had abused her emotionally troubled three-year-old.

At a weekly prayer group with other parents, Donna's mother began sharing her fear that Bobby Fijnje had sexually abused Donna. When the child confided that she'd had another nightmare, and began drawing sexually explicit pictures, she was sent to Keeley, a private psychologist who also attended Old Cutler. In March 1989, after speaking to Donna, Keeley called the state's child abuse hot line. She, too, felt the girl had been abused by Fijnje.

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