How the ‘junk science’ of parental alienation infiltrated American family courts and allowed accused child abusers to win custody of their kids.
In the summer of 2020, when he was 12, the boy told his therapist something he’d never told anyone else.
For years, Robert claimed, his stepdad had sexually abused him.
The therapist alerted the San Diego County child welfare agency, which launched an investigation. The county sheriff opened an inquiry, too. Thomas Winenger, the only father figure Robert had ever known, began assaulting him when he was only 7, Robert told a forensic social worker in October 2020. Winenger would pin him down, cover his mouth, and force him into acts he found “disgusting,” he said. Sometimes, he said, Winenger recited Bible verses during the attacks, claiming the devil was in Robert’s heart.
Robert, whom Insider is identifying by only his middle name, said that as he struggled to breathe, he fought back by hitting, punching, and kneeing his stepfather. But he said Winenger overpowered him.
By the time Robert came forward, Winenger had been named his legal father and was divorced from Robert’s mother, Jill Montes, with whom he also shared two young daughters. Robert confronted Winenger with the allegations that November, and within weeks Winenger denied the claims in family court. “This NEVER HAPPENED,” he asserted in a filing.
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