OF ALL THE DESTINIES GEORGE PAOURIS might have imagined for himself during the log trip from Greece to Texas a little more than two years ago, none included sitting in a San Antonio courtroom, trying to convince a judge that he did not kiss his young daughter’s genitals.
“I have no way to protect myself, except to be saying the truth and to stick with it,” says the 32-year-old former Greek navy officer, a tall, dark-haired man who now works as a mechanic in a grocery warehouse. “If I am found guilty, it will affect my life forever. If I am found innocent, the person who accuses me will just walk away–no punishment.”
Paouris draws deeply on a cigarette and looks on, as Raquel, his daughter, climbs on a jungle gym a few feet away. She is a beautiful child, with black hair in a thick braid and enormous pale green eyes. We sit on a bench in San Antonio’s MacArthur Park on a hot Saturday summer morning, watching her. Normally easygoing, Paouris becomes agitated when he speaks of the ordeal that has consumed his life for fourteen months. His voice grows loud, his mannerisms jerky. His anger subsides, though, the moment his daughter races over, tweaks his jutting nose, and clambers onto his lap.
This is the child–according to the criminal indictment–upon whom Paouris committed a litany of sexual atrocities. The person doing the accusing is his ex-wife, Dolores Lopez Markee. Paouris maintains that he is innocent.
He and his present wife Terri, say that Markee has fabricated these charges to eject her former husband from her life. She is an unstable woman, say the Paourises, who repeatedly has moved Raquel and her half-brother, Ralph, from place to place. They fear she is poisoning Raquel’s mind. In response to the sexual abuse charges, last November Paouris and 37-year-old Terri filed a motion in civil court to gain custody of Raquel.
Paouris’ tale is dismal but by no means an isolated one. Talk to family attorneys, and they will tell you that since the mid-eighties, more and more frequently women have been using charges of child sex abuse as weapons in divorce, custody, and visitation battles. And, they are using them effectively: “all you have to do is mention child sex abuse,” says 225 th District Court judge John Specia, “and you never get the smell of the jury box.”
How big is this wave? No one knows for sure. The only large empirical study done to date, published in 1990, found that child sex abuse allegations came up in only about 2 percent of contested custody and visitation cases. But whatever its size, the phenomenon is getting national attention. A cadre of psychologists has devoted reams of paper to the subject, and two researchers have even coined a term, SAID, or sexual allegations in divorce syndrome.
The issue at the heart of the matter is whether the wave is real or not—and additionally whether the accusations are sincere or motivated by revenge. Patricia Toth, the director of the National Center for the Prosecution of Child Abuse, is convinced that most accusations are well founded and that the notion of an epidemic of false charges is ludicrous. “These types of cases take up much more time and involve many more people than those where sex abuse charges don’t come up,” she says. “That’s why