Seminar on Child Sexual Abuse

Seminar on Child Sexual Abuse

Ralph C. Underwager
and
Hollida Wakefield

Hungary
October, 1996

III. Investigating Child Sexual Abuse Allegations

A. Serious harm to children and adults can occur with both types of errors-failing to identify an abused child and misidentifying abuse when it has not occurred.

B. Secondary victimization

1. The massive effort to protect abused children has resulted in damage to innocent people and nonabused children.

2. The sexual abuse investigation itself can be devastating to families and children whether or not the allegations is ultimately determined to be false (Wakefield & Underwager, 1994a; Prosser, 1996a, 1996b; Tyler & Brassard, 1984).

3. In a study of 8058 sexual abuse victims in Lower Saxony, Baurmann (1983) found that for one-fifth of his sample, the main cause of the injury was judged by the victims to be the behavior of relatives, friends, or the police.

4. Jones (1991) describes nine possible components of iatrogenic (doctor induced) harm by the system when children have been actually been abused. They are 1) overzealous professional intervention, 2) repeated interviewing, 3) repeated physical examinations, 4) decline in living standards, 5) defensive decision making, 6) attendance at court, 7) withholding treatment, 8) overtreatment, and 9) foster care.
5. Minimizing secondary victimization

a. Minimize the risk of identifying a nonabused child as abused. Make the most accurate decision possible.

b. Do not remove the child from home unless absolutely necessary.

i. Gomes-Schwartz et al. (1990) found that children who were removed from home were more distressed than those who remained.

ii. Instead of removing the child, either place an observer in the home to offer security for the child and family or have the alleged perpetrator removed.

c. Do not interview the child in school.

d. Do a careful assessment of the child before placing the child in sexual abuse therapy.

e. Do not exaggerate and overstate the consequences of child sexual abuse.

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