Statement Regarding Florida Senate Bill 1072
The Family Bill of Rights
March 8, 1996, Tallahassee, Florida
Hollida Wakefield, M.A.
Ralph Underwager, Ph.D.
Institute for Psychological Therapies
5263 130th Street East
Northfield, MN 55057-4880
Last summer we attended the first International Conference on Child Protection
and Clients, held in the Netherlands, June 28-30, 1995. We gave the keynote
address and other presentations. Professionals and families from US, Canada,
Australia, New Zealand, England, Ireland, Scotland, Germany, Netherlands,
Luxembourg, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, France, Argentina, Hungary,
and Belgium met and dealt with the same issues the proposed legislation
addresses. The amazing worldwide similarity of deep concerns and serious
problems with how authorities respond to allegations of child abuse makes
it abundantly clear that we have exported our problematical US system around
We have built a system that, while intended to protect children, often does
more harm to children and families than good. From 1979 to the present every
scientist who has investigated the level and type of error committed by
the child protection system has concluded there is an unconscionable level
of false positives, that is, saying there is abuse when there is not. These
analyses have covered the entire range of disciplines from medical examinations
to interviews to assessment and diagnosis. Scientific unanimity across so
many years and so many parameters is highly unusual. The conference unanimously
endorsed the need for much more attention to improving the accuracy of decision
making than has heretofore been given.
Although the damage to a falsely accused person is obvious, it is not always
fully realized that a child is also damaged by a false allegation and a
mistaken decision. If a child is involved in allegations of abuse that are
ill-founded and erroneous, it is not an innocuous, neutral, or benign experience.
A child involved in a false allegation of abuse is subjected to highly destructive
emotional abuse. The harm done to children when adults make a mistake and
treat a nonabused child as if there has been abuse is severe and likely
long lasting. Several years after the infamous Jordan case in Scott County,
Minnesota, in 1984, the damage to the parents and children in the involved
families is apparent. A recent in-depth research project in the United Kingdom
on families who claimed to be falsely accused of child abuse documented
varying degrees of trauma, some severe and long lasting, to the families
involved, including the children. Other research studies also demonstrate
the harm done to children.
The child protection system responds to abuse allegations with much reinforcement
for making an accusation but has no accountability. An allegation produces
large and immediate payoffs and has no cost to the system or the accuser
if it is false. This makes the child protection system very vulnerable to
manipulation and distortion by troubled and distressed persons pursuing
their own private purposes.
The research literature now shows conclusively that young children are suggestible
and can be led to produce erroneous accounts of abuse. The research also
demonstrates that children may come to believe in mistaken memories and
experience them as subjectively real when they are not. The consequence
is that a nonabused child is made into a victim of abuse by the mistaken
belief of adults. The San Diego County Grand Jury thoroughly and extensively
investigated the child protection system in San Diego County. Their carefully
documented review shows the damage that can be done to children by false
accusations and mistaken intervention by authorities. Representatives from
that Grand Jury have testified before congressional committees.
It is essential for the welfare of children to work towards increasing the
reliability and accuracy of decisions made. An important step in accomplishing
this is to audiotape or videotape all investigatory interviews with the
child. Also any therapy sessions with a child prior to adjudication of an
allegation should be fully documented as well. We have reviewed hundreds
of hours of audiotapes or videotapes of interviews with children from all
over this country. We have found that adult social influence is frequently
found in accusations which are later determined by the justice system to
be false. Both our research and the observations of other professionals
demonstrate a high level of adult behavior toward children that is suggestive,
coercive, leading, and contaminates the information gained from an interview.
There are several significant advantages to videotaping:
1. Videotaping permits an objective analysis of the techniques of the interviewer.
Interviewers who claim that they did not ask leading questions are often
found to have conducted highly leading and suggestive interviews. But when
the interview has been conducted properly, the videotape verifies this,
thus making it difficult to argue that the interviewer asked improper questions.
2. Videotaping provides an incentive for interviewers to avoid coercive,
suggestive interviews and to improve their interviewing techniques.
3. Videotapes assure that the written report of the interview is accurate.
Interviewers' written reports of the interview may often be inaccurate and
4. Videotaping can reduce the total number of interviews, thus reducing
the trauma to child witnesses.
5. Videotaping preserves the child's exact statements, emotion, and demeanor
when the child makes a disclosure about abuse.
6. In cases of actual abuse, videotapes encourage confessions or guilty
pleas when the interview is noncoercive and the child is convincing.
7. Videotapes are useful to assess the strength of the child as a witness
and can provide valuable evidence to help determine whether to pursue a
criminal investigation and indictment.
The arguments advanced against interviewing primarily have to do with the
state's fear that the defense will use the tape to attack the interviewing
techniques of the interviewer and to unfairly discredit an inconsistent
child. We do not believe these are valid reasons. If the interviews are
poorly done, the solution is to improve the quality of the interviews, not
to hide what really happened. The desire to protect an inconsistent and
confused child cannot justify the suppression of evidence. The finder-of-fact
is entitled to have all information about the child's statements, including
inconsistencies, denials, and retractions, in order to make the most accurate
determination possible about the child's reliability and credibility. The
finder-of-fact is also entitled to have full information about the types
of questions asked by the interviewer, particularly with a young child.
Another argument is that the videotaping equipment will make the child uncomfortable.
This argument does not hold up in practice and is not supported by research
on the effect of videotaping. Children generally quickly forget about the
camera and, if this is a concern, the camera can be positioned behind a
one-way mirror or unobtrusively.
It is sometimes argued that the investigator cannot always have videotaping
equipment at his disposal. But there is no reason that the interview cannot
be audiotaped. Although videotaping has significant advantages over audiotaping,
audiotaping is far preferable to making no record at all.
In summary, there are no good reasons not to tape all investigatory interviews
of children; there are only bad reasons.
Selected general references by Wakefield and Underwager
Underwager, R., & Wakefield, H. (1990). The Real World of Child
Springfield, IL: C. C. Thomas.
Wakefield, H., & Underwager, R. (1988). Accusations of Child Sexual
Abuse ()(). Springfield, IL:
C. C. Thomas.
Wakefield, H., & Underwager, R. (1994). Return of the Furies: An
Investigation into Recovered Memory Therapy (). Chicago: Open Court.
Wakefield, H., & Underwager, R. (1991). Sexual abuse allegations in
divorce and custody disputes.
Behavioral Sciences & the
Wakefield, H., & Underwager, R. (1992). Recovered memories of alleged
sexual abuse: Lawsuits against parents. Behavioral Sciences & the
Wakefield, H., & Underwager, R. (1994). Abusive behaviors alleged in
two samples of likely false allegations. Issues in Child Abuse Accusations,
Wakefield, H., & Underwager, R. (1994). The alleged child victim and
real victims of sexual misuse. In J. J. Krivacska & J. Money (Eds.),
The Handbook of Forensic Sexology (), Amherst, NY:
Underwager, R., & Wakefield, H. (1995). Special problems with sexual
abuse cases. In J. Ziskin (Ed.), Coping with Psychiatric and Psychological
Testimony: Fifth Edition (). Los Angeles: Law and Psychology Press.
Selected references on the effects of false allegations
Robson, B. (1991, March). The Scars of Scott County. Mpls./St.
pp. 48-53, 123, 125-131.
Marcotty, J., & Peterson, D. (1994, October 16). Ten years after: The
legacy of Jordan. Star Tribune (Minneapolis), p. 14A, 15A.
Robson revisited the families caught in false allegations in
Scott County, Minnesota, in 1984. Robson reports that "Seven years
later, the legacy of Scott County has been one of children crying for their
parents in the middle of the night; of divorce and dysfunction among nearly
all of the families involved; of perhaps permanent emotional damage to the
accused and accusers alike."
Davis, S. M., & Reppucci, N. D. (1992). Accusations of child sexual
abuse: A study of process and consequences. Revision of a paper presented
at the American Psychology-Law Society 1992 Biennial meeting. San Diego,
Ten years after the first couple was acquitted and charges were
dismissed against the others in the Scott county cases, one boy told them,
"I get this sick feeling in my stomach when I think there are some
people out there who still think I was an abused child." This boy, 11
at the time and now 22, remains troubled, distrustful and confused by his
experience. For another family, "nothing was ever normal again."
Fincham, F. D., Beach, S. R. H., Moore, T., & Diener, C. (1994, July).
The professional response to child sexual abuse: Whose interests are served?
Family Relations, 43, 244-254.
People claiming to be falsely accused of child sexual abuse
reported significant stress from the accusation and investigation.
Fincham, F. D., Beach, S. R. H., Moore, T., & Diener, C. (1994, July).
Child sexual abuse: Finding common ground. Family Relations, 43,
Patterson, D. H. (1991-92). The other victim: The falsely accused parent
in a sexual abuse custody case. Journal of Family Law, 30, 919-941.
The authors discuss the trauma resulting from a child abuse
investigation and note the large number cases of suspected sexual abuse
that are not substantiated. They stress that professionals should be aware
of the potential harm done to nonabused children when there is professional
intervention that assumes abuse has occurred.
Richardson, D. W. (1990). The effects of a false allegation of child sexual
abuse on an intact middle class family. Issues In Child Abuse Accusations,
Patterson describes the significant harm done to the falsely
accused parent in a sexual abuse custody situation. An immediate consequence
is often that visitation is immediately suspended. Whether this is the result
or whether there is contact under supervision, there is a strain on the
relationship between the child and the accused parent. Even if this is later
rectified, the parent has lost valuable time with the child. The author
concludes: "We can never serve a child's best interest by denying him
or her the love and affection of a parent who has himself been victimized
by a lie" (p. 941).
Schultz, L. (1989). One hundred cases of unfounded child sexual abuse: A
survey and recommendations. Issues in Child Abuse Accusations, 1 1(1),
The family in this case was destroyed and the parents and children
all suffered depression, stress, rage, distress, hurt and alienation.
Smith, J. (1991). Aftermath of a false allegation. Issues in Child Abuse
Accusations, 3 3(4), 203.
Families were negatively affected by false allegations in a
variety of ways.
Wexler, R. (1990). Wounded Innocents: The Real Victims of the War Against
Child Abuse (). Buffalo, NY:
This is the account of the girl who suicided several years after
having made a false allegation because of pressure from her mother. When
she found out that her father had been imprisoned and later suicided as
a result of her false allegation, she also killed herself.
Besharov, D. J. (1990). Gaining control over child abuse reports. Public
Welfare, Spring 1990, 34-41.
Wexler believes that the war against child abuse "has become
a war against children." He argues that our child abuse system is hurting
the children that it is attempting to help.
Selected references on videotaping
Besharov discusses the high proportion of unfounded reports
which make up an estimated 55% to 65% of all reports. This endangers children
who are really abused since these unfounded reports drain resources and
child protective agencies are less able to respond effectively to children
who are in serious danger.
Myers, J. E. B. (1994, July). Child victim witness investigative pilot
projects: Research and evaluation final report. Sacramento, CA: California
Department of Justice.
These pilot projects had the goal of finding ways to improve
the investigation of child sexual abuse by enhancing the quality of interviewing,
protecting the rights of persons accused, and reducing the trauma to children.
They concluded that their innovations constituted a major improvement over
the traditional approach to investigating child sexual abuse. The pilot
project provided clear support for videotaping interviews and the professionals
involved in the project agreed that videotaping helps lower trauma for children
and contributes to the search for the truth.
Lamb, M. E. (1994). The investigation of child sexual abuse: An international,
interdisciplinary consensus statement. Family
Law Quarterly, 28(1),
McGough, L. S. (1995). For the record: Videotaping investigative interviews.
Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, 1(2), 370-386.
This consensus statement was what emerged from a three-day meeting
in 1993 in Sweden. The participants were well-known experts from different
disciplines from Europe, North America, and the Middle East. This statement
has been published in several different professional journals. The consensus
statement recommends videotaping all primary investigative interviews: "[Videotaped]
records permit review of the child's statement by a variety of investigators
who would otherwise have to conduct separate interviews. In addition, video
recordings allow a careful and dispassionate evaluation of the extent to
which the quality of the interview may have distorted the information obtained.
A video recording provides a means of evaluating what information, if any,
is likely to have been affected by leading or suggestive questions and what
aspects of he account seem unaffected by such questions."
DeLipsey, J. M., & James, S. K. (1988). Videotaping the sexually abused
child: The Texas experience, 1983-1987. In S. M. Sgroi (Ed.), Vulnerable
Populations: Evaluation and Treatment of Sexually Abused Children and Adult
Survivors: Vol. 1
(pp. 229-264). Lexington, Massachusetts: Lexington Books.
McGough reviews the arguments for and against videotaping and
reviews the arguments for and against it. She makes a strong case for videotaping
and concludes that "pretrial videotaping of child witness's accounts
is surely an idea whose time has come."
Selected references on children's suggestibility
DeLipsey & James describe the experience in Texas after
investigatory interviews were required to be taped: "Undoubtedly, the
most distressing problems were the use of leading and suggestive questions
and coercion to make the child confirm certain information. As professionals,
we were challenged to evaluate our own credibility. . . . Our concern was
that that these inappropriate interviewing techniques had been employed
for some time but were not exposed until the statute was passed. We soon
came to realize that the videotaped interview protected the rights of the
accused as well" (p. 238).
These discuss the research on the suggestibility of children. The ones by
Ceci and Bruck describe recent research demonstrating how children can be
led through suggestive and leading interviews to make statements about abuse
that never happened and to even develop subjectively real memories for false
Bruck, M., & Ceci, S. J. (1994 ). Amicus Brief for the case of
NJ v. Kelly Michaels.
Ceci, S. J., & Bruck, M. (1993). The suggestibility of the child witness:
A historical review and synthesis. Psychological Bulletin, 113(3),
Ceci, S. J., & Bruck, M. (1995). Jeopardy in the Courtroom: A Scientific
Analysis of Children's Testimony (). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Doris, J. (Ed.). (1991). The Suggestibility of Children's Recollections:
Implications for Eyewitness Testimony (). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Selected references on child protective services investigations
These address the trauma and distress that families experience when there
is a child abuse investigation along with problems in the child protection
system's procedures and policies.
Berliner, L., & Conte, J. R. (1995). The effects of disclosure and intervention
on sexually abused children.
Child Abuse & Neglect, 19(3), 371-384.
Diorio, W. D. (1992, April). Parental perceptions of the authority of public
child welfare caseworkers. Families in Society: The
Journal of Contemporary Human Services, pp. 222-235.
Hechler, D. (1993). Damage control.
Child Abuse & Neglect, 17(6),
Luza, S., & Ortiz, E. (1991). The dynamic of shame in interactions between
Child Protective Services and families falsely accused of child abuse. Issues
In Child Abuse Accusations, 3 3(2), 108-123.
Prosser, J., & Lewis, I. (1992). Child Abuse Investigations: The
Families' Perspective. Parents Against INjustice. 3 Riverside Business
Park, Stansted, Essex CM24 8PL, United Kingdom. (Westminster College study).
Prosser, J. (1995). A case study of a UK family wrongly accused of child
abuse. Issues in Child Abuse Accusations, 7,
Prosser, J. (1995). An ethnographic case study approach to studying the
process of child abuse investigation in the United Kingdom. Issues in
Child Abuse Accusations, 7, 146-154.
San Diego County Grand Jury. (1992, February 6). Families in Crisis.
Report No. 2. San Diego, CA.
San Diego County Grand Jury (1992, June 29). Child Sexual Abuse, Assault,
and Molest Issues. Report no. 8: San Diego, CA.