Professionals as Evaluators or
Indoctrinators in Sex Abuse Cases
ABSTRACT: When sexual abuse is alleged, professionals often interview the
child in a manner that constitutes indoctrination rather than investigation.
When professionals are convinced from the beginning that events have
happened, they may use highly manipulative and coercive methods to elicit
disclosures. A "network" of professionals who interact with the
child witness may mutually influence the child. The witness psychologist
must carefully examine the original interviews, medical records, and
testimony of everyone involved to evaluate the extent to which such
contamination may have influenced the child's statements. Two cases from
Sweden illustrate this process.
As a witness psychologist I have been working with psychological
evaluation of oral evidence in legal cases for about 17 years, 9 of these as
head of the Laboratory of Witness Psychology at Stockholm University. The
subject of most of the hundreds of cases I have been involved in has been
alleged child sexual abuse, and, in three recent cases, also ritual abuse.
After many years of research and experience in the field of child sexual
abuse, I find it most urgent to bring into focus the problem of
professionals functioning as indoctrinators instead of evaluators. At this
symposium, many of the speakers have elucidated this problem. But it needs
to be stressed particularly in the area of child sexual abuse, where
malpractice is often condoned and even committed by professionals who are
thought of as being especially skilled and therefore are seen as experts
namely child psychiatrists and child psychologists.
Many of you are familiar with the problem of having clinical
psychologists and psychiatrists enter the courtroom and give "expert
testimony." This happens throughout the world. How should the court
evaluate such testimony? In Sweden, this problem was brought to the surface
in the 1950s by Arne Trankell, a professor of education and educational
psychology who pointed out, as a crucial matter of legal security, the risk
of misuse of clinical psychological testimony in criminal cases.
Formal Structure Analysis
Trankell (1956, 1963, 1972, 1980, 1982) developed a model for
"witness psychological investigation" of individual cases called
Formal Structure Analysis, which forces the investigator to work in a strict
scientific way when evaluating the individual case. Every step in the
investigation must be controlled and documented so that the court and the
parties can make their own independent judgments of the psychological
The early contributions by psychologists in the courtroom very often were
focused on evaluating persons' (especially children's) credibility by
testing intelligence, suggestibility and so on. In the 1950s, the focus was
changed from trying to assess persons' credibility which is a delicate and
uncertain affair to investigating and assessing the credibility of
statements. Table 1 illustrates this process.
The Witnessing Process
The most important pioneer
work on Statement Psychology and Statement Analysis was made by Udo Undeutsch, professor of psychology at
Köln University, starting in the end of the 1940s (Undeutsch, 1967).
The main tool of investigation used in the Formal Structure Analysis is
the Statement Reality Analysis which is founded on the theory that
statements about self-experienced events show different characteristics from
statements about non-experienced events. By a systematic analysis, using
specified Reality Criteria (e.g. concreteness, spontaneity, originality,
unique details, homogeneity, resistance to suggestion), one can assess
whether or not statements are likely to represent self-experienced events
and phenomena. Well-grounded theories of memory, perception, and learning
are necessary basic knowledge for formulating relevant hypotheses and a
profound methodological training is needed for analyzing and interpreting
verbal statements. Scientific knowledge and experience are also needed
concerning the special phenomenon at issue in the individual case (e.g.
child sexual abuse allegations or eyewitness identification of a person).
Today, when witness psychologists in Sweden are appointed (usually by the
court) to evaluate the credibility of children's statements in sexual abuse
cases, the cases are often already prosecuted and are under court
trial. In those cases, there are often "expert" opinions given by clinical child psychologists
and/or child psychiatrists in favor of the prosecution.
It is not uncommon for these professionals to have directed the
development of children's statements in one specific way towards a
"disclosure" of some events that the professionals believe have
happened. Professionals, such as psychologists, psychiatrists, social
workers, and police investigators, who specialize in the field of sexual
abuse often appear to have received training in "making" children
tell about sexual abuse. They may use unethical, manipulative methods and
even lies to get the child to tell (Furniss, 1991). Hypothetical questions
such as, "If he did something to you, what could that be?" are
used, and then the answers are interpreted as if they described real events.
In Sweden, police investigators may develop hypotheses concerning the
alleged events they are expecting to hear from the child, and then describe
these to the child in their interrogations. This is an extremely effective
teaching technique. Police interrogators may not take no for an answer.
Although they say they believe in the child, they do not believe it when the
child says nothing has happened. Table 2 gives an example of this.
Excerpt from a Police Interrogation
|| He has never done it, he is not that nasty.
||But if he should have done it anyway ...
||(distinctly) But he
hasn't done it!
||No, no, but I'm only saying if he should have let us only
it is very important that especially I get to know it....
||(very decisively) No.
||... then I can take action and stop it. One mustn't do these things
||He has not done it!
You know this is very important for policemen. Your grandpa is a policeman. He must have told you that it is
important to tell the police.
||I am telling and that is how it is.
|| Why don't you believe me?
||I don't know.
||But he has never done it!
||I can understand that it is tough. I have talked to so many girls.
||Oh gosh I can't stand it!
||It is very tough, but you know as soon as you have told
||(interrupts with indignation) But stop now as he has not done it and
still, all the time you say that he has then it becomes tough
as it hasn't happened.
||Yes, that I can understand, and if there is no truth in what you
then I can understand that it is tough.
||(seriously) He has not done it.
||And there is nobody else that has done it?
Lisa is spontaneous, open and very decisive nothing has happened.
suspect was the mother's new husband). Lisa shows adequate indignation of
not being believed. The Police use a bad trick let's pretend that he has
done it which should be forbidden as it can lead children to devastating
fantasy imaginations. Lisa strongly resists even this remarkable suggestion.
The police interrogation went on in the same manner for more than one hour
serious abuse of the 8-year-old-girl.
The police investigation should have stopped here. Instead, the girl was
taken to a foster home and two months later the foster mother called the
police and said that now the girl had told "more." Three further
police interrogations took place in the foster home, and during the last one
they got the girl to agree to some speculations. Only this part was
presented in court, and the man was convicted. In the Appeal Court, a
Witness Psychological Analyses of all four police interrogations was
presented and the man was acquitted. The girl, though, was still kept in the
Parents, as well as professionals, are influenced by popular and
professional literature, television, advocacy networks, and "experts," and have expectations that
can make them misinterpret children's messages and imagine things that were
never said or meant by the child. Often, unfounded accusations of sexual
abuse contain no descriptions of abusive events spoken by the child. But, in
order to please an interrogating parent or an overzealous professional, and
without capacity to resist grown-ups' manipulations and suggestions, the
child finally nods assent and even repeats verbally the stories suggested by
Small children, who have not been sexually abused and have no traumatic
experience of that kind, can easily repeat suggestions such as putting a
penis in the vagina or even in the mouth, as they have not experienced any
real event of that kind and therefore have no idea of what it really means.
The "traumatic background" that the interviewer believes in does
not exist. For the child, it is just like any other fantasy and it makes the
These sources of error can be revealed through Statement Reality
Analysis. This technique allows the witness psychologist to assess whether
there are any spontaneous statements about abuse coming from the child or
whether the evaluators, out of their own biases and expectations, have
suggested the answers through leading or manipulative questions or different
kinds of "bribes."
Often, professionals appear to have forgotten even the most elementary
psychological knowledge about perception, memory, learning and
suggestibility knowledge that must be considered when evaluating the content
of persons' statements in general, and especially the content of children's
statements. Small children's way of using new words without knowing their meaning is, for instance, one thing that must be kept in mind when
trying to find the origin and meaning of children's statements. It is
important to determine whether the evaluator/interrogator and the child are
talking about the same things. Grown-ups' interpretations of words differ
from those of a child, especially when it comes to sexual words.
Two recent Swedish criminal cases involving allegations of sexual and
ritual abuse illustrate what can be revealed and introduced to the court.
the first case (from a small city in northern Sweden), a girl of 18 accused
her father of sexual abuse and later also of ritual abuse in which the
mother and a lot of other people (doctors, priests, politicians, etc.) were
said to have been involved.
In February 1992, the father was sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment for
sexual abuse, mostly grounded on psychological and psychiatric testimony (Hovrätten
för övre Norrland, dom DB 2015,1992-02-13). After the father was jailed,
the girl's stories continued to grow into ever more elaborate, absurd and
unbelievable abuse (child murder, abortion, etc.), and finally the Swedish
Supreme Court admitted the father a new trial (Högsta Domstolens beslut
SÖ 591,1993-10-25). That new trial is the one I was involved in.
The girl was
now 20 years of age.
The witness psychological investigation included:
After 6 weeks of networking and mutual influencing, the official police
investigation began. During these 6 weeks the child psychologist had 9
sessions with the girl along with many contacts with the reporting child
protection worker. The psychologist even spoke to the policeman twice,
asking him if he thought she had "enough" now for making a report
to the police or if she should "pressure" the girl further.
The network surrounding the girl included two "fundamentalists"
from a women's center who were also involved in the network. These women
regularly visited the girl in the child psychiatric clinic where she was
staying for a long time during the police investigation of the alleged
ritual abuse. During the new trial, people from the women's center were
gathered around the girl during the court recesses. This was quite important
in evaluating the girl's steadily growing ritual abuse stories.
The result of this new trial in the Court of Appeal was that the father
was unanimously freed on all points of prosecution (Hovrätt för Övre
Norrland, DB 1180,1993-12-30) and he was later paid damages by the State.
The second case (from a small city near Stockholm) has many similarities
with the first one not least the active involvement of certain persons in
In this second case the father had earlier been sentenced to 10 years'
imprisonment (Svea Hovrätt, DB 156,1992-11-05) and the mother to 5 years
(Svea Hovrätt, DB 78,1993-05-27). Both parents were admitted new trials by
the Supreme Court (November 1993) because of the now 18-year-old girl's
implausible stories about ritual abuse with at least 50 murdered children.
The police dug in the woods where the girl had pointed out one or two spaces
but found nothing.
It was revealed through court hearings during the new trial that the
foster mother in this second case who was the driving force behind the
girl's allegations had been in contact with the network of the first case
since the fall of 1992. In her testimony in court, the foster mother stated
that her first personal contact with that network was the child
psychiatrist, and that later (February, 1993), she established contact with one of the above-mentioned women's center representatives.
That woman most actively involved in case number one actually sat in the
courtroom every day during the new trial of this case number two "to give
support to the girl."
The Statement Reality Analysis of the seven police interrogations in the
second case provided much important information. This analysis strongly
indicated that the girl was not abused by her father. The following examples
also demonstrate that the police did not perform a professional objective
work in this case.
In the beginning of the first police interrogation, when the girl tries
to answer the police woman's question, "Who made this?", the girl
looks at the police interrogator and says:
||(With an appealing look): Can you see if I am lying, then please
||I don't think you are lying. I believe in you.
||I don't believe in me.
| Some minutes
||Did it happen once or many times that your daddy made sex to
||I don't even know if it has happened.
| Further some minutes
||I may be lying.
|| [The police investigator says she will 'help" the girl to
remember and gives the leading and suggestive question]: You said you had
felt his "thing" in your hand, that your dad penetrated you with
||It may not even have happened.
||But you remember it. What more do you remember?
||I may not even remember. It may be something that I have just made up.
||Hm, but now We don't bother about that.
It was also revealed that the police investigator got information
beforehand from the foster mother about what the girl had said. (When the
official police investigation started, the girl had already lived in the
foster family for about 8 months.) The girl repeats over and over again
during these first seven police interrogations that "more" will
be coming out of her but she must go home and think about it. In the end of
the fourth interrogation the following statement from the girl reveals the
influence and preparation at home. The girl says to the police:
You should know that there is a lot more within me, but I want to test
it at home first, because it is so nerve-racking to know that when I come
here, something will sort of happen, and if one says something wrong it
will be turned against one.
Despite an enormous body of highly reasonable doubts about the accuracy
of the allegations, the court did not have the courage (or will) to free the
father in this second case but the penalty was reduced from 10 to 5 years of
jail. The mother was freed (Svea Hovrätt, DB 67,1994-05-03).
of the father was appealed by the Defense. The Attorney General opposed the
Appeal and the Supreme Court did not allow any further trial. An application
to the European Court of Human Rights is now under preparation.
In this second case, the court declared in their written judgment that
the girl's statements about ritual abuse, such as the murdering of children
and cannibalism, and the parents' alleged "selling" of her to
other men and women, could not be considered trustworthy. But to explain the
girl's absurd stories, the court clung to the hypothesis, proposed by the
prosecution's experts, that these extreme stories could be a consequence of
the girl's traumatic experiences of real sexual abuse by her father! A
psychologist appointed by the court supported this idea and testified that,
for the girl, these stories could be a way of "distancing" herself
from memories of real abuse a hypothesis for which there exists no empirical
Relevant here is the advice to a court by the American psychiatrist, Lee
Coleman (1992) in a case he had evaluated (my emphasis):
I cannot emphasize strongly enough how important it is for the court,
in studying this case and deciding what is reliable and what is not, to
understand that if common sense leads to one conclusion about where the
truth lies, the use of psychiatric labels and esoteric explanations should
not cause the court to abandon what the facts otherwise seem to show.
Instead of using common sense and facts, the court in this second case
accepted an "esoteric," unfounded explanation, which almost turned
the girl's implausible stories into support for the hypothesis of sexual
abuse. This is an example of misuse of psychological evidence.
There were "fundamentalists" or "fanatics" or whatever
people in these networks of believers and profiteers should be called
involved in these two cases. A professor of sociology at Uppsala
University, Eva Lundgren, who is a believer certainly not a scientific
researcher in ritual abuse, has been working with the above
mentioned "women's center representative" who were closely involved in
both these cases. In a new book edited by Lundgren (1994), she and her
co-authors (including the women's center representative) write about this
second case. The girl's stories are presented as if they were true and
thereby factual evidence for the existence of ritual abuse and what the rites
can contain in this particular case as well as in cases in general.
clearly illustrates the unscientific and illogical circular reasoning that
is used to support the authors' own beliefs.
The Bjugn Case
Finally a few words on the Bjugn case where psychology seems to have been
misused with the purpose to create evidence out of children's
non-statements. There are interrogations where the child says absolutely
nothing about any abusive behavior. On the contrary, the child may say that
she "doesn't remember any abuse" or that she "doesn't want to
lie." The interrogator tries to persuade the child to answer questions
such as, "If he did something what could that be?" This instructs
the child that answering an "if-question" does not mean lying.
In the same way the interrogator does not accept the child's denial that
she has never been in the suspect's home:
||Now, I shall put these "if-questions," you know.
||So, say: If you should have been in Per's home what do
you think it would have looked like in his home?
The child cannot answer but says that she has seen one of his rooms on
television. The interrogator continues with the if-questioning.
||But if you should guess what it ... or what you think it
might have looked like in Per's home if you had been there.
|| I haven't been there, you know that.
||Yes, but what do you think?
|| It must have been a kitchen and a room, anyway.
The interviewer continues asking the girl what she "thinks" was
in Per's home, and during this inquiry the interviewer herself draws a
picture of Per's home by picking the guessed details (tables, sofas, stairs, bedroom, bathroom,
etc.) that the girl imagines "must have been" there.
interrogator's written report to the court it states that, "The girl
could give many details of what it looked like in Per's home."
It should be obvious to everybody and especially to child psychiatrists
and child psychologists that this kind of manipulation of a child is serious
child abuse and a threat to legal security for children as well as for adults.
The so-called hypothetical questioning has been introduced and promoted
by a highly manipulative "indoctrinator" in the field of child
sexual abuse. His name is Tilman Furniss and he is supposed to be a
professional expert" which makes his work extremely dangerous.
is now professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at Münster University,
Germany. He has been working earlier, both in Amsterdam and London.
also been invited to lecture in the Scandinavian countries. His promotion of
unethical and manipulative methods to make children tell was underlying the
Bjugn day care centre case in Norway that led to disaster for the suspect
and his family, even though he was in the end unanimously acquitted. It also
destroyed the life of many other families as well as the life of a whole
In Sweden, Furniss' proselytizing supported by the Swedish "Save the
Children" organization has infected not only the work of child
psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers in handling sexual abuse
cases, but also the professional police work (see the Lisa interview in
Table 2). Professionals in cases in other countries have also been seduced
into using the manipulative methods that are promoted by Furniss. The most
extensive and far-reaching damage in a single case, initiated by Furniss'
ideas and activities, is that of the Montessori case in Münster. This case
has been under investigation and trial for more than three years, with one
male educator held in custody for more than two years, suspected of having
molested 63 children. On May 16, 1995, this man was finally acquitted (see
four well-researched articles by Giesela Friedrichsen and Gerhard Mauz in Der
Spiegel: nos 39/1993; 25/1994; 21/1995; 22/1995).
By appointment of the court, professor Günter Köhnken, Kiel University,
Germany, presented a report, dated February 27, 1995. After a thorough scientific examination
and analysis of the available factual statement material and its history of
origin, Köhnken found that the children's alleged statements in the
Montessori case could be a product of misinterpretations, expectations,
suggestibility, learning, group pressure, etc. These alternative hypotheses
have not been tested in the case or as it seems not even thought of.
these factors can be traced back to the very beginning of this sad story.
It is apparent that the self-appointed experts on child sexual abuse
Tilman Furniss and his followers in the child protection organizations
are the originators of this destructive affair. The first
statements are second hand statements made by a child protection worker from
the child abuse organization "Zartbitter." This lady alleges that
a 4-year-old boy said to her, on November 7, 1990, that "Rainer put a
finger in my bottom." This alleged statement was given in answer to the
Zartbitter lady's question, "What do you get when you have fever?"
The 4-year-old boy's alleged answer can have a very simple explanation, such
as having a thermometer put in his bottom. Neither the Zartbitter lady
was a close friend of the family nor the boy's parents could ever get the
boy to repeat the alleged statement. Despite that, three months later, on
February 25, 1991, the suspicion founded on this alleged statement
nobody else but the Zartbitter lady was forwarded to the Leader of the
Kinderhaus and so the "Montessori case" was born and started to
Since this paper was first presented in October, 1994, the Norwegian
Director of Public Prosecutions (Riksadvokaten) has officially investigated
the handling of the Bjugn Case by the police and the prosecution. In the
final report, the director of the investigation states that
"hypothetical questioning" should not be used in criminal
investigations and that the police and prosecution must stay in control of
what medicine and psychology present in criminal cases.
In the Montessori case the court said that it is irresponsible to use the
hypothetical questioning technique in criminal investigations. Except for
the risk of forcing children to give wrong information, such a method ruins
the possibility of ever finding out what really happened.
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