Dr. Simon B. Miranda And Teresa M. Pastor
sexual assaults on children are an undisputed ugly reality in our
society, it has become increasingly evident over the last decade or two
that false accusations of sexual assaults on children are also an ugly
is very seldom totally correct to say that a child is lying when making
sexual abuse allegations. When
false allegations make it into the protective services, the law
enforcement, or the judicial fields, what has almost invariably happened
is that a child's sexual gesture or activity, or a child's comment of
answer (usually to leading questions) has been interpreted, exaggerated,
distorted, or in some other way shaped into a sexual abuse statement by
a series of individuals.
A.A. Milne tells the story about Winnie the Pooh and Piglet going for a
walk in the snow and discovering fresh tracks where they had been
walking. They fearfully
conclude that some threatening creature, perhaps a woozle, must be
nearby and perhaps even following them.
As they walk around in the snow, examining the tell-tale marks,
they discover more and more tracks, and become more and more alarmed.
This blind search goes on until they discover that the tracks are
their own and that the terrifying woozles simply do not exist.
Like Winnie the Pooh and Piglet, many parents and professionals
involved in the alleged sexual abuse cases create tracks that they later
attribute to the defendant.
powerful negative motive usually underlies the birth of a false sex
abuse allegation, and often questionable (however pro-socially clothed)
motives energize its flow through the governmental systems. At the entry point of a false allegation one almost always
finds a parent who has questioned a child in indeterminate ways and
often also exposed the child to powerful emotional messages.
parent will then pass that exchange through her/his personal
psychological filter (beliefs, memories, attitudes, resentments, fears)
before delivering this filtered information to a law enforcement
professional has the unique opportunity of detecting the false or
doubtful nature of the allegations and stopping them.
Unfortunately, too often this person also has the power to give
the allegation life and elevate it to an official status.
the later takes place, the accused ends up facing capital charges of
sexual assault; once filed, these charges give the case a life of it's
own. By the time discovery
begins, several persons have interviewed; mental health professionals,
protective services personnel, medical professionals, lay and/or
attorney guardians. At this
point, one frequently encounters a child who in a few months has
acquired impressive intellectual and emotional sophistication in the
rendering of sexual abuse allegations.
One also often faces allegations that have grown in number of
incidents, severity of incidents, and all kinds of aggravating
is here that a trained psychologist will draw upon the ever growing body
of knowledge in the experience, to ascertain if there are
"tracks" created by "Poohs" and "Piglets"
of the case. Specifically,
this clinician addresses himself to the information available on the
case and then readers opinions as to its reliability.
trained clinical psychologist working on the defense of someone accused
of sexual abuse must be aware of the ease with which parents, children,
and other professionals fall into the trap of bias.
Bias can be inadvertent or malicious, rooted in personal history,
based on gender or professional differences, gathered from ideologies of
the field, or caused by lack of professional training.
too many law enforcement interviewers and social service workers accept
as true the information given in the referral or by the parents.
Many will conduct validation interviews which seek to elicit from
the child verbal and/or non-verbal confirmation for a series of
"facts" already in the interviewer's possession, and which the
interviewer believes are based on reality.
as Winnie the Pooh created footprints himself and blamed them on some
unknown force, the interviewer who has already reached a conclusion
about a case also contaminates the child's statement with his own
tracks. How does the
psychologist identify these footprints?
psychologist analyzes the child's statement(s) and other related
documents to determine whether the child's independence has been
removed, making the child vulnerable to suggestion, leading,
manipulation, or any type of distorting influence.
This leading tactic is seductive in nature, in that the
interviewer appeals to the child's emotions in order to persuade her/him
to adopt the interviewer's position on the issue.
For example, the interviewer may infantilize the child by using a
regressive tone of voice or by using excessive flattery.
often manipulate the child through psychological crowding, in other
words, by creating an atmosphere of doubt and by throwing the child off
balance mentally, in order to redefine the child's mental contents. For example, in one case the interviewer suggested that an
anatomical girl doll bear the same name as the child, even after the
child had given the doll another name.
Later in the same interview, the following interchange took
Should we have his (adult male anatomical doll's) clothes on or
his clothes off?
Yes, I think on.
Well, I don't know. You
On. It would look
better with his clothes on.
O.K., but we're not looking for better.
We're looking for you just to tell the truth.
professional guidelines consistently stress that an investigation must
be clearly distinguished from therapy, many interviewers assume a
therapeutic role, which ultimately gives the child permission to make
potentially negative statements about a person who might be close to the
child, and gives reinforcement for making these negative statements. In reality, therapy should take place only once diagnoses is
made, and an investigator who sees herself as providing therapy has
clearly made the determination that the child is indeed a victim, and
therefore the accused must be guilty.
example, one interviewer repeatedly made statements such as,
"You're not in any trouble."
"It takes a lot of courage to tell."
"You didn't do anything wrong even if you said OK." This investigator, when deposed, actually referred to her
interview as "therapeutic investigative," terms which are
mutually exclusive. This
same interviewer also explained in deposition that her job was to give
the child "permission to say the words."
an emotional atmosphere is created in which the child is robbed of
independence and manipulated into adopting the agenda of the
interviewer, various tactics are used to elicit or even twist verbal
statements. Leading questions abound such interviews.
interviewer who is biased toward a particular scenario will confirm his
leaning by failing to follow up on statements that might disprove or
cast doubt on the allegations, or lead to a different interpretation of
the case. For example, in a
case in which the child referred to the alleged abuser as Uncle X, she
also mentioned having seen Uncle Y in the nude.
The interviewer's response was, "Oh, OK.
Besides Uncle Y, who else have you seen like this?"
Failing to follow up on the information given about Uncle Y
indicates that the interview was only seeking statements about Uncle X
not about any possible perpetrator.
also elicit information by giving positive verbal reinforcement to
desired statements ("Good" or "I'm glad you told
me.") and, conversely, showing disapproval when the child gives an
unwanted response. In
extreme cases, an interviewer may even offer the child tangible rewards
for giving the expected statement or negative reinforcement for not
eliciting certain information from a child, an interviewer might
actually attempt to twist the child's statements.
For example, after one child stressed that the alleged abuse
happened at one place, the detective pressed her, "And that
happened at two different places, am I right?"
after the interview is concluded, a biased investigator may misrepresent
a child's ambiguous or inconclusive statement.
For instance, a police report may state that "The child told
me..." but on close examination, the transcript of the actual
interview shows that the child half-heartedly agreed to the
interviewer's suggestion by nodding or responding "I think so"
to a leading question.
tactics merely begin to describe the way in which unreliability is
brought into sexual abuse allegations.
If evidence of bias, contamination, training, or fabrication is
found, it must be laid bare for the prosecutor to see and hopefully
dismiss the charges. If
worst comes to worst, the psychologist will hope for the opportunity to
eloquently bring this unreliability to the trier of fact.
Simon B. Miranda is a
Licensed Clinical Psychologist specializing in the area of Child Sexual
Abuse. Qualified as an "Expert Witness," Dr. Miranda has
successfully testified for the prosecution and the defense.