SAN FRANCISCO -- The dark secret of child molestation within the home blazed out into the open as a public issue last week.
In Fairfield, Calif., public attention focused on 12-year-old Amy, who spent nine days in solitary confinement rather than testify against the stepfather accused of molesting her.
The judge said he regretted the little girl was locked up, relatives came to blows outside the courthouse and reporters at the scene appeared reluctant to intrude in a private matter as all parties struggled with the taboo of incest and incest-related subject.
Coincidentally, last Monday ABC television aired 'Something about Amelia,' a fictional portrayal of father-daughter and about 60 million Americans watched. Child care experts praised the drama's realism.
In the real-life drama, the girl identified only as Amy refused to testify against her stepfather, a Vacaville, Calif., physician. She had said earlier she didn't want to destroy the family.
The stepfather's lawyer, Garry Ichikawa, said the family sought counseling last summer about the molestation and what was a 'family decision' ended up in court because a 1980 state law requires counselors to report all cases of child abuse.
Charges of felony lewd and lascivious conduct were dismissed against Amy's stepfather because of insufficient evidence and Amy was returned to her mother's custody with the provision that the stepfather not live in the same house.
Superior Court Judge John DeRonde said 'no one regretted more than I the invocation of the court's powers of contempt' by which Amy was confined to a windowless juvenile hall cell.
'Media attention has in some ways helped in this case,' said Daniel Russo, the attorney representing Amy's mother. 'Who's to say what got my client's daughter out of custody?'
There was extensive news coverage outside the courtroom but some television crews took pains to conceal the faces of Amy and other members of the family. When Amy's natural father threw a punch at the stepfather in the parking lot, the attack was filmed but the faces were blacked out by KPIX of San Francisco.
'There's a tremendous amount of personal sensitivity in a story like this,' Bruno Cohen, KPIX news director said later. 'There's also the issue of privacy.'
ABC said rating reports of 'Something About Amelia' indicated 51 percent of the homes with a television set turned on were tuned to the movie.
The movie showed a 13-year-old girl forced into a sexual relationship with her father. The program prompted a flood of calls to child abuse centers across the nation.
Parents United, a San Jose, Calif., organization with 115 chapters in the United States and Canada, reported a heavy telephone response.
'Seventy-five percent of our callers were people molested as children,' said Lise Einfeld. 'They revealed secrets harbored for years.'
In Roanoke, Va., a judge Tuesday cited prejudicial publicity from the movie in declaring a mistrial in the case of a man accused of raping his girlfriend's 13-year-old daughter.
In San Leandro, Calif., a housewife claimed her father sexually abused her through her teen years and sued him for $1.5 million. Parents United said the number of cases like that was increasing.
Recent studies indicate one in every three girls will be sexually abused by the age 18. According to Diana E. H. Russell, a sociolgist who surveyed 931 women in the San Francisco Bay Area, one in every six of those women had an incestuous relationship with a family member.
'But whether incest is actually increasing -- we do not know,' said Ms. Russell.