The Child Witness

When referring to the child witness, never refer to the child as the "victim." Call the child the complaining witness or the child witness. If the defense is that there was no abuse, then there is no crime and with no crime there is no victim. If others refer to the child as the victim, make an objection or move for a mistrial. Also permitting the complaining witness to be identified as the victim may subtly but powerfully condition the jury to believe there was a crime. If the mental health professional ever, in reports, depositions, or notes, refers to the child as the victim, use this as evidence that the professional had made up his mind from the beginning.

Understanding the nature of memory is necessary in evaluating child sexual abuse. The fact that memory is reconstruction is generally accepted in the scientific community (Dawes, 1988; Goodman and Hahn, 1987; Loftus and Ketcham, 1991; Wakefield and Underwager, 1994b, 1994c). People may believe that their memories are a process of uncovering what actually happened, as though a videotape had been made and stored in the brain and is being replayed, but our memories are largely determined by our current beliefs and feelings. Through this process of reconstruction, people can come to believe firmly in events that never happened.

When there is an allegation of sexual abuse, children may be repeatedly interviewed by adults who believe that the abuse is real. The adults may ask leading questions and provide information to the child about what supposedly happened. They may even tell the child that they already know about the abuse. The child may be placed in "disclosure-based" play therapy and further encouraged to elaborate on the abuse. Through this process of social influence, adults may inadvertently encourage false stories about abuse which can become part of the child's memory.


Special Problems with Sexual Abuse Cases


The Beginning of the Problem

Misconceptions That Increase Error

The Child Witness

Interviews of Children

Some Common But Unsupported Interview Techniques

Anatomically-Detailed Dolls
Interpretation of Drawings
Other Unsupported Techniques

Medical Evidence

Behavioral Indicators and Child Abuse "Syndromes"

The Nature of the Allegations

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder

Assessment of the Accused Adult

Psychological Testing

Misuse of the MMPI and MMPI-2

Scale 5 0verinterpretations

Overinterpretation of the K Scale in Court or Custody Settings

Failure to Recognize the Situational Factors in a Scale 6 Elevation

Departing from Standard Administration Procedures

Overinterpretation of the MMPI Supplementary Scales

Ignoring a Within Normal Limits Profile and Finding Pathology with Projective Tests

Millon Clinical Multiaxial Inventory (MCMI and MCMI-II)

Multiphasic Sex Inventory

The Penile Plethysmograph

Testimony About the Plaintiff in Personal Injury Cases

Allegations of Recovered Memories

Court Rulings Relevant to Expert Testimony in Child Sexual Abuse Cases



Footnote 1


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