The Harm Psychics Do

The Harm Psychics Do June 19, 2008

Out of Toronto, this jaw-dropping story: Colleen Leduc, a local mother, was accused by school officials of letting her autistic daughter Victoria be sexually abused – based on the word of a psychic! (HT: Boing Boing).

Leduc’s weird tale began on May 30, when she dropped young Victoria off for class at Terry Fox Elementary and headed in to work, only to receive a frantic phone call from the school telling her it was urgent she come back right away.

The frightened mother rushed back to the campus and was stunned by what she heard – the principal, vice-principal and her daughter’s teacher were all waiting for her in the office, telling her they’d received allegations that Victoria had been the victim of sexual abuse – and that the CAS had been notified.

…”The teacher looked and me and said: ‘We have to tell you something. The educational assistant who works with Victoria went to see a psychic last night, and the psychic asked the educational assistant at that particular time if she works with a little girl by the name of ‘V.’ And she said ‘yes, I do.’ And she said, ‘well, you need to know that that child is being sexually abused by a man between the ages of 23 and 26.'”

Thankfully, despite the irrational hysteria that often surrounds claims of child abuse, this wild accusation went no farther. The Children’s Aid Society sent a case worker to Leduc’s home, who concluded that she was a diligent mother, called the accusations “ridiculous” and closed the case. It was probably a great help that Leduc’s daughter was equipped with a GPS unit that also continuously recorded ambient audio, providing conclusive proof that no abuse had ever happened. The accusations were unsupported by even a shred of evidence and were swiftly dropped.

Still, for those who would claim that a little belief in the paranormal never did anyone any harm, this story is a ringing counterexample. What if the phony psychic had said that Victoria was at dire risk of being kidnapped or harmed and that the authorities wouldn’t listen? Would this endlessly gullible educational assistant have taken it upon herself to spirit the girl away? What if the accusation had been laid against the mother herself rather than some non-existent man, thus adding the further injustice of a false charge against an innocent person? How far might this have gone if definitive counterevidence had not existed?

Psychic scammers can and do invent claims as it pleases them, with no regard for the truth. Since they’re unconstrained by facts, there’s nothing to prevent them from making up charges against innocent people or otherwise telling harmful lies. And when credulous people take those falsehoods seriously, the result is harm and suffering for those who’ve done nothing to deserve it. Consider the callous fraud Sylvia Browne telling a woman that she was the child of an affair, or falsely telling grieving parents that their missing son was dead. If the recipients believed these claims, imagine what would ensue – entirely needless anger and recrimination that could shatter a family, or despairing parents calling off the search for their child. Yes, phony psychics do cause harm – a great deal of it – and it is futile to pretend otherwise. (I’m glad to see Toronto readers offer similar thoughts on this story and roundly dismiss psychics. Way to go, Canada!)

I don’t know whether the laws permit it, but I hope the psychic who made this claim is punished for it just as anyone who falsely reported a crime to the police would be. She deserves to pay a penalty for the fear and heartache she’s caused this family and for her frivolous alarm causing a waste of state resources. And this educational assistant ought to be dismissed. Anyone who seeks out and consumes this pseudoscientific nonsense, and takes it seriously enough to act on it in cases like this, is not sufficiently rational to be entrusted with the care of others’ children.

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