A. Investigating a case of child sexual abuse poses a fundamental problem.
Many accusations rely on uncorroborated statements allegedly made by a child. In many
jurisdictions the law has been changed to allow all manner of hearsay evidence that would
otherwise be excluded. This is used to bolster statements alleged to have been made by
B. Sexual abuse cases are extremely difficult to defend because the
defense attorney must find a way for the finder-of-fact to understand why a child is
making statements about abuse if it didn't happen.
C. The issue is usually not whether or not the child is lying. If a child
is lying, it most likely will be disturbed early adolescents who have the capacities
required for deliberate and willful lying. It will not likely be younger children.
D. The issue is the level, nature, extent, and effects of adult social
influence upon children.
E. The investigator should gather as much information as possible about
the parties involved and about the circumstances surrounding the disclosure and
1. Detailed information from the adult who first spoke to the child about
the alleged abuse. Any recordings that may have been made of this along with any notes
taken by the adult.
2. The nature, timing, and circumstances surrounding the original
disclosure, in as much detail and specificity as possible.
3. Detailed information concerning the nature of the allegations along
with any changes in these over time. When an account becomes more complex, detailed,
specific, and bizarre across time, it is almost always the result of adult social
4. Records or descriptions of any informal contacts between the child and
an adult. Is the parent questioning the child, encouraging the child to make drawings, or
giving the child information about what someone else has said? Are parents having meetings
or talking with other parents, neighbors, or relatives?
5. Records of the actions and decisions of law enforcement, prosecution,
and child protection workers. This includes any team meetings, supervisory contacts or
consultations, intake interviews, interrogations, and phone calls to or from other
agencies, the reporting adult, parents of the child, and the prosecutor. Also look for any
sessions which are supposed to familiarize the child with the courtroom or prepare them to
6. Records and documents from all persons who have interviewed the child
concerning the contacts. Audio- or videotapes are particularly important.
7. All investigative contacts with any potential witnesses, alternative
suspects, and any information gathered about the person accused. Often, interrogations of
persons and children that did not produce inculpatory statements are left out or not
8. Records of any mental health professional who has had contact with the
child.This should include progress notes, any testing, and insurance forms. There are
times when a diagnosis made in the records is different than that submitted to an
insurance company. Some diagnoses are paid for and others are not.
9. Information about the social and family characteristics and history in
the family of the child. This includes information such as conflicts over visitations, new
boy friends or girl friends of divorced parents, drug or alcohol use, criminal records,
10. Information about the sleeping and bathing habits of the family,
attitudes towards nudity, etc.
11. Information about the behavior of the foster parents towards the
child. Sometimes foster parents will function as investigators, questioning the child,
making notes of the child's behaviors, and reporting what the child may or may not say.
Often, the foster parents will keep logs or diaries documenting that they are doing this.
12. Information about contacts between the child and any family members
who are discussing the alleged abuse with the child.
13. Information about books, television shows, or school sexual abuse
prevention programs that may have influenced the child. There are television shows on
cable television that can only be described as X-rated.
14. The psychological characteristics, drug or alcohol use, job history,
and any criminal record or prior behaviors in the accused adult that would either support
or undermine the credibility of the allegations.
14. Background information on social workers, police, and mental health
professionals that will give information about any prior assumptions or biases. Articles,
documents, speeches, programs, etc. Check the credentials of mental health professionals.
We have occasionally found cases where the experts have falsified their credentials or
have graduated from a diploma mill. Licensing boards will have information about
reprimands, educational qualifications, and stated competencies.
15. Information about the techniques and methods used by any mental health
16. Information about the capacities and developmental level of the child.
a. Medical records of the child from any physician, dentist, hospital, or
clinic. This is necessary to look for documentation of any behaviors or symptoms that may
predate the allegation of abuse.
b. Records of any psychological or psychiatric treatments or evaluations
the child may have had in the past.
c. School records, including dates present, absent, tardy, behavioral
observations, or teacher evaluations. This should include any day care centers,
preschools, or baby-sitters. Consider statements or affidavits from any teachers or day
care workers as to the child's behavior, health, and observed interactions with the
parents. Often school records contain observations by teachers that are very different
from that reported by parents. There is research evidence that teachers reports may be
more accurate than parental reports.
d. Information from any credible adults who have had the opportunity to
observe the child's behavior with parents, peers, and other adults.
F. The defense attorney should attempt to get a psychological evaluation
or interview of the child by a competent psychologist.
G. If a complaining adult is essential to the development of the
accusation, as in the case of a mother who is alleging abuse by a father while the child
was on visitation, get all information about the complaining adult.