American Judges Association
Date of this Version
I’m grateful to Dr. Martindale for introducing the reader to an important and lively debate among practitioners and academics over the relevance of recent research on children’s suggestibility. In my Cornell Law Review article, I argued that the recent research on suggestibility was inspired by highly coercive interviewing techniques in widely publicized cases that are not the norm in child sexual abuse investigations. These techniques include telling children that they have been abused, telling children that a particular person is the abuser, and asking children to imagine details regarding how abuse could have taken place. Moreover, I argued that the research fails to mirror factors in real-world sexual-abuse cases that reduce the likelihood that false allegations will occur. These factors include the age of the child, children’s reluctance to accuse loved ones of immoral acts, and children’s embarrassment regarding sexual topics. My goal was to alert judges, attorneys, and child-abuse professionals to the importance of carefully examining the methods used by researchers before concluding that research applies to a particular case. Certainly there are cases in which highly coercive tactics have been used, and in which expert testimony on the dangers of such tactics is justified. But it is just as certain that the “suggestibility defense” will be overutilized.
Published in Court Review: The Journal of the American Judges Association, 38:3 (2001), pp. 12-14. Copyright © 2001 National Center for State Courts. Used by permission. Online at http://aja.ncsc.dni.us/htdocs/publications.htm.