Seminar on Child Sexual Abuse


I. Introduction

A. Investigating and assessing cases of alleged child sexual abuse is difficult and controversial.

1. Ceci & Bruck (1993) describe two distinct positions:

a. Children are highly resistant to suggestion, unlikely to lie, and as reliable as adults.

b. Children have difficulty in distinguishing fact and fantasy, highly suggestible, and unreliable as witnesses.

2. These polarities have become solidified and entrenched with each side distrusting the other. A common ground must be found to get out of the divisiveness and hostility.

3. We suggest that agreement is possible on the proposition that increased accuracy of decision making is to the benefit of everybody. As Saks and Kidd (1980-81) observe:

Through legal decision making we seek to avoid the classic errors of convicting an innocent defendant or acquitting a guilty one, or finding liability when there is none or failing to find liability when it is present. Whatever justice may be, surely it is not error (p. 123).

4. The behavior of the investigators who respond to an allegation of sexual abuse early in the case is pivotal in terms of how the case progresses and is ultimately resolved.

5. A faulty investigation may result in innocent children being damaged and innocent people being falsely charged and guilty people being acquitted whereas a good investigation is likely to result in an accurate decision by the justice system.

B. The type of error being made is in the direction of false positives, that is, of falsely identifying an individual as abused or an abuser when it is not true (e.g., Altemeier, O'Connor, Vietze, Sandler, & Sherrod, 1984; Caldwell, Bogat, & Davidson, 1988; Gambrill, 1990; Horner, 1992; Horner & Guyer, 1991a, 1991b; Kotelchuck, 1982; Melton, 1994; Milner, Gold, Ayoub, & Jacewitz, 1984; Paradise, 1989; Realmuto, Jensen, & Wescoe, 1990; Schachter, 1985; Starr, 1979; Wakefield & Underwager, 1988; Zeitlin, 1987).

1. Much has been made of the harm to children if there is a false negative decision, that is, failing to identify a child as abused when it is true. The claim is that a few mistakes are necessary in order to prevent the harm of abuse.

2. This ignores the damage done to nonabused children by embroiling them in false accusations. It also ignores the evidence suggesting that more children are harmed by the abuse system and by abuse investigations than are helped by them. It may be that the defense attorney and the defense private investigator are the only champions a nonabused child has in the courtroom.

3. This conclusion also ignores the damage done to innocent people who represent the false positives generated by the system (Armbrister, 1993; Baurmann, 1983; Buckey, Buckey, & Buckey, 1990; Davis & Reppucci, 1992; Luza & Ortiz, 1991; McLeod, 1989; Prosser, 1995; Prosser & Lewis, 1992; Robson, 1991; San Diego County Grand Jury, 1992; Schultz, 1986; Weinbach, 1987). C. There is now enough credible scientific knowledge that we can improve the accuracy of the decisions made. We do not need to continue making the kinds of errors that have been made up to the present.

II. What to Look for in Discovery

III. Interviewing children when there are allegations of sexual abuse

IV. General principles for conducting an unbiased interview

V. Interviewing a child who has been exposed to multiple interrogations

VI. Allegations of ritualistic and satanic abuse

VII. Sexual abuse allegations in divorce and custody disputes

VIII. Behavioral indicators

IX. Medical evidence

X. Recovered Memories of Childhood Sexual Abuse

XI. Coerced and False Confessions and Police Deception

XII. Important Court Rulings


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