Coping with Alleged False Sexual Molestation: Examination and Statement Procedures
Martha L. Rogers*
(The author gratefully acknowledges the teaching and
training provided to her personally by Dr. Udo Undeutsch of the University
of Cologne, West Germany in December, 1988, as well as his sharing of
written material, both published and unpublished, and his continued
mentoring. Dr. Undeutsch has also kindly reviewed this document and
provided his feedback and criticisms as did Dr. Max Steller of West
Germany and Dr. Jack Annon of Hawaii. None of these psychologists
are responsible for the end result, however. The author assumes
total blame for remaining inadequacies!)
ABSTRACT: European methods of assessing the reliability
and credibility of witness statements have been well established for over
35 years and accepted in the Court system in West Germany as well as in
other countries in Europe, American psycho logy was late in its developing
interest in this area. Developments in recent years bringing European
methods to the attention of American forensic psychology will be reviewed.
Problems in current application of these methods in the United States are
described. Factors identified through the available literature or through
clinical experience that can aid in the differentiation of experience-based
versus fabricated reports of molestation are outlined and recommendations
for evaluation of both the accused and the alleged victim are provided.
It is very sobering to realize that we, in the United
States today, have no reliable, validated methods for identifying and
confirming credible cases of child molestation; nor can we readily
discriminate instances of false or unreliable allegations. Many popular
professional guides for evaluating child molestation are based on
inadequate scholarship and unreliable methods (Gelfand & Raskin,
1988). The consequences of this are staggering — eight percent or more of
investigated cases in the U.S. each year may be fictitious, leading to
8000 or more serious legal actions and false prosecutions. Some researchers have accrued data to
demonstrate that in the 1980s the rates of fictitious allegations appear
to have increased (Raskin & Yuille, 1988).
In Europe, for over 35 years, there have been
methodologies in use for evaluating the credibility of victims' and
witnesses' statements. These methods are recognized there by the courts.
The following is a brief overview of these methods as they appeared in the
English language. A better historical and conceptual analysis was recently
published by Steller and Koehnken (1989). Most of the early publications
out of Europe were not written in English, but the late Arne Trankell from Sweden published a little-noticed case in our own
Journal of Abnormal
and Social Psychology: "Was Lars sexually assaulted? A study in the
reliability of witnesses and experts" (Trankell, 1958). More
attention to this study and the emerging European approaches could have
saved us much collective grief had the United States zeitgeist been ready
for Trankell's ideas.
In this case, statements made by five-year-old Lars to
his mother and to an evaluating psychiatrist, along with statements made
by the mother of the boy and by the accused, were used by Dr. Trankell in
reconstructing the incident. He also went to the site where the alleged
abuse took place and was able to confirm certain statements made by the
boy that were being misinterpreted by the adults. Trankell was able to
delineate the errors made and the clues as to what actually transpired
found in the transcript of the boy's statements to the psychiatrist.
man who was accused was found to be innocent, and the childish dilemma
that led to the false accusations was unfolded. Trankell published other
case studies as well as books on what was termed "witness
Trankell's book, Reliability of Evidence: Methods for
Analyzing and Assessing Witness Statements, which was first published in
Swedish (1968), and then in German (1971), was translated into English in
1972. This book describes methods for analyzing and assessing witness
statements and introduced to the English-speaking world the work of Udo
Undeutsch of West Germany. Dr. Undeutsch developed Statement Reality
Analysis (SRA), a method for assessing the credibility of alleged victim
statements. The Undeutsch Hypothesis states that statements based on real
experiences differ in structure, quality, and content from those which are
a product of fabrication.
Undeutsch had collaborated with Trankell and translated
his work from Swedish into German in 1971. While Undeutsch's techniques of
analyzing witness statements had originated in the 1930s and 1940s, and
his publications actually had preceded the work of Trankell (Trankell,
1957, 1959, 1961, 1963; Undeutsch, 1954, 1956, 1965, 1967), at that time
neither approach was widely known outside of Europe. Trankell's methods
were more intuitive and global than those of Undeutsch but close
examination of statements was a key in both approaches. Trankell also
attempted to reconstruct the key incident under investigation from the
perspective of various witnesses, their perceptual processes, the physical
While Trankell's work was widely distributed around the
world, the ideas and methodology did not make a significant impact in the
British Isles or North America. It is now unfortunately out of print.
There were a sprinkling of articles in English about Statement Reality
Analysis prior to the 1980s. In 1977, for example, a German psychologist,
Herbold, published an article in Polygraph, the Journal of the American
Polygraph Association, describing some of the content criteria devised by
Udo Undeutsch to differentiate credible victim statements from unreliable
ones. The article provided many actual examples of these
criteria and their application. A case example of a female child victim
statement alleging molestation by her father, followed by a recantation
statement, both of which were analyzed by these methods, demonstrated the
recantation to be false. According to Herbold, "Such comparisons (of
statements) have shown that accurate testimony has a quite distinctive
physiognomy, which enables the expert investigator to distinguish between
the two types of testimony and even to tell which particular parts of a
person's testimony are true and which are not."
Here the focus was on the statement, not on the
reputation of the person. As early as 1953 at the Nineteenth Congress of
the German Psychological Association in Cologne, Undeutsch stated that it
is "not the veracity of the reporting person but the truthfulness of
the statement that matters and there are certain relatively exact
definable, descriptive criteria that form a key tool for the determination
of the truthfulness of statements" (Undeutsch, 1954, p. 146 op.
Undeutsch, 1982, p. 42).
It was not until the 1980s that Dr. Undeutsch began to
publish in English (Undeutsch, 1982, 1984, 1989). He also began to teach
his methods in the United States and conducted a number of workshops for
several years, including at the University of Utah in 1985, as well as
presentations at the Association for Behavior Analysis (c.f., Undeutsch,
1986, 1987). His methods had been used and were expanded by others in
several countries during the 1970s.
Undeutsch maintains that the validity of this method
has been demonstrated through its use in thousands of court cases where
reportedly no cases evaluated as credible have been subsequently
demonstrated to be untrue when tried in Court. In Undeutsch's own cases,
which number about 1,500, there was about a 95% conviction rate with those
cases he judged to be valid, with about 90% of all cases evaluated being
found to be credible (Undeutsch, 1982). It should be noted, however, that
these figures and base rates were obtained from samples in West Germany
where all of the cases were referred from the prosecutor for evaluation.
The base rate of truthful and fictitious reports in a particular sample
depends largely on the source of the cases and other selection factors.
It was in the 1980s that a growing concern about the
problem of false allegations developed in the United States but it was not
until 1988 that a major book dealing with the problem of evaluating
fictitious accusations of child sexual abuse was published (Wakefield
& Underwager, 1988). This book brought together much of the
prior published research in this area, in addition to describing the
authors' own research with allegedly falsely accused individuals. Practical recommendations for conducting victim and suspect evaluations
were outlined, but no specific protocol was recommended for either. Situations in which there have been a high rate of false allegations were
described. Wakefield and Underwager cited Trankell and Undeutsch and while
they have integrated some features of the European methodology into their
own approach, the full range of content-based criteria for analyzing
victim statements was not used.
During the mid to late 80s, researchers in Germany,
Canada, and the United States began to look closely at the European
methodologies, which had largely expanded upon Undeutsch's Statement
Reality Analysis (SRA), with a view toward operationalizing the content
criteria and procedures so that they could be empirically evaluated and
validated. The result was what is now termed Statement Validity Analysis
(SVA), which is based on conducting a criteria-based content analysis (CBCA) of the interview conducted with the child victim under standardized
conditions (Raskin & Steller, 1988; Yuille, 1988; Yuille &
Cutshall, 1989; Steller, 1989). The procedures for evaluating the child
have been developed to maximize the opportunity to obtain reliable and
valid information and to minimize contamination or shaping of the
statement by the examiner. The growing volume of research is clearly
leading to a better consensus of how children should or should not be
interviewed. The hope is ultimately to achieve an empirically-based method
of evaluating alleged child victims that will allow true victimization to
be confirmed, but which will also allow for the more rapid identification
of unreliable reports of molestation (Underwager & Wakefield, 1989).
A standard in the field for a protocol for child sex abuse evaluations,
based on a solid empirical and experiential foundation is sorely needed.
Factors Impacting the Application of SVA in the United
The SVA assessment procedure requires an uninterrupted
narrative statement on the part of the alleged victim. Next, methods for
bringing out further details have been carefully structured so as to
eliminate leading or suggestion as influences on the statement. Prior to
formal assessment, the alleged victim will have typically reported the
abuse to a family member, teacher, friend, or other close associate and
the CBCA/SVA method presupposes that abuse has already been reported.
is not intended for eliciting the initial report in cases where abuse has
only been suspected because of clinical or behavioral indices.
Depending on how the allegation is reported, different
professionals may interview the child. In family law or child dependency
actions, such evaluations will usually be done by mental health
professionals or child protective services personnel. However, in
many jurisdictions in the United States, psychologists' evaluations of the
child witness are more unusual in criminal cases. Most likely a police
investigator will interview the child. In Germany, if sexual allegations
are alleged, there will first be police interrogations, and if there is no
significant evidence aside from the statements of the child and the
accused, an evaluation by a psychologist would be a matter of course.
In the United States, there may even be statutory
prohibitions preventing such an evaluation of the alleged victim at the
request of the defense or by the court. In California, Penal Code Section
1112 states that the "trial court shall not order any prosecuting
witness, complaining witness, or any other witness or victim in any sexual
assault prosecution to submit to a psychiatric or psychological
examination for the purpose of assessing his or her credibility."
limitation was designed to preserve the rights of victims, who in the
not-too-distant past, were frequently humiliated and harassed by some
criminal defense attorneys.
At a time in our history when there is no recognized
acceptable or standardized methodology for evaluating or confirming sexual
abuse, such limitations are right and proper. As Undeutsch has stated,
until there is a methodology that can confirm abuse and not simply raise
doubts about it, we haven't achieved a scientific approach to the problem
(Personal communication, Undeutsch, 1988). We are probably some years away
from fully establishing more reliable and valid assessment procedures in
the United States, which could lead to rethinking the issue of whether it
is always improper to evaluate alleged victims. When validated methods
have been achieved, they should be taught to police investigators,
prosecutors, social workers, as well as to psychologists and
psychiatrists, so that the initial statements taken from children will be
suitable for statement analysis methods. This will ultimately reduce the
number of interviews of children because the sessions will be recorded and
the information obtained will be less ambiguous and more reliable.
However, until such interview standards are routine,
psychologists may continue encountering situations in which the desired
data base of a victim statement is not obtained. Raskin and Steller (1988)
note that courtroom testimony of a child by itself "normally does not
provide sufficient material to conduct a statement analysis" (p.296).
In such settings, a narrative statement is usually discouraged, if not
disallowed. Even in standard police questioning, the quality of the
interview varies widely, sometimes resulting in a transcript statement
which may be inadequate for a meaningful analysis.
Too often, analysis of a series of interviews with a
child will demonstrate the effects of pressure, coercion, reinforcement,
and shaping where the statements are contaminated and undergo significant
changes across time. The subsequent testimony in court may at times bear
no resemblance to the original allegations.
In the United States, the suspect who denies sexual
allegations must confront the fact that his character and credibility are
called into question. To defend himself, he may subject himself to
psychiatric or psychological interviews and testing, penile plethysmograph
studies, and/or polygraph evaluations. These are tools that may aid in the
assessment of his personality and character and propensity to commit
sexual offenses. The assumption underlying the evaluation of the defendant
is that a person with a good character and reputation is more likely to
tell the truth, but as stated by Undeutsch (1984, p.56), a "person
with a good reputation has much more to lose than a person with a bad one,"
and may thus be highly motivated to lie. The premises underlying our rules
of evidence are based more on a static model of personality rather than a
person/situational approach which is more relevant to assessing
credibility in a specific instance. With the exception of the polygraph,
traditional psychological methods offer a limited degree of specificity in
regard to the instant complaints against him.
Raskin believes that the SVA method is not appropriate
for assessing the accused person who denies the allegations, preferring
instead to use a standardized polygraph examination (Raskin & Steller,
1989; Raskin, 1989). Others, however, have applied SVA
methods to adult witnesses and suspects (Yuille & Cutshall, 1989),
which follows the tradition that was established by Trankell and
Undeutsch. The CBCA criteria are currently being validated with child
witnesses in the United States, Canada, and Germany, but the predecessor
SRA approaches of Undeutsch and the methods of Trankell permitted and used
suspect and other witness statements in the total inquiry in cases of
alleged sexual molestation.
In SVA, the CBCA is completed in regard to the child
witness statement, while suspect, other witness, medical, or other
relevant forms of data are taken into account in the final validity
assessment that follows as a separate phase following the CBCA analysis.
Raskin has stated that the more cognitively sophisticated the subject and
the more simple the reported event, the greater the difficulty in
discriminating true from false allegations using CBCA/SVA methodology
(Raskin, Steller, Esplin & Boychuk, 1989 & 1990). This could
potentially produce situations where the SVA analyses lead to false
negatives. Statements made by the various parties during police
interrogations, during interrogations before the court, as well as those
obtained during the psychologist's examination may provide needed pieces
of the puzzle. Undeutsch has stated, however, "The statement of the
victim is the irreplaceable and indispensable piece of evidence that
determines the outcome of the case ... validation depends almost
entirely upon interviewing the witness-victim" (Undeutsch, 1987).
Clearly, without at least one good interview of the child, these methods
will only guide the investigation and may not provide a confirmed
The psychologist who evaluates the suspect may
nevertheless find these methods, along with other standard evaluation
techniques, useful in assessing the accused person's credibility. Changes
across time in statements made by both the accused and the alleged victim
may also be fruitfully studied using the principles of psychological text
analysis. A German psychiatrist, Villinger, has pointed out that tracing the
history of the statement in question is the via regia (the royal road) for
ascertaining the truth value of a statement (1962). In some cases, the
history of a statement may be virtually the only avenue permitted for
attempting to ascertain its validity or invalidity. The context of the
origin of the statement of the specific allegation and its development as
reflected over time may provide important insight into the case where
victim interviews have become seriously contaminated. This fits in with
Undeutsch's "consistency across time" criterion (Undeutsch,
unpublished manuscript, 1989). I have elsewhere (Rogers, 1989) provided a
case example which was analyzed sequentially, leading to a conclusion that
the allegations were false, which was confirmed by jury trial.
The differences in the legal system in Germany and the
United States are great. Germany not only permits, but may require,
credibility evaluations of the alleged victim. In the United States, the
psychologist's evaluation of the defendant's guilt is often limited by
flawed child interviews or inadequate preservation of the interviews.
Given the nature of the United States legal system, these problems cannot
be overcome until law enforcement, child protective services and
psychologists can cooperate in overcoming the problem of inadequate child
interviews. Actual victims will be better served while problems of
unreliable sexual abuse reports could be identified much more efficiently
before the falsely accused individual's life has been made a complete
Recommended Case Evaluation Procedures
The following assumes that the psychologist is not
brought into a case at the very beginning, but, as is more usual, after
initial statements have been made by the various parties to Child
Protective Services or to the police. Whether one is in the position of
evaluating the accused or the victim or whether one is fortunate to
evaluate both, a necessary first step is full analysis of all the data
available, including previous interview transcripts, audiotape or
videotape recordings of interviews, summaries of interviews, police
reports, preliminary hearing transcripts, and trial transcripts. This
needs to be done in regard to child, witness, and suspect statements.
the child made statements to others who were not interviewed, it would be
well to obtain statements from these persons.
I recommend tracing the specific allegations and how
they evolved across interviews, circumstances, and time. If statements made at various times are
placed in a "time line" sequence, there may be patterns which
emerge that the examiner might otherwise not recognize. If one is
fortunate, there may be well-documented and adequately conducted
interviews that provide narratives of the alleged events where CBCA
criteria can be applied as well.
Trankell addressed the issue of changes across time in
his "sequence criterion" which states, "When alterations in
a sequence of statements correspond to those which our knowledge of the
memory processes give good cause to expect, the reasons for regarding
the witness's accounts as attempts to describe what really happened
increase" (Trankell, 1972, p. 132-133). While complete reversals are
not anticipated in valid cases, it is also not expected that a witness
would be completely consistent across time. It is, in fact, usual that
some unusual as well as superfluous details not previously mentioned will
emerge — or drop out — when the same incident is repeated in subsequent
But in some cases of false allegation, the victim
statement may be rigidly sequential and consistent such that in subsequent
versions, additional unique details do not unfold. There may be a lack of
unstructured productivity, such that more of a stereotypic quality
develops "with a touch of expediency (in the reported details) which
is caused by the fact that the purpose of invented descriptions almost
always is to create convincing picture of something that has never
happened" (Trankell, 1972, p.126). Yuille and Cutshall (1989) have
tentatively suggested, based on simulation studies where subjects were
asked to report events actually witnessed versus fabricated events, that
deliberate lying may produce a quantitative change in the details one is
not trying to distort. It may be that attention to one aspect of the
statement, e.g., the "critical event" alleged, results in a
neglect of other aspects of the statement:
With limited cognitive resources, lying will reveal
itself in some feature of our behavior that must be unattended because of
the cognitive demands caused by the lying. Perhaps the attention required
to distort particular aspects of a statement reduces the available
attention which can be devoted to other, nondistorted elements of the
The results of evaluating the sequence of previous
statements can be used to plan further evaluation strategies with the
alleged victim or the suspect or may be used in cross-examination. Undeutsch (unpublished manuscript, 1989) has stated that the usual
procedure in West Germany is to submit only a preliminary report prior to
the trial, and then attendance by the psychologist at the court
proceedings allows a comparison of the witness's "in court testimony
with statements of the same witness regarding the same event
made outside of court (or in the case of retrials in addition with his
testimony at prior trials). This opens a new dimension for the analysis of
statements. Subject of the analysis is in those cases not the separate
statement but a sequence of statements."
Undeutsch now prefers the term, "consistency
across time" rather than "sequence criterion." This
criterion is deemed more valid in instances where there is a longer time
span between two or more compared statements which remain relatively
consistent, and where the statement is longer and more complex. Thus,
"this criterion has its relevancy much more for the evaluation of the
testimony at trial than during the first police interview" (Undeutsch,
unpublished manuscript, 1989). Other characteristics that differentiate
true victim statements from those of fabricators are outlined in Table
Evaluation of the Victim
The CBCA/SVA protocol, as taught at the University of
Utah extension workshops (Raskin, et al., 1989 & 1990), and
publications cited in this article should be used when there is the
opportunity to evaluate the child. The interviews are taped, and the SVA
criteria-based statement analysis is completed based on transcripts.
child may, of course, also be evaluated with more traditional
psychological methods which give information about cognitive functioning
and personality factors that affect the quality of the statement made.
Statements made by the child should also be studied in light of
developmental factors, as well as how the child coped with the structure
of the interview, i.e. ease to which the child succumbed to interviewer
suggestions or pressure.
I also recommend obtaining narrative statements from
the child regarding several interactions she has had over time with the
accused if this is a person who is related to her or otherwise known by
her, which is usually the case. Statements regarding interactions with
other important adult figures aside from the suspect may also be useful.
Statements about nonsexual interactions which can be verified or
disconfirmed by other witnesses, including the accused, may be relevant.
Judging from application of statement analysis methods in simulation
studies (Steller, 1989), statements about events where the child might
have been punished, or where an adult assisted when the victim was injured
or ill, might be helpful. Such events have some commonality with being
sexually abused, including direct involvement of the reporting child as
opposed to mere observation of an event, with "a predominantly
negative emotional tone of the event, and an extensive loss of control over the situation on
the part of the person affected" (Steller, op. cit., p.141).
all of these types of statements provide the examiner with a baseline of
the child's expressive capabilities in comparison to how the child
responds and can be compared to the key incident(s) being investigated.
intrafamilial situations, if additional statements about the accused are
all negative in tone, rather than reflecting some degree of ambivalence,
the possibility of a false accusation is increased. This is what Gardner
has termed the "parental alienation syndrome" (Gardner, 1987).
Undeutsch (1987) recommends that there be at least two
interviews. Having the child tell the same event two or more times can
also be used as a reliability check. Undeutsch has stated that witnesses,
including victims, must be motivated to provide a truthful and complete
Even if it is true that a false accusation made by a
child is an extremely rare exception, it is, on the other hand, not
justified to simply assume that everything a child or adolescent witness
relates is the plain and complete truth. This belief, even if widely held,
is simplistic and naive and contradicted by the facts ... there are a
great many reasons for a victim to conceal essential details or to give a
distorted description of the sexual relationship under investigation. ... As Paul Ekman
(1985) in his book Telling Lies points
out (p. 28), there are two primary ways to lie: to conceal and to falsify.
In concealing, the liar withholds — wittingly with intent, not by
accident — some information. ... In falsifying, the liar purposefully
presents false information as if it were true. ... In sex cases, completely
false allegations are rare exceptions. On the other hand, incomplete
accounts of illegitimate sexual activities are the rule. Sometimes
falsification occurs to help the liar cover evidence of what is being
concealed. The use of falsification to mask what is being concealed occurs
when the victim claims to have been forced or threatened to submit to some
sexual activities ... even though nothing of the kind happened in reality
We must be realistic and use appropriate investigatory
methods instead of relying upon intuitive/clinical approaches if we are to
uncover any existing problems in the child's statements. When the initial
approach to the case is faulty, matters can become very knotty to untangle
at a later stage. Teasing out undue influence by adults interacting with
the child, possible deception, or lack of credibility then becomes nearly
impossible, so everyone is left with doubts as to what really happened.
A decision model for assessing deception in children
has been developed by Quinn (1988), which may aid in determining when
deception should be investigated as well as when the clinician should
conclude a child is engaging in deception. Quinn cited a number of
studies where adolescents later acknowledged they had lied about being
sexually abused in order to leave conflicted but nonabusive settings, or
where latency age children in divorcing families were actively struggling
for acceptance within the family by trying to report what either parent
wanted to hear. Children may lie to keep their family intact by retracting
a previous disclosure. Children may deceive to avoid some punishment or
gain social rewards. If there are incongruities in clinical presentation,
does the child, when confronted, "admit to deception or offer an
implausible explanation?" Are the child's potential reasons for
deceiving identifiable? Is there a recognizable goal?
Wherever possible, the supportive parent/nonaccused
adult should also be interviewed. This will help bring to light the
situation in which the allegations arose and typically will bring out many
details that are not found in police reports. If other persons were first
told about the molestation by the child, they should also be interviewed.
Some characteristics of the supportive parent versus one who is engaged in
exaggerated or false accusations are outlined in Table
Some frequent situational characteristics of genuine
offenses and of false allegations are outlined in Table
3. It is crucial
in all accounts of molestation that the situation leading to the
disclosure be carefully and fully studied. It is not possible to
discriminate valid from invalid complaints without considering the various
persons involved, the situation in which the allegations arose, and
potential motivations for distortion or reports or observations by the
accused, the victim, and other involved parties.
Evaluation of the Accused Where All Allegations are
The use of a polygraph examination, conducted by a
psychologist with special training in polygraph examinations, may be the
preferred starting point, once the specific allegations have been defined
as well as possible. Some evaluators prefer to begin with an interview to
determine what, if anything, the suspect admits to regarding any current
charges, any anomalous sexual preferences, any situational lapses of
sexual behavior, and then to conduct phallometric testing using a
volumetric device and standardized stimulus materials (Langevin, 1988).
Polygraph or plethysmograph studies are then followed by psychological
testing of pertinent clinical factors, such as sexual preferences and
practices, history of violence, substance abuse problems, and personality
Langevin believes that the validity scales of the MMPI
"may prove useful in assessing dissimulation in general, but not
sexual behavior in particular" (p.287).
Other examiners conduct a standard psychological
evaluation of the accused, and may or may not conduct or refer the
individual for polygraph or plethysmograph studies, although I recommend
incorporation of all of these methods where appropriate to the case and
when resources permit. Psychological testing can assess overall
defensiveness and may identify efforts to dissimulate but is not
conclusive or sufficient in itself. If the accused is a parent of the
victim, he or she might be asked to complete a parent report instrument
such as the Personality Inventory for Children-Revised (PIC-R), in which
the parent's attitudes about the child are measured. One can ascertain
whether the parent tends to deny problems that the child is documented as
having or tends to exaggerate them. The nonaccused parent can be asked to
complete the same instrument for comparison, although one must take into
account the known differences between fathers' and mothers' endorsement
patterns on some tests, before attributing such differences as solely due
to individual reporting.
Parallel to the use of the SVA model with the victim,
it is critical get a narrative statement from the accused regarding the
events of which he is accused. If there are specific incidents, places,
and times, the defendant should be asked for a comprehensive statement of
his version of these incidents. If he categorically denies any sexual offense, then narrative
statements covering the time frames of the allegations should be obtained.
Statements covering other interactions with the child which are not sexual
in nature and which can be verified by other observers or by the child are
also useful. In incest cases, most helpful are specific instances in which
the accused has cared for the child when ill or injured, incidents in
which he has disciplined or punished the child, and which the child or
others could verify. Such narratives can also serve as a comparison
baseline as well as provide additional information about the dynamics
between parent and child. A detailed parenting history is needed apart
from any parent/child allegations. Obviously, a detailed psychosocial,
relationship, and sexual history of the accused is also essential.
Some observed differences in persons who are actually
guilty of molestation but who are denying compared with persons who are
guilty and admitting, or who are not guilty and denying are outlined in
Discussion and Conclusions
We are witnessing some major breakthroughs in assessing
sexual molestation, which will ultimately increase the confidence we have
in confirming incidents of true abuse and in weeding out those cases which
are not based upon actual events. SVA methods are straightforward enough that they can reasonably be
taught to non-psychologists such as police and social services personnel,
who frequently are the first to interview child victims. In the United
States, they may be the only ones to interview victims.
There are, however, additional valuable techniques and
accumulated wisdom from many sources including psychologists from Europe
over the past four decades which are not encompassed in the current SVA
method. The richness and complexity of the earlier procedures becomes
apparent in reading the late Arne Trankell or in reading unpublished
interviews conducted of victims by Undeutsch (Undeutsch, personal
communication, 1988; Undeutsch, unpublished manuscript, 1989). Those who
have used SRA still have much to teach us, both for the purpose of
additional technique that could potentially augment SVA, but also for suggesting future research directions.
situation may be somewhat parallel to the old Rorschach masters whose
results were often stunningly perceptive and accurate; but communicating
and passing down what they actually did was quite difficult. From them came
many hypotheses, however, which could be tested, some of which were
verified and better systematized, but other components sometimes could not
be operationalized well enough to be tested.
The developers of SVA have made a tremendous
contribution by systematizing the elements from SRA and related techniques
that can be operationalized and which will be most likely to be
replicated, validated, easily taught, and then used reliably, but the more
subtle and idiographic aspects of the older methods must be preserved and
studied further. An enormous legacy has yet to be fully realized.
Ekman, P. (1989). Why Kids Lie
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Faller, K. C. (1988). The myth of the "collusive mother":
Variability in the functioning of mothers of victims of intrafamilial sexual abuse.
Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 3(2), 190-196.
Gardner, RA. (1987). The Parental Alienation Syndrome and the Differentiation
Between Fabricated and Genuine Child Sex Abuse
Jersey: Creative Therapeutics.
Gelfand, D. J., & Raskin, D. C. (1988). Guilty, until proven
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