Coping with Alleged False Sexual Molestation: Examination and Statement Procedures

Martha L. Rogers*

(The author gratefully acknowledges the teaching and training provided to her personally by Dr. Udo Undeutsch of the University of Cologne, West Germany in December, 1988, as well as his sharing of written material, both published and unpublished, and his continued mentoring.  Dr. Undeutsch has also kindly reviewed this document and provided his feedback and criticisms as did Dr. Max Steller of West Germany and Dr. Jack Annon of Hawaii.  None of these psychologists are responsible for the end result, however.  The author assumes total blame for remaining inadequacies!)

ABSTRACT: European methods of assessing the reliability and credibility of witness statements have been well established for over 35 years and accepted in the Court system in West Germany as well as in other countries in Europe, American psycho logy was late in its developing interest in this area.  Developments in recent years bringing European methods to the attention of American forensic psychology will be reviewed.  Problems in current application of these methods in the United States are described.  Factors identified through the available literature or through clinical experience that can aid in the differentiation of experience-based versus fabricated reports of molestation are outlined and recommendations for evaluation of both the accused and the alleged victim are provided.


It is very sobering to realize that we, in the United States today, have no reliable, validated methods for identifying and confirming credible cases of child molestation; nor can we readily discriminate instances of false or unreliable allegations.  Many popular professional guides for evaluating child molestation are based on inadequate scholarship and unreliable methods (Gelfand & Raskin, 1988).  The consequences of this are staggering eight percent or more of investigated cases in the U.S. each year may be fictitious, leading to 8000 or more serious legal actions and false prosecutions.  Some researchers have accrued data to demonstrate that in the 1980s the rates of fictitious allegations appear to have increased (Raskin & Yuille, 1988).

In Europe, for over 35 years, there have been methodologies in use for evaluating the credibility of victims' and witnesses' statements.  These methods are recognized there by the courts.  The following is a brief overview of these methods as they appeared in the English language.  A better historical and conceptual analysis was recently published by Steller and Koehnken (1989).  Most of the early publications out of Europe were not written in English, but the late Arne Trankell from Sweden published a little-noticed case in our own Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology: "Was Lars sexually assaulted?  A study in the reliability of witnesses and experts" (Trankell, 1958).  More attention to this study and the emerging European approaches could have saved us much collective grief had the United States zeitgeist been ready for Trankell's ideas.

In this case, statements made by five-year-old Lars to his mother and to an evaluating psychiatrist, along with statements made by the mother of the boy and by the accused, were used by Dr. Trankell in reconstructing the incident.  He also went to the site where the alleged abuse took place and was able to confirm certain statements made by the boy that were being misinterpreted by the adults.  Trankell was able to delineate the errors made and the clues as to what actually transpired found in the transcript of the boy's statements to the psychiatrist.  The man who was accused was found to be innocent, and the childish dilemma that led to the false accusations was unfolded.  Trankell published other case studies as well as books on what was termed "witness psychology."

Trankell's book, Reliability of Evidence: Methods for Analyzing and Assessing Witness Statements, which was first published in Swedish (1968), and then in German (1971), was translated into English in 1972.  This book describes methods for analyzing and assessing witness statements and introduced to the English-speaking world the work of Udo Undeutsch of West Germany.  Dr. Undeutsch developed Statement Reality Analysis (SRA), a method for assessing the credibility of alleged victim statements.  The Undeutsch Hypothesis states that statements based on real experiences differ in structure, quality, and content from those which are a product of fabrication.

Undeutsch had collaborated with Trankell and translated his work from Swedish into German in 1971.  While Undeutsch's techniques of analyzing witness statements had originated in the 1930s and 1940s, and his publications actually had preceded the work of Trankell (Trankell, 1957, 1959, 1961, 1963; Undeutsch, 1954, 1956, 1965, 1967), at that time neither approach was widely known outside of Europe.  Trankell's methods were more intuitive and global than those of Undeutsch but close examination of statements was a key in both approaches.  Trankell also attempted to reconstruct the key incident under investigation from the perspective of various witnesses, their perceptual processes, the physical environment, etc.

While Trankell's work was widely distributed around the world, the ideas and methodology did not make a significant impact in the British Isles or North America.  It is now unfortunately out of print.  There were a sprinkling of articles in English about Statement Reality Analysis prior to the 1980s.  In 1977, for example, a German psychologist, Herbold, published an article in Polygraph, the Journal of the American Polygraph Association, describing some of the content criteria devised by Udo Undeutsch to differentiate credible victim statements from unreliable ones.  The article provided many actual examples of these criteria and their application.  A case example of a female child victim statement alleging molestation by her father, followed by a recantation statement, both of which were analyzed by these methods, demonstrated the recantation to be false.  According to Herbold, "Such comparisons (of statements) have shown that accurate testimony has a quite distinctive physiognomy, which enables the expert investigator to distinguish between the two types of testimony and even to tell which particular parts of a person's testimony are true and which are not."

Here the focus was on the statement, not on the reputation of the person.  As early as 1953 at the Nineteenth Congress of the German Psychological Association in Cologne, Undeutsch stated that it is "not the veracity of the reporting person but the truthfulness of the statement that matters and there are certain relatively exact definable, descriptive criteria that form a key tool for the determination of the truthfulness of statements" (Undeutsch, 1954, p. 146 op. cit. Undeutsch, 1982, p. 42).

It was not until the 1980s that Dr. Undeutsch began to publish in English (Undeutsch, 1982, 1984, 1989).  He also began to teach his methods in the United States and conducted a number of workshops for several years, including at the University of Utah in 1985, as well as presentations at the Association for Behavior Analysis (c.f., Undeutsch, 1986, 1987).  His methods had been used and were expanded by others in several countries during the 1970s.

Undeutsch maintains that the validity of this method has been demonstrated through its use in thousands of court cases where reportedly no cases evaluated as credible have been subsequently demonstrated to be untrue when tried in Court.  In Undeutsch's own cases, which number about 1,500, there was about a 95% conviction rate with those cases he judged to be valid, with about 90% of all cases evaluated being found to be credible (Undeutsch, 1982).  It should be noted, however, that these figures and base rates were obtained from samples in West Germany where all of the cases were referred from the prosecutor for evaluation.  The base rate of truthful and fictitious reports in a particular sample depends largely on the source of the cases and other selection factors.

It was in the 1980s that a growing concern about the problem of false allegations developed in the United States but it was not until 1988 that a major book dealing with the problem of evaluating fictitious accusations of child sexual abuse was published (Wakefield & Underwager, 1988).  This book brought together much of the prior published research in this area, in addition to describing the authors' own research with allegedly falsely accused individuals.  Practical recommendations for conducting victim and suspect evaluations were outlined, but no specific protocol was recommended for either.  Situations in which there have been a high rate of false allegations were described.  Wakefield and Underwager cited Trankell and Undeutsch and while they have integrated some features of the European methodology into their own approach, the full range of content-based criteria for analyzing victim statements was not used.

During the mid to late 80s, researchers in Germany, Canada, and the United States began to look closely at the European methodologies, which had largely expanded upon Undeutsch's Statement Reality Analysis (SRA), with a view toward operationalizing the content criteria and procedures so that they could be empirically evaluated and validated.  The result was what is now termed Statement Validity Analysis (SVA), which is based on conducting a criteria-based content analysis (CBCA) of the interview conducted with the child victim under standardized conditions (Raskin & Steller, 1988; Yuille, 1988; Yuille & Cutshall, 1989; Steller, 1989).  The procedures for evaluating the child have been developed to maximize the opportunity to obtain reliable and valid information and to minimize contamination or shaping of the statement by the examiner.  The growing volume of research is clearly leading to a better consensus of how children should or should not be interviewed.  The hope is ultimately to achieve an empirically-based method of evaluating alleged child victims that will allow true victimization to be confirmed, but which will also allow for the more rapid identification of unreliable reports of molestation (Underwager & Wakefield, 1989).  A standard in the field for a protocol for child sex abuse evaluations, based on a solid empirical and experiential foundation is sorely needed.

Factors Impacting the Application of SVA in the United States

The SVA assessment procedure requires an uninterrupted narrative statement on the part of the alleged victim.  Next, methods for bringing out further details have been carefully structured so as to eliminate leading or suggestion as influences on the statement.  Prior to formal assessment, the alleged victim will have typically reported the abuse to a family member, teacher, friend, or other close associate and the CBCA/SVA method presupposes that abuse has already been reported.  It is not intended for eliciting the initial report in cases where abuse has only been suspected because of clinical or behavioral indices.

Depending on how the allegation is reported, different professionals may interview the child.  In family law or child dependency actions, such evaluations will usually be done by mental health professionals or child protective services personnel.  However, in many jurisdictions in the United States, psychologists' evaluations of the child witness are more unusual in criminal cases.  Most likely a police investigator will interview the child.  In Germany, if sexual allegations are alleged, there will first be police interrogations, and if there is no significant evidence aside from the statements of the child and the accused, an evaluation by a psychologist would be a matter of course.

In the United States, there may even be statutory prohibitions preventing such an evaluation of the alleged victim at the request of the defense or by the court.  In California, Penal Code Section 1112 states that the "trial court shall not order any prosecuting witness, complaining witness, or any other witness or victim in any sexual assault prosecution to submit to a psychiatric or psychological examination for the purpose of assessing his or her credibility."  This limitation was designed to preserve the rights of victims, who in the not-too-distant past, were frequently humiliated and harassed by some criminal defense attorneys.

At a time in our history when there is no recognized acceptable or standardized methodology for evaluating or confirming sexual abuse, such limitations are right and proper.  As Undeutsch has stated, until there is a methodology that can confirm abuse and not simply raise doubts about it, we haven't achieved a scientific approach to the problem (Personal communication, Undeutsch, 1988).  We are probably some years away from fully establishing more reliable and valid assessment procedures in the United States, which could lead to rethinking the issue of whether it is always improper to evaluate alleged victims.  When validated methods have been achieved, they should be taught to police investigators, prosecutors, social workers, as well as to psychologists and psychiatrists, so that the initial statements taken from children will be suitable for statement analysis methods.  This will ultimately reduce the number of interviews of children because the sessions will be recorded and the information obtained will be less ambiguous and more reliable.

However, until such interview standards are routine, psychologists may continue encountering situations in which the desired data base of a victim statement is not obtained.  Raskin and Steller (1988) note that courtroom testimony of a child by itself "normally does not provide sufficient material to conduct a statement analysis" (p.296).  In such settings, a narrative statement is usually discouraged, if not disallowed.  Even in standard police questioning, the quality of the interview varies widely, sometimes resulting in a transcript statement which may be inadequate for a meaningful analysis.

Too often, analysis of a series of interviews with a child will demonstrate the effects of pressure, coercion, reinforcement, and shaping where the statements are contaminated and undergo significant changes across time.  The subsequent testimony in court may at times bear no resemblance to the original allegations.

In the United States, the suspect who denies sexual allegations must confront the fact that his character and credibility are called into question.  To defend himself, he may subject himself to psychiatric or psychological interviews and testing, penile plethysmograph studies, and/or polygraph evaluations.  These are tools that may aid in the assessment of his personality and character and propensity to commit sexual offenses.  The assumption underlying the evaluation of the defendant is that a person with a good character and reputation is more likely to tell the truth, but as stated by Undeutsch (1984, p.56), a "person with a good reputation has much more to lose than a person with a bad one," and may thus be highly motivated to lie.  The premises underlying our rules of evidence are based more on a static model of personality rather than a person/situational approach which is more relevant to assessing credibility in a specific instance.  With the exception of the polygraph, traditional psychological methods offer a limited degree of specificity in regard to the instant complaints against him.

Raskin believes that the SVA method is not appropriate for assessing the accused person who denies the allegations, preferring instead to use a standardized polygraph examination (Raskin & Steller, 1989; Raskin, 1989).  Others, however, have applied SVA methods to adult witnesses and suspects (Yuille & Cutshall, 1989), which follows the tradition that was established by Trankell and Undeutsch.  The CBCA criteria are currently being validated with child witnesses in the United States, Canada, and Germany, but the predecessor SRA approaches of Undeutsch and the methods of Trankell permitted and used suspect and other witness statements in the total inquiry in cases of alleged sexual molestation.

In SVA, the CBCA is completed in regard to the child witness statement, while suspect, other witness, medical, or other relevant forms of data are taken into account in the final validity assessment that follows as a separate phase following the CBCA analysis.  Raskin has stated that the more cognitively sophisticated the subject and the more simple the reported event, the greater the difficulty in discriminating true from false allegations using CBCA/SVA methodology (Raskin, Steller, Esplin & Boychuk, 1989 & 1990).  This could potentially produce situations where the SVA analyses lead to false negatives.  Statements made by the various parties during police interrogations, during interrogations before the court, as well as those obtained during the psychologist's examination may provide needed pieces of the puzzle.  Undeutsch has stated, however, "The statement of the victim is the irreplaceable and indispensable piece of evidence that determines the outcome of the case ... validation depends almost entirely upon interviewing the witness-victim" (Undeutsch, 1987).  Clearly, without at least one good interview of the child, these methods will only guide the investigation and may not provide a confirmed conclusion.

The psychologist who evaluates the suspect may nevertheless find these methods, along with other standard evaluation techniques, useful in assessing the accused person's credibility.  Changes across time in statements made by both the accused and the alleged victim may also be fruitfully studied using the principles of psychological text analysis. A German psychiatrist, Villinger, has pointed out that tracing the history of the statement in question is the via regia (the royal road) for ascertaining the truth value of a statement (1962).  In some cases, the history of a statement may be virtually the only avenue permitted for attempting to ascertain its validity or invalidity.  The context of the origin of the statement of the specific allegation and its development as reflected over time may provide important insight into the case where victim interviews have become seriously contaminated.  This fits in with Undeutsch's "consistency across time" criterion (Undeutsch, unpublished manuscript, 1989).  I have elsewhere (Rogers, 1989) provided a case example which was analyzed sequentially, leading to a conclusion that the allegations were false, which was confirmed by jury trial.

The differences in the legal system in Germany and the United States are great.  Germany not only permits, but may require, credibility evaluations of the alleged victim.  In the United States, the psychologist's evaluation of the defendant's guilt is often limited by flawed child interviews or inadequate preservation of the interviews.  Given the nature of the United States legal system, these problems cannot be overcome until law enforcement, child protective services and psychologists can cooperate in overcoming the problem of inadequate child interviews.  Actual victims will be better served while problems of unreliable sexual abuse reports could be identified much more efficiently before the falsely accused individual's life has been made a complete shambles.

Recommended Case Evaluation Procedures

Psychological Text Analysis

The following assumes that the psychologist is not brought into a case at the very beginning, but, as is more usual, after initial statements have been made by the various parties to Child Protective Services or to the police.  Whether one is in the position of evaluating the accused or the victim or whether one is fortunate to evaluate both, a necessary first step is full analysis of all the data available, including previous interview transcripts, audiotape or videotape recordings of interviews, summaries of interviews, police reports, preliminary hearing transcripts, and trial transcripts.  This needs to be done in regard to child, witness, and suspect statements.  If the child made statements to others who were not interviewed, it would be well to obtain statements from these persons.

I recommend tracing the specific allegations and how they evolved across interviews, circumstances, and time.  If statements made at various times are placed in a "time line" sequence, there may be patterns which emerge that the examiner might otherwise not recognize.  If one is fortunate, there may be well-documented and adequately conducted interviews that provide narratives of the alleged events where CBCA criteria can be applied as well.

Trankell addressed the issue of changes across time in his "sequence criterion" which states, "When alterations in a sequence of statements correspond to those which our knowledge of the memory processes give good cause to expect, the reasons for regarding the witness's accounts as attempts to describe what really happened increase" (Trankell, 1972, p. 132-133).  While complete reversals are not anticipated in valid cases, it is also not expected that a witness would be completely consistent across time.  It is, in fact, usual that some unusual as well as superfluous details not previously mentioned will emerge or drop out when the same incident is repeated in subsequent statements.

But in some cases of false allegation, the victim statement may be rigidly sequential and consistent such that in subsequent versions, additional unique details do not unfold.  There may be a lack of unstructured productivity, such that more of a stereotypic quality develops "with a touch of expediency (in the reported details) which is caused by the fact that the purpose of invented descriptions almost always is to create convincing picture of something that has never happened" (Trankell, 1972, p.126).  Yuille and Cutshall (1989) have tentatively suggested, based on simulation studies where subjects were asked to report events actually witnessed versus fabricated events, that deliberate lying may produce a quantitative change in the details one is not trying to distort.  It may be that attention to one aspect of the statement, e.g., the "critical event" alleged, results in a neglect of other aspects of the statement:

With limited cognitive resources, lying will reveal itself in some feature of our behavior that must be unattended because of the cognitive demands caused by the lying.  Perhaps the attention required to distort particular aspects of a statement reduces the available attention which can be devoted to other, nondistorted elements of the statement.

The results of evaluating the sequence of previous statements can be used to plan further evaluation strategies with the alleged victim or the suspect or may be used in cross-examination.  Undeutsch (unpublished manuscript, 1989) has stated that the usual procedure in West Germany is to submit only a preliminary report prior to the trial, and then attendance by the psychologist at the court proceedings allows a comparison of the witness's "in court testimony with statements of the same witness regarding the same event made outside of court (or in the case of retrials in addition with his testimony at prior trials).  This opens a new dimension for the analysis of statements.  Subject of the analysis is in those cases not the separate statement but a sequence of statements."

Undeutsch now prefers the term, "consistency across time" rather than "sequence criterion."  This criterion is deemed more valid in instances where there is a longer time span between two or more compared statements which remain relatively consistent, and where the statement is longer and more complex.  Thus, "this criterion has its relevancy much more for the evaluation of the testimony at trial than during the first police interview" (Undeutsch, unpublished manuscript, 1989).  Other characteristics that differentiate true victim statements from those of fabricators are outlined in Table 1.

Evaluation of the Victim

The CBCA/SVA protocol, as taught at the University of Utah extension workshops (Raskin, et al., 1989 & 1990), and publications cited in this article should be used when there is the opportunity to evaluate the child.  The interviews are taped, and the SVA criteria-based statement analysis is completed based on transcripts.  The child may, of course, also be evaluated with more traditional psychological methods which give information about cognitive functioning and personality factors that affect the quality of the statement made.  Statements made by the child should also be studied in light of developmental factors, as well as how the child coped with the structure of the interview, i.e. ease to which the child succumbed to interviewer suggestions or pressure.

I also recommend obtaining narrative statements from the child regarding several interactions she has had over time with the accused if this is a person who is related to her or otherwise known by her, which is usually the case.  Statements regarding interactions with other important adult figures aside from the suspect may also be useful.  Statements about nonsexual interactions which can be verified or disconfirmed by other witnesses, including the accused, may be relevant.  Judging from application of statement analysis methods in simulation studies (Steller, 1989), statements about events where the child might have been punished, or where an adult assisted when the victim was injured or ill, might be helpful.  Such events have some commonality with being sexually abused, including direct involvement of the reporting child as opposed to mere observation of an event, with "a predominantly negative emotional tone of the event, and an extensive loss of control over the situation on the part of the person affected" (Steller, op. cit., p.141).  Thus, all of these types of statements provide the examiner with a baseline of the child's expressive capabilities in comparison to how the child responds and can be compared to the key incident(s) being investigated.  In intrafamilial situations, if additional statements about the accused are all negative in tone, rather than reflecting some degree of ambivalence, the possibility of a false accusation is increased.  This is what Gardner has termed the "parental alienation syndrome" (Gardner, 1987).

Undeutsch (1987) recommends that there be at least two interviews.  Having the child tell the same event two or more times can also be used as a reliability check.  Undeutsch has stated that witnesses, including victims, must be motivated to provide a truthful and complete report.

Even if it is true that a false accusation made by a child is an extremely rare exception, it is, on the other hand, not justified to simply assume that everything a child or adolescent witness relates is the plain and complete truth.  This belief, even if widely held, is simplistic and naive and contradicted by the facts ... there are a great many reasons for a victim to conceal essential details or to give a distorted description of the sexual relationship under investigation. ... As Paul Ekman (1985) in his book Telling Lies points out (p. 28), there are two primary ways to lie: to conceal and to falsify.  In concealing, the liar withholds wittingly with intent, not by accident some information. ... In falsifying, the liar purposefully presents false information as if it were true. ... In sex cases, completely false allegations are rare exceptions.  On the other hand, incomplete accounts of illegitimate sexual activities are the rule.  Sometimes falsification occurs to help the liar cover evidence of what is being concealed.  The use of falsification to mask what is being concealed occurs when the victim claims to have been forced or threatened to submit to some sexual activities ... even though nothing of the kind happened in reality (Undeutsch, 1987).

We must be realistic and use appropriate investigatory methods instead of relying upon intuitive/clinical approaches if we are to uncover any existing problems in the child's statements.  When the initial approach to the case is faulty, matters can become very knotty to untangle at a later stage.  Teasing out undue influence by adults interacting with the child, possible deception, or lack of credibility then becomes nearly impossible, so everyone is left with doubts as to what really happened.

A decision model for assessing deception in children has been developed by Quinn (1988), which may aid in determining when deception should be investigated as well as when the clinician should conclude a child is engaging in deception.  Quinn cited a number of studies where adolescents later acknowledged they had lied about being sexually abused in order to leave conflicted but nonabusive settings, or where latency age children in divorcing families were actively struggling for acceptance within the family by trying to report what either parent wanted to hear.  Children may lie to keep their family intact by retracting a previous disclosure.  Children may deceive to avoid some punishment or gain social rewards.  If there are incongruities in clinical presentation, does the child, when confronted, "admit to deception or offer an implausible explanation?"  Are the child's potential reasons for deceiving identifiable?  Is there a recognizable goal?

Wherever possible, the supportive parent/nonaccused adult should also be interviewed.  This will help bring to light the situation in which the allegations arose and typically will bring out many details that are not found in police reports.  If other persons were first told about the molestation by the child, they should also be interviewed.  Some characteristics of the supportive parent versus one who is engaged in exaggerated or false accusations are outlined in Table 2.

Some frequent situational characteristics of genuine offenses and of false allegations are outlined in Table 3.  It is crucial in all accounts of molestation that the situation leading to the disclosure be carefully and fully studied.  It is not possible to discriminate valid from invalid complaints without considering the various persons involved, the situation in which the allegations arose, and potential motivations for distortion or reports or observations by the accused, the victim, and other involved parties.

Evaluation of the Accused Where All Allegations are Categorically Denied

The use of a polygraph examination, conducted by a psychologist with special training in polygraph examinations, may be the preferred starting point, once the specific allegations have been defined as well as possible.  Some evaluators prefer to begin with an interview to determine what, if anything, the suspect admits to regarding any current charges, any anomalous sexual preferences, any situational lapses of sexual behavior, and then to conduct phallometric testing using a volumetric device and standardized stimulus materials (Langevin, 1988).  Polygraph or plethysmograph studies are then followed by psychological testing of pertinent clinical factors, such as sexual preferences and practices, history of violence, substance abuse problems, and personality functioning.

Langevin believes that the validity scales of the MMPI "may prove useful in assessing dissimulation in general, but not sexual behavior in particular" (p.287).

Other examiners conduct a standard psychological evaluation of the accused, and may or may not conduct or refer the individual for polygraph or plethysmograph studies, although I recommend incorporation of all of these methods where appropriate to the case and when resources permit.  Psychological testing can assess overall defensiveness and may identify efforts to dissimulate but is not conclusive or sufficient in itself.  If the accused is a parent of the victim, he or she might be asked to complete a parent report instrument such as the Personality Inventory for Children-Revised (PIC-R), in which the parent's attitudes about the child are measured.  One can ascertain whether the parent tends to deny problems that the child is documented as having or tends to exaggerate them.  The nonaccused parent can be asked to complete the same instrument for comparison, although one must take into account the known differences between fathers' and mothers' endorsement patterns on some tests, before attributing such differences as solely due to individual reporting.

Parallel to the use of the SVA model with the victim, it is critical get a narrative statement from the accused regarding the events of which he is accused.  If there are specific incidents, places, and times, the defendant should be asked for a comprehensive statement of his version of these incidents.  If he categorically denies any sexual offense, then narrative statements covering the time frames of the allegations should be obtained.  Statements covering other interactions with the child which are not sexual in nature and which can be verified by other observers or by the child are also useful.  In incest cases, most helpful are specific instances in which the accused has cared for the child when ill or injured, incidents in which he has disciplined or punished the child, and which the child or others could verify.  Such narratives can also serve as a comparison baseline as well as provide additional information about the dynamics between parent and child.  A detailed parenting history is needed apart from any parent/child allegations.  Obviously, a detailed psychosocial, relationship, and sexual history of the accused is also essential.

Some observed differences in persons who are actually guilty of molestation but who are denying compared with persons who are guilty and admitting, or who are not guilty and denying are outlined in Table 4.

Discussion and Conclusions

We are witnessing some major breakthroughs in assessing sexual molestation, which will ultimately increase the confidence we have in confirming incidents of true abuse and in weeding out those cases which are not based upon actual events.  SVA methods are straightforward enough that they can reasonably be taught to non-psychologists such as police and social services personnel, who frequently are the first to interview child victims.  In the United States, they may be the only ones to interview victims.

There are, however, additional valuable techniques and accumulated wisdom from many sources including psychologists from Europe over the past four decades which are not encompassed in the current SVA method.  The richness and complexity of the earlier procedures becomes apparent in reading the late Arne Trankell or in reading unpublished interviews conducted of victims by Undeutsch (Undeutsch, personal communication, 1988; Undeutsch, unpublished manuscript, 1989).  Those who have used SRA still have much to teach us, both for the purpose of additional technique that could potentially augment SVA, but also for suggesting future research directions.  The situation may be somewhat parallel to the old Rorschach masters whose results were often stunningly perceptive and accurate; but communicating and passing down what they actually did was quite difficult.  From them came many hypotheses, however, which could be tested, some of which were verified and better systematized, but other components sometimes could not be operationalized well enough to be tested.

The developers of SVA have made a tremendous contribution by systematizing the elements from SRA and related techniques that can be operationalized and which will be most likely to be replicated, validated, easily taught, and then used reliably, but the more subtle and idiographic aspects of the older methods must be preserved and studied further.  An enormous legacy has yet to be fully realized.


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* Dr. Martha L. Rogers is a psychologist and can be contacted at Rogers & Echeandia, 17662 Irvine Boulevard, Suite 12, Tustin, California 92680.  [Back]

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