THE DISCLOSURE PROCESS AMONG VICTIMS OF CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE and IMPLICATIONS FOR FORENSIC INTERVIEWERS, INVESTIGATORS, AND THERAPISTS. . L. Dennison Reed, Psy.D NSU CPS. Questions to be addressed in this presentation:. Why are some CSA victims reluctant or unwilling to disclose their abuse?
L. Dennison Reed, Psy.D
Although the exact rates of non-disclosure of CSA cannot be determined, data from known and likely victims suggest that non-disclosure rates are quite substantial
London, et al (2007)
Rochelle F. Hanson et al (1999). Factors Related to the Reporting of Childhood Rape, Child Abuse & Neglect, 23, 559- 569
(Bruck, et al, 2007)
Lyon, T. (2007). False denials: Overcoming methodological biases in abuse disclosure research. In Child Sexual Abuse: Disclosure, Delay and Denial. Pipe, et al. Ed.
-Youngand sexually naïve children may not even realize that they have been abused.
Molesters who target younger children often misrepresent the abuse as something innocent:
Game or playful activity, i.e., tickling, wrestling
display of affection
Children receive “modesty training” about sexual topics early on.
NON-ABUSED CHILDREN’S REPORTS OF VAGINAL AND ANAL TOUCHING DURING A MEDICAL EXAM5 and 7 year old girls(Saywitz, Goodman, Nicholas & Moan, 1991)
Half (36) of the children received a routine medical exam, including a vaginal and anal exam. The other half received a routine medical exam, but with a scoliosis (spinal) exam instead of a vaginal and anal exam.
STAGE 2OPEN-ENDED QUESTIONING WITH ANATOMICAL DOLLS“Show and tell me what happened when you went to the doctor’s” (using anatomical dolls and medical props)
STAGE 3‘YES/NO’ (Option-posing) QUESTIONSWITH ANATOMICAL DOLLS“Did the doctor touch you there?” (pointing to various body parts on anatomical dolls)
Their misplaced sense of guilt is a powerful motivator for keeping their abuse a secret
This is far more likely when the abuse is terrifying, painful, repetitive and emotionally or physically intolerable for the child.
“Whenever he did that, I went to the pink forest.”
“I left my body and hid in a crack in the wall.”
“I watched Mickey Mouse cartoons in my head when it started to hurt real bad.”
“I think I was sleeping.”
PTSD and Dissociative amnesia can give rise to delayed memories and flashbacks
Lawson, L. & Chaffin, M. (1992).
Sexually abused children’s embarrassment and shame, misplaced guilt, fears about disclosing to an unfamiliar adult, and lack of trust in the interviewer are barriers to disclosure.
Developing rapport with children enhances their sense safety and their belief that the interviewer genuinely cares about them, is interested in them, and is a safe person to talk about distressing topics like sexual abuse.
Victor Borges, a Danish comedian, said, “A smile is the shortest distance between two people.”
Use a warm and friendly tone of voice
Speak s-l-o-w-l-y, and maintain a calm appearance
Maintain appropriate eye contact
Use gestures that convey interest, patience and caring
Address the child by name:
“Hello Cindy. My name is _____. I’m so glad to meet you!”
Provide appropriate compliments:
“Those sure are cool shoes you have on today.”
At the outset (before ‘ground rules,’ abuse Qs), ask in a friendly and interested manner about something the child likes to do for fun, or a recent event that the child enjoyed:
“What do you like to do for fun?” “Tell me all about that.”
“You said you had lots of fun at your birthday party. Tell me all about your birthday party.”
Follow-up with non-leading, open-ended questions; and thank the child for ‘telling you all about it.’ This ‘practice narrative’ also prepares the child to provide detailed responses when you inquire about abuse later on. (‘Revised’ NICHD Protocol)
Show concern about the child’s comfort at the outset (and throughout the interview)
“How are you doing today?”
“It’s real important to me that you are as comfortable as you can be while we are together today. So be sure to let me know if you need to go to the bathroom or to get a drink, or if I can do anything to make you more comfortable, okay?”
Provide thanks, appreciation, and positive reinforcement for the child’s efforts (not for specific content, e.g., abuse allegations)
“Thank you for telling me all about that.”
“You’re really helping me understand.”
“You’re paying such good attention to my questions.”
St. of Florida vs. James “Jimmy” Heuss
Heuss molested several young girls while he was in the Navy -- General Discharge
Moved to Texas. Convicted of molesting several young girls -- Outpatient sex offender treatment--“model patient”
Moved to southern Florida. Sexually assaulted a3-year-old girl. There was medical evidence of penetration -- Case dropped when the victim’s parents refused to subject child to the legal process
While living in Ft. Lauderdale, Heuss molested three female cousins ages 4 & 5 whom he was babysitting. The abuse involved fondling and oral sex and, for one of the girls, digitally penetration. There was medical evidence of penetration.
The parents of the children first learned of the abuse after the fiancé of the mother of 5-year-old Child A informed her that he observed Child A performing oral sex on her 3-year-old brother. When the mother confronted her daughter, she explained that she had learned it from Heuss when he did the same thing to her.
This led to acknowledgment by the other two girls that ‘Jimmy’ had sexually abused them, too.
Despite being very young, all three girls gave very credible statements to the police
After her initial disclosure to her mother (after being caught performing oral sex on her 3-year-old brother), Child A provided a spontaneous and detailed description of the abuse to a police officer:
Jimmy took her into his bathroom, locked the door, pulled her panties down, put her on the rug on the bathroom floor and licked her privates (identified as vaginal area). She could feel his tongue on her privates. Afterwards, he told her not to tell anyone about what had happened
Child A repeated the allegations she had made to the police officer, and provided additional details, e.g., description of “Jimmy’s” residence, the clothes she was wearing, the rug he placed her on before performing oral sex on her, etc.
Excerpt from deposition of Child A
Denied ever being in Jimmy’s bathroom
Denied ever telling mom or anyone else that Jimmy did something bad
Denied anybody tried to take her pants off
Denied anyone touched her private
Denied telling the police officer that Jimmy put her on the rug and licked her private:
“He never did that”
In Most Jurisdictions (including Florida), Courts Allow ‘Rehabilitative Testimony’ to Inform Jurors that Recantation is Not Uncommon Among Sexually Abused Children
Caveats on Rehabilitative (Rebuttal) Testimony From “Expert Testimony Offered to Rehabilitate A Child’s Credibility” in Myers on Evidence in Child, Domestic and Elder Abuse Cases (2005)
Should only be introduced AFTER the defense suggests that the child’s abuse allegations are not credible because the child denied or recanted at some point
The Expert Witness can explain that recantation is not uncommon among sexually abused children and can explain why some sexually abused children recant their valid allegations--but should avoid referring directly to the alleged victim(s) in the case at hand
But, the Expert Witness cannot comment on the credibility or truthfulness of the alleged victim
All three girls testified that Jimmy had sexually abused them
The Defense argued that the girls’ abuse allegations were not credible because they had recanted during their deposition
Dr. Reed provided ‘Rehabilitative Testimony’ explaining that recantation is not uncommon among sexually abused children in general, and explained why some victims recant
Guilty on all charges: two counts of sexual battery and one count of lewd assault
Defense appealed the guilty verdicts arguing, in part, that the Expert Witness improperly ‘vouched’ for the children’s credibility
The 4th DCA (FL) found that the Expert Witness had not commented on the victims’ credibility and had discussed the recantation phenomenon in general terms without referring specifically to the alleged victims in this case, which is permissible
Heuss’ conviction was UPHELD by the 4th DCA
Heuss is serving two consecutive life sentences without parole
Since a substantial portion of sexually abused children go through various stages of disclosure (e.g., denial, minimization, progressively disclosing more abuse, recanting their abuse allegation) inconsistencies and contradictions in their accounts are not uncommon and do not “prove” that sexual abuse did not occur
Under certain conditions, Florida Courts accept ‘rehabilitative testimony’ by experts to explain why child sexual abuse victims sometimes:delay in reporting the abuserecant their earlier abuse allegationsprovide inconsistent statements
Recent Florida Case Law Supporting the Use of Expert Rehabilitative Testimony Regarding Common Behaviors Seen Among Sexually Abused Children (e.g., delayed disclosure, initial denial, peace meal disclosure
“[The psychologist] testified that although there was “no single post sexual abuse syndrome” and “no way to look at a child and say this child's been sexually abused,” there were some typical behaviors. These included (1) the victim's desire to act “hyper-normal” after being sexually abused; (2) denying sexual abuse at first; (3) delaying disclosure; (4) disclosing the facts in piecemeal fashion; and (5) the victim's attempts to control their emotions . . . In this case, Dr. Dikel carefully couched his testimony solely in relation to his professional experience. Thus, it was pure opinion testimony not subject to Frye.”
Defendant was accused of making his girlfriend's daughter perform oral sex on him. At trial, the evidence was almost exclusively pretrial unsworn hearsay statements by the child victim, which were admitted under Fla. Stat. ch. 90.803(23) (2000). Defendant admitted to having wanted the victim to perform oral sex, but he contended this was said in the heat of an argument to incite the mother. The victim's in-court testimony directly contradicted the earlier statements [victim RECANTED]. However, the State presented evidence to corroborate the victim's initial statements, such as defendant's immediate suicide attempt and statements by him that he had engaged in witness tampering. Defendant was convicted and he appealed. The court held that the prior statements, on their own, were insufficient to sustain the conviction. However, the other evidenceallowed the inference of defendant having committed the crime.The conviction was upheld!