UPDATED 09/10/2020: The viral “Stand with Sophie” story has taken a new turn. Not only has evidence emerged of letters containing a “code” written between Sophie and her father that allege abuse at the hands of her other’s boyfriend, but now a judge has made a decision as to which parent will maintain custody. Get the full story here, or scroll down to the update below.
A Vicious Custody Battle
For those who don’t know, the #StandWithSophie saga took off online in August. That’s when the nine-year-old Texas girl’s father, Michael (pictured above), posted a YouTube video of his daughter Sophie crying and refusing to go with her grandmother back to her mother’s house. The video lasted 20 minutes and involved the police.
[EDITOR’S NOTE: YouTube has removed the original video but other users have reposted it, along with commentary that may or may not be accurate to the story. The above video may disturb some viewers.]
Sophie is caught in an acrimonious custody battle between her parents, who live 200 miles apart. Originally, the parents had split custody in July 2015, but over the last five years the situation deteriorated and Sophie’s mother, Kelly, obtained full custody upon her move to Frisco, Texas.
Now, Sophie’s father has alleged sexual abuse on the part of Kelly’s boyfriend. Part of the “proof”? Handwritten letters sent between daughter and father in May, complete with code words suggested for phone calls. For example, the words “daisies,” or “dandelions” were used as a stand-in for “danger.”
According to Michael, Sophie told him that her mother’s boyfriend, “Mr. Jake,” sexually abused her and told her that her father was brainwashing her. Michael duly reported this to the police, but when Sophie was interviewed by a forensic psychologist, she refused to talk.
The estranged parents have a history of Child Protective Services complaints. According to the Daily Mail, the social services section said Kelly had been accused of being drunk in front of her children and highlighted concerns about domestic violence in her home. Apparently, both parents have called the police on one another repeatedly. There has been no substantiation for any of the reports — domestic violence or otherwise.
The Potential Impact
How does a parent really know if their child has been sexually abused?
“They [children] report it,” Karen C. Rogers, PhD, of Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, tells Parentology. “[This] is the one child behavior most highly correlated with sexual abuse.”
Statistics show only a small number of sexual abuse reports are fabricated. Depending on the study and how the questions were asked, that number can be somewhere between 4% and 8%. So, if a child tells a parent some form of abuse happened, Rogers says that the chances are strong he or she is telling the truth. This is part of the reason why #StandWithSophie has gained such a public following.
However, Sophie’s case with her two warring parents is unique. And the impact of such a stressful custody battle on a child like this is huge.
Virginia Gilbert, LMFT, a Los Angeles based therapist who specializes in high-conflict divorce, has not seen any of the facts surrounding this case. Nor does she know any of the people involved. While not commenting on this particular case, she often sees and writes about the negative impact that such volatile cases can have on innocent children.*
She explains that coercive tactics like parental alienation are often used to manipulate children — on both sides of the story. She calls kids in the throes of this “behaving like little cult members.”
“They demonstrate blind devotion to the alienating parent and insist the targeted parent is dangerous and awful,” Gilbert explains to Parentology. “They will often make this claim almost overnight and deny they ever loved that parent, even if they once had a close relationship; that’s because they can’t separate the alienating parent’s feelings from their own. Alienating parents often spoon feed propaganda to children, which those children repeat as if reading from a script.”
This sort of coaching results in children who have inconsistent or incomplete stories. “Telltale signs that a child has been coached include using language that is not consistent with their age, and that sounds a lot like the alienating parent. Sometimes the child will be unable to back up accusations with credible details or demonstrate a genuine understanding of what they’re saying,” Gilbert says.
Stand With Sophie GoFundMe Fortune
As part of his online campaign, father Michael started a Go Fund Me page. On it, it states:
“Sophie, 9 years old, has disclosed she has been continuously subjected to domestic violence, sexual grooming, and most recently molestation/rape in her primary residence,” the GoFundMe page reads. “Her father is fighting for her life while her abusers pull every resource to get their hands back on her.
The public response was overwhelming; the page raised well over $100,000. However, due to concerns about fraud and misuse of funds, the page has since been frozen.
UPDATE: Custody Awarded
There’s been much concern online regarding Sophie’s whereabouts and safety. Earlier this week, the Lacy Lakeview Police Department Facebook page, Chief John Truehitt wrote that the “female juvenile shown in numerous YouTube videos taken by her father and placed on a gofundme page is presently in a safe home.”
The Lacy Lakeview Police Department also released a statement, indicating that there are many false statements being spread online. (You can read their full statement via Twitter, below.) At the time, it was believed that neither of Sophie’s parents had custody.
However, on Wednesday, September 9, a judge awarded full custody of nine-year-old Sophie and her two younger brothers to their father, Michael. Lawyer Jamie L. Graham told Heavy.com that the new judge on the case decided to “err on the side of caution” when placing them with Michael.
According to The Daily Mail, Michael will have the three children in his care as they await trial in November. Meanwhile, Graham noted that an investigation is still open and ongoing with the Frisco Police Department, and Child Protective Services has not yet come to a decision.
While Michael did tweet President Trump to help with this case, as of this writing the president has not yet responded and there is no indication that his action had anything to do with the judge’s decision.
*EDITOR’S NOTE: Since the original publication of this article, we have added clarification regarding Virginia Gilbert’s quotes in this story.