Beau Biden and Earl Bradley

June 14, 2015

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The tragic death of Beau Biden has put a spotlight on his brief and distinguished career. As Attorney General of Delaware, Biden oversaw the prosecution of pediatrician Earl Bradley in what many consider the most horrific child sexual-abuse case in state history. There were more than 100 victims; their average age was three and Dr. Bradley videotaped the abuse. He was convicted of fourteen counts of Rape in the First Degree and sentenced to fourteen life sentences. Beau Biden became a strong advocate of raising awareness about the sexual abuse of children. The Biden family recently created a foundation to continue this cause.

The Bradley case is notable for three reasons beyond the lurid details that have received the most attention. First, the case demonstrates the widespread problem of non-disclosure by children who have been sexually abused. The videotapes document more than 100 victims, very few of whom ever came forward in any way that has been documented. This includes children who had been choked or suffocated and subject to extreme sexual violence. Those who promote the witch-hunt narrative continue to reject the initial precepts of child abuse accommodation syndrome, asserting instead that delayed disclosures of sexual abuse are somehow unusual or suspect. This case illustrates the folly of those claims. 

Second, while there were multiple instances of children disclosing information that raised serious concern about Dr. Bradley’s behavior [1], the police were unable to apprehend him for years. Those who promote the witch-hunt narrative assert that even a hint of impropriety results in an over-reaction in our culture. They claim that these cases are easy to bring and easy to win. This case demonstrates how hard it is, in reality, to investigate child sexual abuse cases, even in recent years and with strong suspicions from multiple sources.

Third, the case resulted in a search warrant when a two and a half year old girl told her parents that Dr. Bradley had taken her into a basement and touched her vagina. Her parents rejected the statements out of hand, telling the girl she must be mistaken. It was only when the girl told them that the same thing happened after a subsequent visit that the parents took the statements seriously. Her statements helped to obtain the search warrant that uncovered the videotapes. Those who promote the witch-hunt narrative view children as highly influenced by suggestions or beliefs of their parents. If that were true, this little girl would never have made the later statements, after her parents told her that she must be wrong. The case also demonstrates that someone younger than three can provide accurate and relevant information in a child sexual abuse case. 

The videotapes removed all doubt about Bradley’s guilt. But what would have happened had there been no videotapes? Much of Dr. Bradley’s abuse would never have been discovered and it remains an open question whether he would ever have been apprehended, let alone convicted, on the word of children who averaged three years old. He certainly would not have been if those who promote the witch-hunt narrative had anything to say about it. 

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[1] According to the Delaware Supreme Court: “The Delaware State Police had received prior complaints in 2008 concerning Bradley. Detective Elliott and another officer had sought a search warrant to search BayBees Pediatrics for evidence of child pornography, but that application was denied. One of the 2008 complaints involved a twelve-year-old female who visited Bradley regarding a sore throat and possible pink eye. Bradley conducted a full vaginal examination on her for several minutes. When the girl left, she started crying and told her mother that she felt dirty about the incident. Another case involved a six-year-old girl who visited Bradley for Attention Deficit Disorder. Bradley had the child take her clothes off, and attempted to perform a vaginal examination on her. Finally, a seven-year-old girl visited Bradley for excessive urination. He performed two vaginal examinations on her, with the girl draped so that her mother could not see what was occurring.” Bradley v. State, Delaware Supreme Court (September 6, 2012), slip opinion at 4.