IPT Book Reviews

Title: International Perspectives on Child Abuse and Children's Testimony: Psychological Research and Law
Authors: Bette Bottoms and Gail Goodman
Publisher: Sage Publications, Inc., 1996

Sage Publications, Inc.
2455 Teller Road
Thousand Oaks, CA 91320
(805) 499-0721
$49.95 (c), $23.50 (p)

Although the United States has led the way in attending to the reality of child abuse, physical, emotional, and sexual, other countries have also chosen to develop approaches to reducing the frequency of abuse. There are various patterns of law that have emerged while the scientific research has tended to proceed along similar lines around the world. This 312-page book presents 14 short chapters describing the current scientific and legal positions in the US, the Netherlands, Israel, Canada, Great Britain, Scotland, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Hong Kong, and India. There is also a chapter giving the overall current status of the scientific research on suggestibility of children. A final chapter tells about the efforts around the world to accommodate child witnesses in the various legal systems. The book ends with an author and subject index.

The most striking aspect of this book is the worldwide acceptance of the recent research establishing the crucial importance of how children are interrogated. No country has ignored the evidence that has corrected the earlier dogmas that children must always be believed and children cannot lie about sexual abuse. All have grasped the central fact that children and everyone else benefit by reaching the most accurate decision possible. The most significant reality in reaching accurate decisions is understanding how adults must let children produce the most reliable information they can. This means the interrogation process must be carefully reviewed. There is overall consensus that two things must be done. First, the interrogators must be well-trained and knowledgeable enough to not get in the way of children's accounts. Second, there must be videotaping, or at least audiotaping, of all interactions with children that attempt to elicit information. The chapter by Warren and McGough on the research data is the best recent summary of this area and can be read with benefit by all professionals.

The legal information is of interest, but contains little new information. There are, however, a number of studies and accounts of experience in the courtroom around the world that indicate testifying in a trial is not as stressful for children as many prosecutors insist. The most interesting approach is the Scottish system of Children's Hearings. A panel of three trained lay persons functions as the gatekeeper to any further justice system involvement. The Israeli system also employs a cadre of independent youth investigators who are the first and only persons to question children and who then recommend any necessary further action to the court.

The book is useful for getting a view of the worldwide response to the abuse of children and for the clear support for the general acceptance of the scientific research on suggestibility and interviewing of children.

Reviewed by Ralph Underwager, Institute for Psychological Therapies, Northfield, Minnesota.

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