Critically Evaluate Two Of The Main Factors Affecting The Accuracy And Reliability Of Children’s Testimony In Cases Of Suspected Sexual Abuse

1443 words - 6 pages

In the 1980s, society gained an increased awareness of the pervasiveness of child sexual abuse. This, along with increases in allegations of abuse, led to important changes in the legal system, regarding the acceptability of child witness testimonies (Ceci & Bruck, 1995). The requirement for verification of children's testimonies alleging sexual abuse was abandoned and the testimony of young children was often accepted in the justice system as truthful, with false allegations considered to be extremely rare (Faller, 1984).

However, children’s competency to testify in cases of suspected sexual abuse is dubious, due to many factors, which can affect the accuracy and the reliability of ...view middle of the document...

Techniques such as the use of reinforcement, social influence and asking suggestive or leading questions are likely to result in false allegations (Bruck & Ceci, 1995).

Testimonies from children can have a high emotional impact on jurors, but children can be suggestible, meaning that their testimonies may be the product of repeated suggestive interviews. Leichtman & Ceci (1995) demonstrated that repeated and suggestive interviews can lead young children to report events that never occurred. These adverse affects, associated with repeated interviewing, tend to occur when children are questioned about false events. Repeated interviews increase the familiarity of false events and children may confuse the source of their knowledge as an actual experience (Ceci, et al., 1994). If exposed to false information during repeated interviews, young children may incorporate the false information into their immediate memory accounts, thus increasing inaccuracies (Brainerd and Reyna, 1996). There is also the risk of children assuming that their earlier responses were incorrect, leading to inaccuracies over time, due to social pressure (Siegel, Waters, & Dinwiddy, 1988). Repeated interviewing does not always lead to increased errors, and when event memory is strong, even young children are resistant to misleading suggestions. The opportunity to rehearse original details can actually serve to preserve memory (Fivush and Schwarzmueller, 1995). Also, when questions repeatedly probe for specific details, children learn what is important to recall and can focus on this information in their testimonies (Fivush and Schwarzmueller, 1995). Finally, because they serve as reminder cues, repeated interviews can lead to a child remembering new information over time (Erdelyi and Becker, 1974). It is inappropriate to discount children’s evidence based on repeated interviews but how and when interviews took place are important considerations along with individual differences; for example, some children are more susceptible to social pressure than others.
Prior interviewer knowledge of allegations is thought to increase interviewer bias and lead to suggestive leading questioning, thus allegation blind interviews have been recommended (Wyatt, 1999). However, this can lead to further suggestive questioning, which is also often adopted when children fail to respond to open ended questions. The problem with this is that children tend to incorporate false details into their testimonies (Bruck & Ceci, 1999).

Investigative tools are often used to aid successful communication with children in interviews. For example, interviewers often assess a child’s understanding of the dissociation between the “truth” and a “lie” prior to abuse-focused questioning. This is intended to assess a child’s competency and increase the credibility of their testimony in court (Huff man et al., 1999). Wyatt (1999) proposed that discussion should involve children being asked if they have ever told a...

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