Specialist Doubted In Abuse Scandal
Published: October 26, 2011 (Issue # 1680)
MOSCOW — Bloggers have challenged credentials of a child psychologist who testified in a high-profile pedophile case after photographs surfaced suggesting she might have participated in erotic shows.
The twist complicates an already murky story and highlights the problems of Russia’s sometimes clumsy courts and its ineffective efforts to prevent child abuse.
Testimony by child psychologist Leila Sokolova was key for the prosecution in a criminal case that ended with Transportation Ministry official Vladimir Makarov being jailed last month on charges of sexually assaulting his 7-year-old daughter.
The case was opened last year after officials found “dead spermatozoids” in the girl’s urine during a routine checkup.
Makarov pleaded not guilty, saying hospital officials had not properly cleaned the specimen container from earlier patients — a regular occurrence at underfunded, understaffed hospitals.
A second test found no spermatozoids, and the girl denied abuse. Nevertheless, the case proceeded, based on, in particular, the psychologist’s examination of the girl’s drawings which included a cat with a fat tail, which Sokolova called a “phallic motif.” She said this, combined with the girl’s “unusual” attention to gender distinctions seen in other pictures, implied she had been abused. A Moscow district court sentenced Makarov to 13 years in prison for child abuse.
With Makarov’s appeal pending, several bloggers accused Sokolova of participating in public erotic shows. As proof, the bloggers cited photographs of a woman in latex outfits who resembled Sokolova, and web advertisements looking for partners for the shows listing her phone number.
The psychiatrist, who works for Ozon psychological rehab for abused children, declined to comment on the allegations.
Prominent psychologist Alexander Shadura told The St. Petersburg Times that Sokolova’s personal life — whatever it might be — should not have any influence on her expertise. “I don’t think it plays a role. She should just be a professional,” he said.
But Sokolova admitted earlier in an interview with Bolshoi Gorod magazine to being unsure about her conclusions.
She also acknowledged that she should have been less decisive about her findings. “This is the first time that I have screwed up so seriously,” she said, the magazine reported.
Makarov’s wife said investigators told her during the trial that they had realized their mistake, journalist Olga Romanova reported on Radio Liberty in July.
But they said they could not acknowledge the mistake because that would be seen as a failure in a state campaign against pedophiles, initiated by the Kremlin earlier this year, she said.