Textual Analysis: An Approach
for Assessing the Truth Value of Allegations of Sexual Abuse
by Max Scharnberg*
ABSTRACT: Textual analysis may be used for assessing the truth of
sexual abuse allegations. In textual analysis, close attention is paid
to the physical possibility of the alleged act and to the combined
pattern of all asserted temporal relations. Other methods include
searching for parallel order relations, the pruning technique, and the
morphological approach. Untrue accounts may derive from external
pressure, psychopathology, or ordinary fabulation. The dynamics of the
producer of the untruth, the untruth itself and the receiver of the untruth
must all be considered in understanding a false allegation. Judges and
juries may not be very proficient in distinguishing between true and
false allegations. Problems of invalid indicators in the Swedish system
are described with the hope that this analysis may increase
understanding as to the specific errors that are found in these cases.
The present paper is based upon three samples. In 22 cases of sexual
abuse of children, I have been an expert witness either appointed by the
court, engaged by the counsel for the defense, or engaged as private
expert by the defendant. As a researcher I have closely scrutinized more
than 18 additional cases. I am to a greater or lesser extent familiar
with some three dozen further trials.
It has often been suggested that cases of sexual abuse are extremely
difficult to sort out since only two people know what really happened.
Anyone else, however, can arrive at a decision solely by forming a
subjective belief as to what party has told the truth. If courts were
not entitled to send an individual to prison on the ground of a
subjective belief, children could never be protected.
But, without denying that difficult cases exist, I have so far
encountered none. In most cases, the true state of things could be
determined if only attention were paid to the informative facts of the
case, and if reasonable procedures were used for extracting what
information they may contain. Although such procedures may be complex or
simple, they will generally be highly time-consuming.
Unfortunately, many attorneys, judges, investigators, social workers,
psychologists, and others not trained in appropriate systematic
procedures tend to direct their attention toward the least informative
facts. They may also reach conclusions by means of doubtful procedures.
Moreover, courts may decide the fate of people after having listened to
the evidence for as brief a time as two days. Even if a trial has gone
on for many months, most of the time may have been devoted to shallow
and uninformative matters.
Nonetheless, there exists an impressive number of cases in which
subjective decisions may be replaced by objective procedures. These
procedures constitute the main theme of my paper. All examples are
borrowed from Scandinavian cases and are extensively described in
Scharnberg (1996a, 1996b), but defendants and alleged victims are given
First Preliminary Topic: Certain Basic Features of the Swedish Legal
In most European countries it is the obligation of all courts to
apply the law as it is passed by the parliament. No court is permitted
to reject any law on the ground that the latter is not in accordance
with "right reason" or any other abstract entity. At least
in theory, any innovative decision by a court can only be intended as
a means of clarifying a law.
While Denmark and Norway have partial jury systems, there is no
jury in Sweden. The same members of the court will decide upon the
guilt and mete out the sentence. Each member has an equal and
individual vote and protracted negotiation to reach unanimity is
non-existent. On the other hand, a life sentence may well be based
upon the votes three against two.
No judge is elected. A judge with legal training is appointed for
life, while lay judges are appointed for four years. Lay judges are
proposed by the (five to eight) political parties, in accordance with
their proportion of the votes at general elections. This procedure is
intended to guarantee representation. In the district court, any trial
will be handled by one or two legal judges together with three to six
lay judges. In the Court of Appeal the distribution is three and two,
respectively, while there are no lay judges in the Supreme Court.
A judgment must be appealed within a few weeks, or else the right
to appeal is lost. The judgment of a district court can always be
appealed, but the Supreme Court may and usually will
reject the appeal
of a judgment of the Court of Appeal. After proceedings in one to
three courts, the judgment is final. No counterpart can be found to
the American pattern, where a case may run endlessly through different
If a judgment is final, the Supreme Court may under unusual
circumstances reopen the case. During the last five years, a total of
three cases of sexual abuse of children have been reopened.
The verdict on the guilt may be appealed as well as the severity of
the sentence. Any court will not only have to produce a verdict, but
must also formulate a justification of the latter. This
difference from the American system may be less than one might wish,
since the justification may consist of trivial standard phrases.
On the other hand, the justification argument can be factually or
logically erroneous. Courtroom proceedings tend to make people drowsy
and judges or jurors may not notice crucial statements and may have
grossly false recollections of what was said. Since Swedish judgments
are more explicitly formulated, the false recollections are not
masked. Moreover, judges and jurors are not proficient in comparing
statements made at different times, whether the intervening interval is five minutes or five months.
Logical deductions stated in
the written judgment may be excessively strange. All such errors may be
pointed out in a higher court.
In Sweden, neither an expert witness nor a specific part of his or
her testimony can be excluded on the ground that there is a jury which
must not be exposed to undue influence. Europeans are often astonished
by what is in the U.S. deemed to be undue influence, and even more so
by what is not considered undue influence. In Sweden,
psychologists and psychiatrists functioning as expert witnesses are
free to advance specific conclusions regarding the guilt of the
defendant, and they usually do so.
Nonetheless, much hypocrisy is involved here. Many judges want the
expert witness only to pay lip service to the judges' prerogative of
deciding the guilt. They may react favorably to a testimony like the
following (which is a digest from the case of Violet): "On the basis of 30 years of clinical experience, I am sure that
this girl is telling the truth when she claims that her father abused
her. However, thereby, I have taken no stand as to whether her father is
guilty of having abused her."
Witness psychology has flourished in Sweden for generations. Until
recently, the American legal system prohibited the practical
application of the results of this discipline, and raised obstacles
against gathering relevant facts. As a result, the development of
witness psychology was prevented. However, a related approach has
recently emerged under the name statement validity assessment.
Second Preliminary Topic: Witness Psychology and the History of
In the present context, there is little need to define the patterns
of overlapping and non-overlapping areas of "witness psychology," "statement validity assessment" or
"textual analysis." Usually, such patterns are not even
stable over decades. Although textual analysis as such is very old, is
was not introduced into psychology before Wolpe and Rachman (1960).
The oldest approach which is still viable is German "statement
psychology" (Stern, 1903; Undeutsch, 1957).
Few disciplines have names which exactly fit their domain. "Witness psychology" was, from the start,
concerned with statements by both witnesses, defendants, and alleged
victims (cf. Trankell, 1971). Three of the most superior works in the
field are Trankell's (1974) investigation of a mythomaniac presenting
himself and others as Russian spies (160 pp.) and Holgerson and Hellbom's (1991) investigation of the Swedish "cutting-up
trial" (121 pp.), in which two medical doctors were, on the basis
of psychoanalytic interpretations, found guilty of having performed
sexual necrophilia upon the corpse of a prostitute; they were supposed
to have eaten the eyes of the corpse. The two-year-old daughter of one
of the doctors had allegedly been present. The third work is Hellblom
Sjögren's (1994) analysis of the case of Delphine, in which Elizabeth
Loftus was also engaged (150 pp.). A textual analysis of "the
cutting-up trial" will be published in English by Scharnberg
While witness psychology was always a field related to legal cases,
textual analysis is a methodological approach which originally
developed within the science of history, and which still has no
specific field of application. All scientific results may need to be
modified in the light of knowledge acquired later. By and large, this
need has been less prominent for textual analysis than for
experimentation. Hence, it would be difficult to defend the view that
textual analysis is less valid than experimentation.
I entered the field of legal trials after longstanding research in
the history of psychology. My background is important because quite a
few observations in the psychological literature are faked. Forged
data may be exposed if private files become accessible. But not only
in this way. Many forgeries can be exposed by a textual analysis of
the published text. Since a writer may not recall his own fabrications
from one page to the next, juxtaposing all his statements concerning
the same thing may conspicuously reveal the fictitious nature of these
statements. Occasionally, the textual analyst may even identify a
unique state of things, which is the only one that could have given
rise to the particular false versions actually asserted.
A particularly lucid work in this field is Esterson's (1993)
exploration of the work of Sigmund Freud. Esterson applies the entire
armory of textual analysis to establish that a life's work of clinical
observations are deliberately faked. He points out the persuasive
techniques which have made thousands of readers blind to the most
conspicuous content of the writings and describes the concrete devices
aimed at producing the firm conviction that Freud is absolutely
truthful. But Esterson's book is also relevant in the present context
because of a quite different reason.
I (Scharnberg, 1993a) have coined the expression "the incest
ideology" about the tendency to see sexual abuse where there is
none. Although many contemporary psychoanalysts repudiate this
ideology, psychoanalytic theory is a cornerstone of the latter. Many
persons have been sent to prison on no evidence except psychoanalytic
Psychologists and lay persons have debated whether Freud (a, b, c,
d, e, f) made an early mistake in 1896 by believing his patients'
fantasies about sexual abuse, or whether he made a later mistake by
rejecting his patients' authentic accounts of such experiences. This
debate continued for almost a decade. But it is explicitly stated in
Freud's own papers that he himself invented the seduction
interpretations, which he under great resistance forced upon his
patients. On other pages he transformed his interpretations into
observations, put them into the mouths of his patients, and feigned to
have been highly surprised by "their" accounts.
In other words, contemporary psychologists' methods for disclosing
sexual assaults are based upon a historical case of forged clinical
observations. Independently of each other, Esterson (1993), Israëls
and Schatzman (1993), Macmillan (1991), and Scharnberg (1993a, 1993b)
arrived at identical conclusions.
Some people have objected to the textual analysis method, claiming
that we must first discover in the psychological laboratory (or in the
clinical consultation room) what features are valid indicators of
lying. The argument is that only by applying laboratory or clinical
results can we ever hope to expose deliberate untruths in a published
text. But the history of any science defies all armchair philosophy as
to the order in which problems must be solved. Experimental
psychologists in the field of lying have much more to learn from
historians than vice versa, since it is difficult to design a
non-trivial psychological experiment until one has rather exact ideas
as to what to look for.
The Physical Possibility of Performing the Alleged Act
One of the very first questions I ask when confronted with a case
of sexual abuse is, "Is the alleged act physically possible at
all?" This question is far from trivial. People have been sent to
prison because of acts which no human being is capable of performing.
In the case of Möldrup (a Danish municipality of some 7000 souls),
the psychologist Sine Diemar taught a number of young children and two
mentally retarded teenagers to claim that they had been sexually
abused by a total of 35 adults. A sexual orgy was said to have taken
place in a certain house where everyone had been naked and all the
sexual acts videotaped. But the prosecutor realized that a trial with
35 defendants would almost certainly lead to 35 acquittals, so
consequently, he made 29 of them disappear in silence.
After the conviction of the remaining six, the reporters Poul Bögh
and Niels Tobiesen asked themselves, "What kinds of video cameras
existed in 1988? How much electricity would they need? How much
electricity could the installation in this house yield, before the
fuses would break?" Thus, a very simple experiment revealed the
impossibility of videotaping in the house as claimed.
Within the Danish legal system there is a specific "New Trial
Motion Court," which is the only court handling such petitions.
This court set the convicts free in August, 1993 and decided in May,
1994 that the entire trial should be resumed by the Court of Appeal
since the children might be suffering from "False Memory
Syndrome." One of the convicts, now deceased, was posthumously
acquitted by the New Trial Motion Court. Danish law requires an
entirely new jury for the new trial and on April 6, 1995 the new jury
convicted all of the remaining defendants. But one hour later, the
three legal judges of the same trial decided that the jury had reached
the wrong verdict and acquitted all. Tange (1995) provides an
excellent analysis of this entire case.
Another example of a physically impossible allegation is in a
Swedish case. The 14-year-old girl, Embla, claimed that her father had
slept with her 40 to 50 times. All acts but one had been performed in
the missionary position. But, because of a traffic accident, the
father's elbow was broken and infected and for more than a year was in
a plaster cast. His doctor testified that it was therefore impossible for him to have performed
intercourse in the missionary position.
Moreover, the gynecological examination revealed that Embla was a
virgin. But The Court of Appeal in Jönköping applied logical
acrobatics to justify the conviction. They concluded that the unbroken
hymen is compatible with the father having rubbed his penis against
the exterior parts of the daughter's sex organ (but would the
missionary position be very appropriate for such an activity?) and
Embla might have thought that this is coitus.
What I have called the "football case" was handled by The
Court of Appeal of Stockholm. Thirteen-year-old Wendela claimed that
her father had performed fellatio upon her while she was sleeping.
is absolutely clear about having been totally asleep on at least two
of the occasions. She did not wake up until the father closed the door
from the outside. The reason she understood what had happened, was
that she had semen in her mouth. During the first police
investigations she explicitly expressed her doubt as to whether it was
her own thumb or her father's penis she had felt.
Is it possible to perform fellatio upon a sleeping 13-year-old
without awakening her? How could the girl afterwards know what had
happened? Furthermore, it was claimed that during the act, the father
was standing on the floor with his knees against the edge of the bed.
The bed, which is placed against the wall, has a breadth of 122 cm.
shall generously suppose that the father at least twice happened to
find Wendela sleeping with her face near the appropriate edge. When
testifying as an expert witness, I recommended that the male members of
the Court place a football near the edge of a bed, as a symbol of the
girl's head, and see if they could reach the football. The height of
the bed was 47 cm. My own height is 169 cm, and I can do this only
with a significantly higher bed. Wendela's father height is 182 cm.
Girls who advance false allegations whether on their own initiative
or because they are unable to resist external pressure may pay very
little attention to physical possibility. But why should they?
often than not, judges and jurors ignore the surrealistic nature of
the alleged act.
I am not competent to evaluate the following. But, together with
dentists and child physicians, the Swedish attorney Lennart Hane is presently conducting a study as to whether
it is physically possible to accomplish oral sex with two- and
Combining Temporal Relations
Judges and jurors have a limited proficiency in combining any kinds
of facts, whether or not they are concerned with times. Almost all
people without special training may find it exceedingly hard to
combine more than two temporal relations. The following examples
unambiguously reveal the necessity of paying close attention to
assertions about times.
Eighteen-year-old Erna accused the husband of the day care provider
who had taken care of her when she was 10 to 13 years old. Allegedly,
he had slept with her, perhaps as much as 300 times, with 80 to 90% of
the acts occurring in his bedroom on weekday afternoons between 1 and
3 o'clock. The husband was convicted by the district court.
to the verdict, it had been proved beyond a reasonable doubt that both
persons had had the opportunity of being alone in the sleeping room at
the times claimed by Erna. The girl had given the impression of being
trustworthy, and her account bore the stamp of self-experienced
events. The fact that she had given her testimony under great pain
constituted a further reason for considering the account true.
Now, all dates and hours when Erna was present in the day care
family were documented at the municipal administration. Each date of
the husband's absence from his job was likewise documented by the
social security system and/or by his working place. When all facts
were put together, it turned out that in the entire period of 33
months there were only 4 weekdays where the two persons could have
been together during any part of the interval from 12 o'clock to 16:30
Fifteen-year-old Betsy stated, after prolonged pressure from the
school nurse, the school welfare officer, and a social welfare worker,
that her father had raped her six to eight times. On the last occasion
she was raped in the evening. The immediately following day she went
to school. Coming home from school on this day, she was so depressed
because of the assault that she tried to take her life. There is no
room for the hypothesis that Betsy might have mixed up the dates of
these two events, since this information was supplied only some seven weeks after the alleged assault, and since the rape
and the suicidal attempt are embedded in a coherent and meaningful
However, the intimate relation between these two events enables the
almost exact dating of the rape. On September 9, 1988 Betsy visited
the social welfare agency together with the school nurse. This was the
very first occasion at which she learned about the suspicion of sexual
abuse. On this date Betsy had neither a scar nor a bandage around her
wrist. On September 12 the school nurse shifted the bandage for the
The typical reasoning of judges around such a configuration of
circumstances, can be extracted from numerous Swedish judgments.
would be something like the following. "Betsy has connected the
assault to an event, viz. the suicidal attempt, which is objectively
verified and objectively dated. This connection constitutes a ground
for concluding that she has told the truth about the rape."
As a textual analyst, I first note that September 9 was a Friday.
Consequently, the postulated facts are compatible with two and only
two patterns. Either Betsy was raped on Friday night, went to school
on Saturday, and tried to take her life after coming home from school
on Saturday afternoon. Or else, Betsy was raped on Saturday night,
went to school on Sunday, and tried to take her life after coming home
from school on Sunday afternoon.
But Betsy had on September 8, 1988 moved to a foster family. This
happened with her father's consent because of an unrelated and neutral
reason. The foster family has mapped out everything Betsy did on
Friday and Saturday. There is simply no room for her having met her
father. It is no far-fetched guess that Betsy's suicide attempt was in
response to the social welfare agency's efforts to force her to
falsely accuse her father.
Betsy eventually produced a series of letters which she claimed to
have written after each assault. She has always maintained the
assaults started after her mother left the family (on February 28,
1986). But the first letter is dated "6-4-84." Even orally
she has repeatedly stated 1984 to be the year of the first rape (we
shall see that she was mentally ill, though I shall not describe the
reason why she was fixated at the year 1984). We therefore have three
indications of the time of the first assault: in 1984; during the
first weekend after the mother had moved away; and some four months after the mother's
departure. Strangely, a letter describing the third assault is dated
In the beginning, Betsy claimed that what she handed over to the
police were the original letters. When it was pointed out that the
handwriting of the letters did not agree with the handwriting in her
school books from 1984 and 1986, she switched to the claim that the
letters were copies she had produced at a later time, while she had
lost the original specimens.
In the 6-4-84 letter it is stated, explicitly and twice, that this
is the very first rape. When it was pointed out that the description
was conspicuously discrepant from her account of the first assault
during the police interrogations, she switched to the idea that the
letter was about the second rape. But this only shifted the location
of the discrepancy without reducing it. The third version was that the
letter was concerned with some indeterminate rape between the third
and the last one. The fourth version was that the letter was a
"potpourri," in which different details were taken from
The Supreme Court (case nr Ö-1949/90 and Ö-724/91, judges:
Beckman, Freyschuss, Gregow, Heuman, Jermsten, Lambe, Munck, Sterzel,
Törnell, Vängby) has twice stated that exactly this pattern of
circumstances should lead to a conviction.
Although temporal relations likewise play an important role in the
case of Ingalisa, their evidential value is of a more psychological
nature. In June, 1989 her mother and stepfather believed that Ingalisa
went to see her biological father. Instead, she went to a female
friend, whom her parents (with no little justification) thought to be
a bad influence. When they found out, they told her to come home
immediately. Ingalisa's response was to report her stepfather to the
social welfare agency for sexual assaults. She stated her conviction
that the abuse would continue, if she returned. But when she reported
the crime to the police almost at the same time, she claimed that the
abuse had ceased on March 1st.
During a subsequent police interrogation, Ingalisa did not recall
this date, and suggested that the latter must be false. But later,
during the same interrogation, she recalled that a quite different
event occurred on March 1st. Her stepfather had shouted, "You
stupide!" to one of her schoolmates. The girls had discussed
whether to report him to the police because of defamation. However,
Ingalisa alone had eventually reported him for sexual crimes.
In other words, a date related to a quite different act which
Ingalisa would have liked to report had been transferred to the incest
allegation. Should we expect a genuine incest victim with access to
authentic recollections, to incorporate into a police report a false
date borrowed from an altogether different source of her animosity?
Parallel Order Relations
Such relations may appear at the most unexpected places, and may be
used in many ways. They may be excessively revealing. Only one example
will be given.
Seventeen-year-old Violet's stepfather had left his wife for a
younger woman. The wife decided to revenge herself and pressured
Violet to report her stepfather for having abused her since she was 12
years old. It is not difficult to guess from where the mother got the
idea. A few years earlier, one of Violet's schoolmates had murdered
both her parents. For purposes of propaganda, a detective inspector
falsely claimed that the murderess was an incest victim who was taking
revenge on the offender and on the other parent who had knowingly
tolerated the abuse. This fabrication, which was highly publicized,
was crucial in changing attitudes in Sweden. At Violet's school an
enormous campaign was conducted on sexual abuse, and the school
welfare officer had a private talk with each student.
Violet obediently went to the police but did not perform the task
very well. She could supply no details about any aspect of the alleged
abuse. I shall quote a section from the police interrogation:
[Interrogator:] But dear little Violet, isn't there any event you
could connect things with so as to arrive at any specific occasion?
What I am thinking of is, if it was your birthday, if something
special had happened in the family, or if a friend of yours had made
a call, or something of the kind. If you could search your memory
for any such things to connect with some of the assaults, in time
and also in execution.
Violet shakes her head and says that she cannot do this.
To compensate for Violet's poor fantasy, her mother wrote a
"short story" of what she had experienced. Although Violet learned the short story by heart, she
and the mother made a mistake which exposed the intrigue. A genuine
incest victim might well prepare herself before the trial. S he might
produce a written list of entries such as "the city park" or
"the attic in granny's house" so as not to forget significant
events. But and this is crucial at different rehearsal sessions she
would clothe the events in different words. By contrast, Violet learned
by heart the sheer verbal formulations in exactly the same way in which
an actor would learn his lines before a stage performance.
The girl's testimony started with a monologue of 2481 words in the
district court and about the same in the Court of Appeal. The
monologues were not literally identical, but almost all sentences
followed each other in the same order. All non-trivial discrepancies
were closely associated with pauses, which had the characteristics of
an actor on the stage having forgot the next line.
As if this was not enough, certain formulations were borrowed from
a pseudo-documentary TV program (Studio S: An Unparalleled Ignomony).
A brief section will be quoted. George is the stepfather, the
other names are Violet's siblings. Note that the objection that a
person with a phenomenal memory might do without any rehearsal what
Violet did is not relevant, since Violet has in many ways such as in
the above quoted excerpt proved her poor memory (see Table
The Pruning Technique
This analytic procedure was first described by Skinner (1983). When
applied to dialogues e.g. a police interrogation the basic operation is
to delete every contribution by one of the parties, and juxtapose all
the statements by the other. The textual analyst may also distribute the dialogue
in two columns so that the reader may alternate between perceiving
only the questions, only the answers, or both. Although all
information contained in a pruned dialogue will also be present in the
complete dialogue, the information may be much more perceptible in the
former. Not infrequently, a judge or a psychologist may have
overlooked the real pattern, for example, that the child who
supposedly supplied a detailed account of sexual abuse actually did
little more than say yes or no in response to leading questions.
Rachel was 20 years old at the time of the interrogation in the
district court. Her testimony comprises 330 statements, 288 of which
do not contain any inaudible fragments. No less than 163 of the latter
are devoid of any information supplied by the girl herself. She
merely gives her assent to what is presented to her, primarily by the
prosecutor, or else says, "I don't know." From Loftus and
Doyle (1987) I understand that this pattern is not considered
inappropriate in the U.S. This seems very strange to me. I would
strongly criticize a Swedish lawyer who failed to emphasize that an
interrogated person who did not produce whole sentences had provided
no useful information at all.
The Morphological Method
This approach consists of two steps, and it is tempting to overlook
the second and most important one. First, an exhaustive list of the
possible alternatives must be constructed (Zwicky, 1971). Second, each
alternative must be exhaustively outlined. It may then turn out that
every alternative compatible with the allegations is impossible or
Ingalisa claimed that her stepfather had licked her sex organ three
times. According to one version, he had agreed that she would be
permitted to come home at a later time in exchange for her submitting
to the assault. According to another version, she had no idea as to
what he was going to do when he started to pull down her pants. She
was equally as ignorant on the second and third occasions because
meanwhile she had forgotten the first two assaults.
A set of variables are involved in this account pulling down and
licking (these may be collapsed into one), being ignorant, and having
made an agreement. If we include only those patterns which assume that
the licking really took place, and allow for different orders of the
latter two variables, the exhaustive set will comprise five
- Ingalisa's stepfather
had licked her, they had agreed on the exchanges, and she was ignorant
as to why he pulled down her pants. But after having arrived at the
agreement, Ingalisa had suffered a black-out, whence she did not figure
out what was to happen, when her pants were removed.
- This alternative differs from the
proceeding one only as regards the order of the variables. Ingalisa was
truly ignorant of the aim when
her pants were pulled down. But afterwards she stopped the stepfather,
requesting a counter-contribution. Then they arrived at the agreement.
- She told the
truth about the licking and the agreement. But she
lied about her ignorance.
- She told the truth about the licking and
her ignorance. But she lied about the agreement.
- She lied about both the
agreement and her ignorance. Nevertheless,
she told the truth about the licking.
Nowhere can it be seen more clearly than in the case of Ingalisa that
the difference may be negligible between the non-justified verdict by an
American jury and the justified decision on the guilt by Swedish judges.
Apart from trivial formalities, the entire judgment by the Court of
Appeal (Hillerudh, Holmbergh, Widebäck, Yllman, Häggquist) consists
of 46 words.
To this date, the stepfather does not know what he is supposed to
have done. The above list reveals the judges' poor capacity for
combining statements and making explicit their relation to each other.
By paying no attention to any concrete alternative, and by refusing to
choose between the available ones, the Court of Appeal may retain the
illusion that the accusation is not strange and improbable.
The Dynamics of Sexual Allegations
Textual analysis comprises many more specific procedures than the
ones listed so far (Scharnberg, 1996a, 1996b). Nevertheless, we shall
now turn to themes of a different nature.
It is not known to what extent my three samples are representative.
For instance, they contain only one boy, apart from male siblings who
were under investigation solely because their sisters were so. On the
other hand, my cases are scrutinized by scientific methods, and I have
devoted 350 to 700 hours to each case belonging to the former two
samples. Consequently, there is little room for mistaken conclusions.
In this respect my research contrasts markedly with statistics based
upon legal verdicts or subjective assessments by dogmatic clinicians
(such as the Swedish writings by Martens  and Lindblad (1989]).
Some patterns are recurrent and some are sporadic. To this date I
have encountered no child nor teenager who has on his or her own
initiative invented and truly believed in a false allegation. A few young children had indeed been
abused, but all others had been pressured to say what some adult(s)
wanted to hear. Among teenagers, a non-neglectible number could not
resist the pressure of a revengeful mother or a dogmatic professional.
Rachel and also Betsy provide typical illustrations.
Both Violet and her mother were religious fanatics who agreed that
the stepfather should be in jail for having broken up the family.
Ingalisa was permeated with a craving for revenge against her
stepfather. Hildegard was a narcotic addict who needed the damages
for drugs. Betsy was depressive and would still at the age of 15 burst
into crying if a schoolteacher made
a kind remark on a neutral topic.
To Erna, the final outcome was a profound tragedy. Erna, as
described earlier, at age 18 accused the husband
of her childhood day care provider of regularly sexually abusing her
when she was between 10 and 13 years
old. I shall outline the entire development of this case. The defense
had dug out such overwhelmingly strong evidence that the Court of
Appeal dared not convict
the defendant. As a result, the court was furious,
and the chairman (Sven Larsson) incessantly fired the most coarse
insolences toward the counsel for the defense; a truly unique pattern
Recall that the district court concluded Erna appeared trustworthy.
However, it turned out that the girl was semi-psychotic at the time of
the trial. As she perceived the matter herself, she would repeatedly
and not always knowingly cross the border between the material
world and a spiritual world populated with creatures
whose commands she had to obey.
She frequently made false accusations concerning both sexual and
non-sexual matters. At two hospitals, the staff was strictly ordered
never to enter her room without a witness. One of the doctors who had
issued this order concealed his own orders and testified in court that
Erna was highly trustworthy, both in general and as regards the sexual
allegation under trial. Half a dozen doctors, psychologists, and
social workers, who had themselves described Erna's mental condition
and behavioral habits on paper, took far-reaching measures to conceal
their case notes and their content.
To Erna, a false allegation about sexual abuse had no further
meaning than, to a normal person, a sudden outburst like, "You
son of a bitch!" She was genuinely surprised when the doctors made a police report about one and only
one of those she had accused. Apart from frankly admitting that she had
lied, she did everything possible to call the whole thing off. It is
disheartening to see the videotaped police interrogation. Erna is
standing for a whole hour with her back toward the camera, kicking
violently and rhythmically at the furniture. But she was finally worn
down. The serious deterioration of her psychic condition coincides with
Erna was not even left alone after the trial. Save the Children
started a newspaper campaign in three towns and arranged local courses
for lay judges. In the latter about which the press and local TV
reported her case was discussed, and the acquitting judges were
attacked for being irresponsible. One of the teachers at the courses
was one of the doctors who had committed perjury.
The end result of the endeavors by the authorities was that Erna
took her life at the age of 19.
Quite a few "ordinary" teenagers had given no thought to
the possibility that anyone might be harmed when they tried to impress
one or more schoolmates by "exposing their secret sexual
life." Embla and Graziella, both 14 years old, are typical
examples. More will be said later about their dynamics. But when both
of them retracted the false accusation, they were immediately isolated
from their normal environment and exposed to strong influence by a
series of professionals.
Graziella had a 19-year-old boyfriend, with whom she was strongly
infatuated. The social welfare threatened to have him prosecuted for
having slept with a minor unless Graziella agreed that her father had
raped her. When the conviction of the father was final, the case
against the boyfriend was removed from the cause list.
The Deficient Reality Feeling of the Fabulator
Most of the content of the present section is taken from Scharnberg
(1994, 1996a). Few features of false accounts are more recurrent than
the deficient reality feeling of the fabulator. More often than not,
fabulators are incapable of thinking or imagining what additional
features would be present if the fabricated ones had been authentic.
This principle is amply born out by the above examples on physical or
It is at the same time very difficult and very easy to construct a
fabulated account which has the appearance of corresponding to an
authentic state of things. It is difficult, because human beings are
highly unfamiliar with the fine-grained features of reality. They are
also prone to overlook many crucial features which are not
fine-grained at all.
It is not a paradox that it is likewise very easy to produce
an apparently authentic fabulation. This is so because the producer of
the lie is not the only one who is
unfamiliar with the nature of reality. The receiver of the lie may be
no more familiar and, hence, may overlook exactly the same oddities
which the producer was unable to avoid.
The task of detecting lies by analytic techniques bears a strange
similarity to night vision. Non-trained individuals feel an
irresistible impulse to direct the attention toward areas where
nothing can be found and away from the locations where the crucial
information is discernible. In this respect, psychologists, jurors,
and judges do not differ from other untrained lay persons. They may
almost completely neglect the logical structure of an account. But
they will be strongly influenced by expressive features. If a sad
recount is associated with a sad tone of voice, sad facial
expressions, and the use of sad words, they will usually conclude that
the account is true.
Objectively, the logical structure of authentic occurrences is very
difficult to imitate. Therefore, whether or not an account has a
logical structure is a strong indicator of its truth value. By
contrast, expressive features which are generally observed when a true
account is delivered are very easy for many people to imitate, albeit
not for everyone. Hence, "true expressive features" are
associated not only with true accounts, but also with a large and
rather well-defined class of false accounts. Judges and jurors should
keep in mind that those false accounts with which they are primarily
confronted do not constitute a random selection, but belong often to
the class of "apparently true" false accounts.
A recurrent feature of fabulators is their tendency to make every
lie stand by itself, with little regard to its relationship to other
true or false statements they have made or to firmly established
external facts. Exactly because they are prone to focus upon one thing
at a time, they may appear to be thoroughly trustworthy.
Lying is a technique of persuasion. Except for individuals of
subnormal intelligence, few people would use this technique habitually
for years or decades, unless they had the repeated experience that
their lies were believed. Hence, it is almost trivially true that
habitual liars give a highly trustworthy impression.
We should not look upon the habitual fabulator as a person who has
invented certain techniques which are eminently suited for deceiving
others. Rather, the virtuoso liar should be conceived of as an
individual who has passively adapted himself to the general weaknesses
of ordinary human beings. There is little reason for the fabulator to
take great pains to avoid contradictions, since the listener may not
detect even the most glaring ones. By contrast, no effort must be
spared to identify and produce the appropriate tone of voice,
expressive formulations, and so on. In fact, habitual fabulators may
often give a much more trustworthy impression than people
honestly telling the truth.
The Two Sources of Lies
It is impossible to exaggerate the importance of the following
fact. All or nearly all lies derive from two and only two sources: a
preexisting set of standard attributions and modifications of
authentic states of things.
The standard attributions may as a matter of routine be pasted upon
almost any individual, situation or event. They need not be
pejorative, but they are frequently so. Whoever intends to disqualify
another person may "reluctantly" reveal that the latter is
mentally ill, a drug addict, and so on. The standard attributions may
be stable over centuries, or have a shorter life-span. Not long ago
homosexuality left the class, while sexual abuse of children has
become a recent addition.
As for the second class, even an extremely mendacious account may
consist of many parts, the overwhelming majority of which are
perfectly true. Both classes may combine. The late prime minister Olof
Palme regularly visited his senile mother at a mental hospital. Evil-minded gossip transformed these visits: he was said to be
receiving regular treatment because he was a narcotic addict.
The second class is the crucial one. As can be seen from most
Swedish judgments, judges reason as if every false account consisted of nothing but false parts, and as if
any liar invented each and all details out
of thin air.
An authentic example: A girl claimed that her father had slept with
her shortly before Christmas, and that this happened a few days after
she had passed an examination in trigonometry. It was objectively
verified that the girl really passed an examination in trigonometry on
the 16th of December. The judges took this to prove that the girl had
told the truth about the sexual
Standard Phrases as Justifications of Verdicts
As was noted above, the Swedish justification of the verdict may
well consist of trivial standard phrases, which could be mechanically
applied to any pattern of evidence. I shall list a series of literal
quotations from actual
judgments. But almost identical formulations can be found in numerous
judgments by courts at all levels:
- "The injured party has given the impression of being
- "Her account bears the stamp of a self-experienced
event." "Her account has given a clear impression of
describing something she experienced herself."
- "Erna has
delivered her account under
great pain. At her request
the proceedings have repeatedly had to be interrupted."
- "During all
[police and court] interrogations, she essentially stuck to her account."
- "Moreover, no reasonable explanation has emerged as to why Erna
would lie about Dag." "However, no circumstance has emerged,
which might constitute a reasonable ground as to why Wendela would
falsely accuse her father of a crime."
- "Erna has given the impression of neither wanting to
exaggerate nor overstate the events."
- "Erna's account is in many respects connected with certain details,
a pattern which strongly supports the conclusion that she
has really experienced what she has recounted."
- "She has assured that she loves her daddy."
These specimens of sham reasoning reveal the low capacity of judges
in assessing legal evidence, together with their excessive
overestimation of their own qualifications. These double features will
be even more apparent on the basis of the Umeå case, to be described in
a moment. Statement G illustrates the trigonometry deduction above.
International readers may miss what is the meaning of statement F.
girl may have postulated that her father had slept with her, say, 300
times. In this situation the court may proceed as follows. (1) A purely
fictitious number is invented, which is invariably larger say, 400 acts.
(2) The postulated number is compared with the fictitious number. (3)
The conclusion is drawn that the postulated number is lesser than the
fictitious number. (4) The lesser size of the postulated number is taken
to prove that the girl has shown a certain moderation. (5) The
moderation shown by the girl is taken to prove that her account is true.
It would be instructive to see a Swedish judge construct an account
which will not automatically be proved to be true, by means of the
In the case of Umeå (a town in Northern Sweden), 15-year-old
Elfriede was subjected to memory recovery therapy by the combined effort
of the child psychiatric clinic, the "Children's Rights in
Society" (BRIS), and "The On-Duty-Service for [Maltreated]
Women in Umeå. They completely ruined her mental health, and implanted
the idea that her father had abused her. The true
state of things was from the beginning immediately
apparent to anyone, including the judges.
The leader of the pseudo-witness-psychologists (this term will be
discussed later), Egil Ruuth, was appointed
by the court to assess whether the girl had told
the truth. As could easily have been predicted, he stated that her
account was self-experienced, and that no external influence was
The father was convicted and sent to prison for 10 years. But
afterwards the three above-mentioned institutions proceeded to implant
recollections of sexual abuse committed by 33 other males, some of them
belonging to the top strata of society. As a result, a new trial motion
was granted, whereafter the father was
acquitted. After the second proceedings, the true state
of things was completely accepted by the Court of Appeal in Umeå.
Now listen to what we may find in the first judgment passed by the
same Court of Appeal (Skarstedt, Ingvarsson, Persson, Westmark, Lundström):
To begin with it is certified that Elfriede
has given  a highly
trustworthy impression upon the Court of Appeal. In front of the court
she has  in a highly realistic way manifested  anxiety, fear and
panic as well as [4) such strong feelings of distress because of what
has occurred, that the proceedings  had to be interrupted a
number of times because of
 her feeling sick and, at one occasion, her vomiting. It must be
considered  altogether improbable
that Elfriede would manage to  "play up" this anxiety
and feeling sick, etc. Besides, she has, as far as known  shown similar reactions in the
district court and in front of the examining doctor, and other people.
In other words, Elfriede appears as  trustworthy to a high degree,
and what she has recounted  bears the stamp of self-experienced
I shall comment upon only one empirical and one logical mistake.
in the least trustworthy literature on sexual abuse, it is a tough job
to find a description of a
victim who showed such strong physical reactions while recounting her
alleged experiences in the court. By contrast, there is no want of
victims of memory recovery
therapy who have shown such reactions while recounting
One of the concealed premises of the court is, "Either Elfriede
was deliberately vomiting like an actor, or else, her physical reactions
were caused by her being overwhelmed by painful recollections of
authentic assault. There is no third alternative. There is no need to
supply any argument as to why the two alternatives are exhaustive."
This logical flaw is typical of the logic of judges and jurors.
The Differences Between The Three Scandinavian Countries
Within the psychological profession the difference is negligible,
but outside the latter, the Scandinavian countries are conspicuously
dissimilar. Rationality and maturity are most prominent in Norway, and
least so in Sweden. Denmark occupies an intermediary position, whence
less space will be devoted to Danish conditions.
Concrete examples may be more illuminating than abstract outlines.
In the beginning of 1993, seven persons were arrested in Bjugn, a
Norwegian village of some 5000 inhabitants. They belonged to quite
different social strata, and their alleged close relations were a
considerable surprise. Supposedly, they had regularly taken some 40
preschool children from a day nursery to a barn at the other end of
the village. The children were completely undressed, whereafter the
seven adults had been standing on a line masturbating.
When they were arrested, the mass media unanimously agreed that the
same kind of a witch craze had befallen Bjugn as had previously taken
place in Jordan, Minnesota and Cleveland, England. Numerous jurists,
social anthropologists, and other academicians likewise agreed. The
leader of the police investigation was immediately replaced and, after
four weeks, all seven defendants were released. Six of them were
eventually removed from the cause list and the last suspect was
acquitted by the district court. Nonetheless, most people thought this
was the greatest legal scandal of the century in Norway.
Sweden seems to be the only country in the world where the incest
ideologists have obtained a complete hegemony. They have gained
control of almost all key positions within mass media, the academic
world, public administration, and even among judges. From these
positions they may disseminate their own propaganda, stop criticism,
and conceal the very existence of different views. (Admittedly, a
minimal change started since April 1993.) It is by no means an empty
guess that, if the pattern of the Bjugn craze had taken place in
Sweden, all seven suspects would have been convicted, and that this
outcome would have been unanimously hailed by the Swedish mass media
and academic world.
Most Swedish defense counsels, even most of the famous ones, will
do a poor job defending sexual abuse. They will gather no facts
themselves, but merely try to present an alternative interpretation of
the facts (or sham facts) presented by the prosecutor. The
pseudo-witness-psychologists (about whom more will be said below) will
declare any suspect guilty. Prosecutors will often try to have such
psychologists appointed by the court as "neutral and
independent" experts. Most lawyers cannot understand that there
is a difference between psychologists, and do not realize they will
send their own client to prison if they accept the prosecutor's choice
of a psychologist.
The editor of the periodical of the Associations of Attorneys
belongs to the incest ideologists. Her selection of papers for
publication reveals her systematic aim at undermining the position of
the defense. Unfortunately, this is tolerated by Swedish attorneys.
One of these articles (Gustavsson, 1992) is about the case of Embla,
and it contains no less than 14
A considerable number of Swedish institutions are working to prevent
acquittals in trials concerning allegations
of sexual abuse of
children. These include The
National Board of Health and Welfare, Save the Children,
The Children's Rights in Society, The Children's Ombudsman, The
Association of Psychologists, The Supreme Court, The National Council
for Crime Prevention.
Now to the Swedish case I promised to describe. The geographic
distance between Umeå and Södertälje is (from the Swedish point of view)
enormous. Hence, it is odd that the On-Duty-Service for Women in Umeå
is involved in the Södertälje case. The mental health of both (the
Umeå girl) Elfriede and (the Södertälje girl) Elvira has gravely
deteriorated because of memory recovery therapy. Furthermore, their
narratives are almost identical. Elvira's psychotherapists were Hellis
Sylwan (who is also involved in the case of Pontus described by
Scharnberg, 1996a), Stig Broquist (who is also involved in the case of
Cynthia described in Scharnberg, 1993a), and the American Stephen
Harvey, who believes in the reality and high frequency of Satanic ritual
Elvira, who was 15 years old at the time of her first report,
eventually claimed that her father had practiced coitus with her since
she was four years old. Her mother had performed homosexual assaults.
For some years, the father had regularly hired her out as a prostitute
on sex clubs and elsewhere, including to a man
named "Mats." She had participated in ritual murder of
children, and had murdered one child herself. Her father had slaughtered
a total of 53 children, which he had eaten up. "Mats" had cut
off the head of a child and
had performed coitus in the neck
of the decapitated torso. The bones of the children had been laid into
plastic sacks and buried in the woods. Persons belonging to the top
strata of society had participated in the ritual abuse.
In the district court the father was convicted of sexual abuse.
was likewise convicted of having hired out his daughter as a prostitute,
despite the fact that the police had taken Elvira to all sex clubs
within 25 miles, none of which she recognized while her descriptions of
the inner architecture and furniture of the sex clubs were flagrantly
plagiarized from The Deaf People's House in Stockholm; Elvira's mother
The latter was acquitted by the district court. At that time,
Elvira had not yet told anything about ritual murder. The prosecutor
appealed the acquittal. But before the mother was tried in the Court
of Appeal, the entire Swedish people could on television watch the
police digging for corpses. Although modern techniques certified that
the entire woods were totally devoid of any corpse, the mother was
convicted after these TV programs.
Because the daughter had eventually reported persons belonging to
the top strata, a new trial motion was accepted by the Supreme Court.
The case was referred back to the Court of Appeal. What took place
there was a sham trial. I believe the judges (Nilsson, Knutar,
Karlholm, Högel, Edholm) must have reasoned as follows:
Both the Umeå father and the Södertälje father had been given
the maximal sentence, on the basis of no more that the postulation of their daughters.
It was known to the entire Swedish
people that the Umeå daughter was a victim of highly-strung
psychologists. Hence, the judges had revealed a conspicuous
incompetence and irresponsibility. If one more absurd judgment were
corrected, the general population would lose all respect of the legal
system. Consequently, the father must be found guilty at any cost.
But the innocence of the father was obvious. If all facts were
presented, the Court of Appeal would have only two options: to
acquit the father, or to produce a conviction whose absurdity would
be flagrant to everyone. Both options were equally repulsive.
Consequently, the defense had to be prevented from presenting the
crucial evidence. Also, as far as possible, experts should be
appointed who could be trusted to support the indictment and, if
necessary, to fabricate suitable evidence.
In addition, a "Salomonic" compromise should be found.
The new judgment should be of an intermediate severity, so that most
people would conclude that the court was objective and just, and
few, if any, critics on either side would be taken seriously.
When the case began, the police interrogator first talked to
Elvira's foster mother, where she would learn what the girl had
"disclosed" (a euphemism for what the foster mother had
pressured Elvira to say). Then the interrogator would try to have the
girl confirm this story on the videotape.
On the early videotapes, Elvira continually signaled that she was under strong pressure.
She begged for a little support so that she might have the courage to tell
the truth. A typical statement is, "If you can see that I am lying, you must tell me."
But the interrogator reacted by
promising to make the girl tell that she had been abused. The witness
psychologist, Astrid Holgerson, conducted a highly competent
investigation of these facts. But Dr. Holgerson was permitted only to
testify' on general rules on the difference between true and false
In the Umeå case, the pseudo-witness-psychologist, Egil
Ruuth, had conducted a maximally incompetent investigation which
resulted in a prison sentence of 10 years for an innocent father.
Immediately after this had become apparent to the entire Swedish
people, the Court of Appeal in Stockholm appointed Ruuth to teach
the judges of the Södertälje case how to distinguish true
allegations from false ones.
The Court of Appeal also appointed Kari Ormstad. She is a
medico-legal expert and an assistant professor. In case after case,
she has testified that trivial scars, most likely deriving from
constipation, could only have been produced by anal assaults. Unfortunately, most Swedish lawyers never doubt the words of medical
experts. But three cases are known to me in which the defense
counsel called other medical doctors. In all three cases Ormstad
immediately made an about face. She admitted that she had been
mistaken, and joined the view of the experts for the defense. Because she always refuses to battle, her reputation remains
unimpaired. Hence, her testimony is likely to remain unquestioned.
Four-year-old Pontus (described in Scharnberg, 1996a)
had a markedly asymmetric glans. This perfectly normal phenomena
will eventually disappear without any treatment. But Ormstad
testified that the asymmetry derived from sexual assaults.
At the age of 20, Sharon was knocked down in the street, and was
unconscious when she arrived at the hospital. Her jaw was injured,
and since this accident her jaw sometimes gets locked. When at the
age of 23 she reported her father for having performed oral assaults
when she was 18, Ormstad testified that the jaw symptom was a
typical result of oral sex.
Most importantly, the Court of Appeal in Stockholm had immediate
experience of Ormstad's incompetence in what is in Sweden generally
known as the "Huddinge" case (after the name of the
Stockholm suburb). The defendant is called "Reger" in Scharnberg
(1993a). He was given a prison sentence of eight years, but acquitted after a new trial motion,
after the defense found three competent experts. This is one of those
cases in which Ormstad made an about face. Consequently, it was a
provocation to appoint Ormstad for performing the gynecological
examination of Elvira.
Was there a deliberate aim behind all the judicial decisions
The Södertälje case and the football case took place at almost
the same time, and at the same sub-department of the same Court of
Appeal. In the football case, all three psychologists supporting the
prosecutor were permitted to start their testimony with a very long
monologue, in which they supplied a coherent presentation of their
view. During their entire testimony they were free to talk about
anything they liked. But from the very start, the chairman of the
court (Birgitta Widebäck, whom we may also recall from the case of
Ingalisa) immediately forbade the expert witness for the defense to
present 95% of his evidence. As for the remaining 5%, he was only
permitted to give brief answers to those brief questions someone
happened to ask.
I am convinced that the judges knew that Elvira's and Wendela's
fathers were innocent. But they knew that they would not have the
courage of convicting them, if all of the facts were presented.
tragic fact is that all such things may go on right under the nose
of reporters and others. Yet, no reporter nor anyone else shows the
slightest interest. This is a pattern which has no counterpart in
Norway or Denmark.
The Theory of the Hunter and the Prey
In case after case I have realized that I would have been
incapacitated if only the alleged victim, or those who encouraged
the development of the accusations, had been more skilled. Nonetheless, I have also been astonished by the amateurish nature of
most allegations. It would be a mistake to believe that techniques
could be developed which could expose any lie. Rather, the relation
between the lie expert and the liar seems to be analogous to the
relation between the hunter and the prey. Increased skill of
catching/detecting will lead to increased skill of
escaping/concealing. And vice versa.
The individual who is recounting an authentic sequence of an
event may find it difficult to avoid admixtures of irrelevant details.
Reading this in Trankell (1971),
a police interrogator may decide to incorporate irrelevant details
into the accounts sexual abuse so as to "prove" their
authenticity. As can be inferred from a large sample of cases, certain
types of questions are highly prominent during different years, e.g.,
"Do you recall the color and pattern of the wall paper?"
"Did he threaten to kill the cat if you refused?" In other
words, "indicators of authenticity" may be included together
with the false account.
Some Features of Fabulated Accounts
Helson's (1964) Theory of Adaptation Level may
be applied to the psychology of lying. Any human being has "a
psychological thermometer," according to which some lies are
small, and others are intermediary or big. This
"thermometer" is not stable. If we tell a lie which is the
biggest one we dare tell at that time, the thermometer might be
stretched, so that the very same lie will eventually seem much less
extreme. We then may get the courage to tell a more bold lie.
This pattern, named the "Falstaff principle" by
Scharnberg (1994), has been illustrated by Shakespeare, where the
number of rascals which Falstaff alone had killed grows steadily
every time he repeats the story. As time goes by, a girl may deliver
gradually more extreme versions of her original story. Among the
possible causes, theories about uncovered "repression"
should not be taken seriously. But the girl may be exposed to
gradually more extreme indoctrination. However, the two primary
hypotheses are that the courage of the girl has increased, either to
tell the whole truth, or to fabricate more bold lies. When the
entire series of versions are scrutinized, it is seldom difficult to
distinguish the last two alternatives.
The significance of the concept of "twin lies" is that
they have an enormous persuasive power (Scharnberg, 1994).
supported by a second lie is a truth" seems to be a rule firmly
rooted in human nature. The habitual liar passively adapts to the
weaknesses of ordinary people. In trial after trial, judges are
taken in by this transparent technique. Fourteen-year-old Graziella
was always a habitual fabulator. In the district court she said,
while crying, "I would never lie about such a thing. Everyone
knows that I love my father."
Many fabulators reveal a tendency to adapt proposals suggested by
someone else. Embla, the 14-year-old girl described earlier, repeatedly said that each and
every assault had taken place in her own room. The police interrogator
asked whether there had been no additional assaults in the car. Embla
then produced at first one, and then a second assault in the car.
Graziella repeatedly maintained that she had no idea as to whether her
father had ejaculated during the rape. The interrogator asserted that
it was impossible that she could not know such things. Then Graziella
delivered a long and detailed account the father had practiced coitus
interruptus. He was standing on his knees in the bed and pressed out
the semen with his hand. Thereafter, he went to the desk where dirty
linen was lying on the floor and asked whether it was dirty linen.
When Graziella answered "yes," he wiped his penis.
Another recurrent phenomenon is in-between answers. Embla was a
virgin and was markedly ignorant of the details of sexual
performance. She claimed that her father had just unbuttoned her
trousers during the intercourse. The interrogator told her that this
was not possible; the father must have drawn down her trousers.
Embla applied the device of inventing an intermediary state of
things, which will (really or apparently) make room for the
suggested pattern, but which will (really or apparently) not
directly contradict the first version. He did not draw her trousers
One should always pay attention to richness
or poverty of details. This
is, however, a very difficult subject, where simple rules will not do.
Some fabulators may present accounts which are devoid of any details
except those immediately satisfying the aim of the fabrication. Other
fabulators may endlessly elaborate their accounts. Strange
combinations of both tendencies may be observed where despite the
abundance of ornaments, essential central information is missing,
which a genuine victim would not easily have failed to include.
Asymmetric distribution of details may be conspicuous. For
instance, Elvira was supposedly again and again fetched in Södertälje
and taken to Mats's apartment in Stockholm. She has an almost
phenomenal memory as to how she and he were dressed at different
occasions. But she cannot tell anything about the car except that it
was red, nor anything of the apartment except that it was near the
Djurgård Bridge. Moreover, sudden and marked increase or
decrease in amount of details as the topic of the interrogation is shifted is a
palpable feature in numerous accounts, such as in the ones presented
While fabulators may supply highly abstract versions devoid of
concrete details, what is wrong may also be the location of
abstraction rather than the degree of abstraction. For instance,
recollections distributed in relation to calendar years may,
depending on the nature of the events or the nature of the job
situation, be perfectly natural, or highly surprising.
Slips of tongue are not valid indicators (Scharnberg, 1994),
though Ekman (1991) thinks otherwise. But, in contrast to the
empirical support he presents on other topics, here he merely
repeats a few strange deductions by Freud.
Textual analysis comprises many more indicators as to something
being wrong, and many more peculiarities to watch for. In Scharnberg
(1996a) I present some 50 indicators of deliberate untruths and in
Scharnberg (1996b) I present a much briefer list of indicators of
indoctrination in preschool children.
The Extremely Extroverted Personality
In my samples, most of the girls who have invented a false
allegation on their own initiative are extremely extroverted. Basically, all human beings occupy a position on a continuous scale
from the most introverted to the most extroverted. When I shall talk
of introverted and extroverted types, this is merely a shorthand.
introverted person is not more valuable than an extroverted. Perhaps
an individual is most pleasing to himself and others if he is not
too extreme in either direction. One of the fundamental features of
extroverts is their reduced capacity for forming conditioned
reflexes. They are not easy but hard conditioners.
The entire personality is permeated with the strength of the
capacity for forming reflexes. Hence, the position of an individual
on the scale may be established equally well by simple and complex
measures. For instance, a tone may start one second before air is
blown into the eye. We may count the number of repetitions needed
until the eye lid will close involuntarily when the tone is heard.
Because extremely introverted individuals may be extremely easy
conditioners, they may be at risk for developing neuroses, irrational fears, and sexual perversions.
extroverts are hard conditioners, their moral development may be
retarded. They may be slow to learn to feel guilt and to be sensitive
to the sufferings of other people. Learning physiological control,
e.g. of the bladder, may also be retarded. Typically, Embla was still
a bed-wetter at the age of 13. Her insensitivity was particularly
apparent in the court. Despite the fact that a prison sentence was at
stake, she was enjoying herself just as if she was attending a circus
By amplifying or reducing the number of learning occasions,
upbringing may to some extent compensate for the differential
conditionability. But a serious predicament is that deficient
learning of normal societal rules may facilitate the learning of
quite different behavioral patterns. Because the extreme extrovert
has not learned to feel guilt, he or she may lie in a much more
convincing way than the general population. The tone of voice,
facial expressions, and choice of words or other verbal formulations
may give a convincing impression of honesty. Ekman (1991, p. 141)
describes the case of Giovanni Vigliotti, who may have married 100
women. "One of the things that attracted Patricia Gardner to
Giovanni Vigliotti ... was that honest trait of looking directly into her eyes."
the judgment by the district court in the case of Embla, we find the
following testimony by her schoolteacher: "When Embla told these
things, she looked deeply into her eyes, and she got the immediate
impression that the girl was without any doubt telling the
Of course, extroverts may also be sexually abused. Extroversion
does not function as a kind of prophylaxis which will protect
against assaults. But whenever an extremely extroverted individual
appears to be excessively truthful, and whenever an individual
appears to emit the typical extroverted "truthful"
behaviors, there are strong reasons to watch out. What should be
watched is, first and foremost, one's own inclinations. It is a real
danger to the legal safety of the individual that judges and jurors
imagine that they are producing rational decisions, when their
impressions are simply the result of primitive psychological
In the short run the extreme extrovert may profit from lying.
in the long run, the consequences may be devastating. If the
authorities encourage, or even demand, those behaviors which the
extrovert needs most of all to overcome, he will learn completely inadequate ideas
as to the nature of society. He may eventually get in real trouble.
Should this happen, the authorities must accept their share of the
responsibility for the outcome.
I have seen quite a few such cases. Embla was always prone to lie
and steal. But after the trials, the police made it clear that
everything would be forgiven, because it was supposedly caused by
sexual assaults. Suddenly her shoplifting reached altogether new
The Swedish School of Pseudo-Witness-Psychologists
Many approaches for assessing the truth value of sexual
allegations are little more than sham techniques. They may look like
devices for distinguishing true and false allegations. But they may
justify the inclusion of all allegations among the true ones. A
careful analysis of one school which has systematically worked out
such sham techniques may enhance the vigilance of responsible
professionals in other countries, so that they may be more more
sensitive to analogous errors of other schools or individual
psychologists in their own environment.
According to the deceptive propaganda (e.g., Norelius, 1991),
there are two schools of witness psychology in Sweden, which are
associated with the universities of Stockholm and Lund, respectively.
The former is based upon the theories of Arne Trankell and Astrid
Holgerson. The latter is based upon Trankell and Elizabeth Loftus.
What is the truth behind this propaganda? Highly qualified witness
psychological investigations have sometimes prevented absurd
convictions. Such outcomes are unacceptable to certain individuals
and institutions. These people did consider the possibility of
eliminating witness psychology and substituting it with clinical
psychology. But witness psychology was too firmly rooted in Sweden.
A more realistic prospect was to create a second group of
professionals who would usurp the name of witness psychologists.
They would accept investigations on behalf of courts and pose as
neutral experts who were equally independent of the prosecution and
the defense. But they would secretly function as commissioned aids
to the prosecutor. Some of them, e.g. Bodil Hjalte and Barbro
Sterner, have declared 100% of the suspects guilty. Egil Ruuth is
more ingenious. Every other year he will select a suspect at random and
declare him innocent. Ruuth is the leader of the group, and his
contribution to the Umeå case has already been described.
The entire group is specifically recommended by The National
Board of Health and Welfare and The Association of Psychologists.
But the level of its qualifications is revealed by a sample of
deductions produced by some of the members of the group.
Corinna is one more child who mixed up things. Sometimes she got
pee into her mouth, but it came from the lavatory. Sometimes daddy
pee-weed into her mouth. Sometimes it was she who pee-weed into
daddy's mouth. Or daddy pee-weed into her mouth because he thought
this was the lavatory. The last comment is typical of a child trying
to make sense out of what, to her, must look quite surrealistic.
At the first police interrogation, Corinna said no more than that
her father had pee-weed into her mouth in secrecy while both were
having a bath. But after two months of psychotherapy she said that
mummy and another lady and gentleman had been onlookers to the act.
But the psychotherapist made a mistake. She was so eager to teach the
child new "memories," that she forgot to consolidate the
earlier ones. Hence, Corinna had at the second police interrogation
more or less forgotten the secret bathroom acts. On the video she is
seen rolling around on the couch, being clearly bored by all the difficult questions,
and saying "I don't recall" no less than 26 times. These
statements of hers definitely do not have the character of "I
don't recall what I had for lunch," but rather "I don't
recall the name of the capital of Albania."
It must be a formidable task to teach a 4-year-old to simulate
amnesia. Since the mother was prevented from being alone with the
child during the preceding two months, she had no physical
opportunity of indoctrinating the girl. Nonetheless, the
pseudo-Loftusian Hans Larsson invented the idea that Corinna's
failing memory at the second police interrogation derived from her
mother's having taught her to say that she did not recall anything
about what the father had done to her. Larsson's construction on
this point is almost literally reproduced in the judgment. So is his
postulation that "Daddy pee-weed into my mouth" belongs to
those things a child cannot be indoctrinated to say.
An additional circumstance is highly relevant also for my
hypothesis about the advance decision by the Court of Appeal in the Södertälje
case. I (who was the expert witness for the defense in
the football case) was permitted to state that Larsson's
investigation is crank science. But Judge Widebäck very
aggressively stopped me from justifying my view. Afterwards, she and
her colleagues wrote in the judgment that Scharnberg's evaluation of
Larsson's investigation should not be taken seriously, because
Scharnberg had been unable to supply any justification for his view.
One more grave distortion is concerned with the older sister
Wendela. The judges must have realized the oddity of her postulation
about oral sex performed while she was totally asleep. Hence, they
asserted (falsely) that she had said she was only half asleep, and
that I had denied the possibility of a girl sensing fellatio in a
condition of being half asleep.
We may be taking too much for granted, if we conceive of judges
and psychologists as people doing honest mistakes. Frequently, it is
a more parsimonious hypothesis that they are aware of what they do.
Textual analysis has no special field of application, but may be
used for assessing the truth value of allegations of sexual abuse.
The approach is an objective method. By and large, its results have been in less need of
subsequent modification than experimental results.
Close attention should always be paid to the physical possibility
of the alleged act and to the combined pattern of all asserted
temporal relations. Other fundamental tools are the search for
parallel order relations, the pruning technique, and the
Untrue accounts may derive from external pressure, from inner
mental illness, or from ordinary fabulation. These categories may
combine: a spontaneous and harmless fabulation may under pressure
lead to a legal conviction or a psychopathological personality may
have a reduced resistance to external pressure. Each of the
following three sectors should be focused upon the dynamics of the
producer of the untruth, the dynamics of the untruth itself, and the
dynamics of the receiver of the untruth. The one who emitted the
untruth may be either the producer, or else the mediating victim of
the hidden producer.
The virtuoso liar should not be seen as an individual who has
invented a series of efficacious techniques for deceiving others.
Rather, he is an individual who has passively adapted to the
ordinary weaknesses of human nature. Surprisingly, neither the
producer nor the receiver of the untruth may be very proficient in
distinguishing between fabrications which might correspond to an
authentic state of things, and such ones which are discrepant from
any possible state. Hence, the producer may emit flagrant
surrealistic versions and the receiver may not detect their
surrealistic nature. Judges and jurors may feel an irresistible
inclination to believe in downright false accounts. To some extent,
the same physiological equipment may make a person prone to tell
lies, and to evoke in others the firm belief that he is imparting
the absolute truth. Most or all lies derive from a total of two
sources. Moreover, many subtle features of untrue versions are
Finally, an analysis is given of a widespread Swedish system of
invalid indicators for distinguishing between true and false
allegations. The secret aim of these indicators is to enable the
assessing psychologist to include all allegations among the true
ones. Hopefully, my analysis may increase the vigilance and
understanding of responsible psychologists in other countries as to
the specific errors and persuasive devices encountered in their own
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* Max Scharnberg is teaching
the psychology of lying at Stockholm School of Economics, but
correspondence should be addressed to the Department of Education,
Uppsala University, P.O. Box 2109, S-750 02, Uppsala, Sweden. [Back]