January 19, 2019

Should Corroborating Evidence Be Required in Sexual Assault Cases?

“One evening in January 2015, a mental health counselor named Foad Afshar met with a twelve-year-old boy inside his office in Concord, New Hampshire. Afshar was 55, a gregarious man with eyeglasses, thinning hair, and plans to retire that spring. As a teenager in 1977 he had emigrated alone from Tehran to Massachusetts, fleeing religious persecution. (His family was Baha’i, a non-Muslim religious sect.) “I had $500 and 50 words of English,” he said. He studied psychology and in 1984 moved to New Hampshire. Since then, he had worked at drug treatment centers and psychiatric hospitals, as a school guidance counselor, a special education and ESL director, and in 2005 he opened a private practice, working mostly with children. In 2010, he was elected president of the New Hampshire Psychological Association. When the family of the twelve-year-old first approached him, in November, Afshar had demurred; he had a full caseload and retirement on the horizon. He shared a list of colleagues he recommended. Weeks later, the family called again. The holidays were nearing, and they couldn’t find anyone else. Afshar agreed to provide “a short-term intervention” until the new year, when the family could try again.

The boy, identified in court documents as E.R., was in seventh grade. He played an instrument and club sports and liked to snowboard. In summers he liked to visit a family friend’s lake house on Winnipesaukee. Since his parents’ divorce, when he was five, E.R. had lived primarily with his father and older sister, and recently his father’s girlfriend, with whom the children had a difficult relationship. The girlfriend “yelled” and was “mean,” E.R. said. He began spending more time at his mother’s house, just a seven-minute walk. Because his mother worked overnight as a nurse, and slept during the day, E.R. passed most of his hours there alone—and, soon, getting into trouble. He shoplifted condoms and was caught smoking marijuana on campus before school. He and a friend stole lighter fluid. With a Zippo lighter and a can of Axe body spray, he made a small blowtorch. Knives were discovered in his pillowcase. His father worried he was becoming “a little bit lost.” 

Over two months that winter, E.R. and Afshar met five times, on weekday evenings. “He seemed wicked nice,” E.R. said. He liked that Afshar could talk about sports, and that his office had games: a basketball net, a shelf of toys. E.R.’s father, retreating to a waiting room down a short hallway, noticed his son emerging from appointments seeming “relaxed,” and his mother told a pediatrician that E.R. was making “great strides.” In their fifth session, on January 6, 2015, according to E.R. and to a Merrimack County jury, Afshar slipped his hand beneath E.R.’s shirt and rubbed his fingernails across the boy’s chest and back. Then he reached down E.R.’s pants and rubbed his penis.”

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