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Children aren’t always truthful about sexual abuse



Home » Children aren’t always truthful about sexual abuse

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

There seems to be a belief that children never lie about child sexual abuse. This view may be understandable because it seems difficult to imagine how and why a child would lie about something as serious and abhorrent as child abuse. This assumption also sits comfortably with the current advice given to police that they should ‘believe the victim’, which is presumably an attempt to avoid mistakes made by investigators in the past.

Professor Steve Herman of the University of Hawaii has concentrated on investigating the accuracy of professionals’ judgements about the validity of allegations of child sexual abuse (CSA) in the USA. In his chapter ‘Reducing Harm Resulting from False Allegations’ in ‘Wrongful Allegations of Sexual and Child Abuse‘ he concluded that although previous research had found that 2-8 percent of children’s allegations were false this figure was an underestimate because the previous researchers had mainly defined false allegations as those that were found to be deliberate lies. He obviously recognizes that in some instances children do tell deliberate lies about CSA.

The Dangers of Poor Police Interview Techniques

Children may also unintentionally make false allegations because of “repetitive suggestive questioning” according to Professor Herman. His own analysis (in 1989) took this into account and concluded that 25% of uncorroborated allegations of CSA were false. Modern investigators use the ABE (achieving best evidence) guidelines in an attempt to reduce the risk of unintentionally leading a child to give a false testimony. However there is still a risk that ‘repetitive anxious questioning’ of a child by a parent concerned about possible abuse may taint the evidence. The story of what happened in Shieldfield is a horrifying example of what can happen when children are questioned in the wrong way.

Children Can Lie to Harm a Parent

Elsewhere in the same book, Professor Felicity Goodyear-Smith in her chapter ‘How and Why False Allegations of Abuse Occur’ describes how a parent in a custody dispute persuaded her child to lie, and how children may themselves lie about abuse in order to harm a parent that abandoned them. A recent example of a case where a mother persuaded her children to accuse their father of Satanic abuse was reported by the BBC here.

A Confession from Someone Who Made a False Allegation as a Child

Recently we received a generous donation from someone who made a false allegation as a child. His story shows how difficult it can be for a child to retract a false allegation once it has been made. The following is a direct quote from his email.

Dear Brian

I write this message as a way of making amends for an unskillful act in my early childhood. As a 40 year old man I look back upon my unskillful action and realise how harmful it was.

It happened when I was 11 years old. I remember talking to my mother and feeling good about the sense of closeness. I am still not sure why I said it but I told her that I saw pictures of children in the headteachers office of the primary school I attended then.

The situation quickly escalated and I claimed others had seen the pictures too. One boy agreed he had, I do not know why, and my mother reported my claim.

I remember feeling scared and wanting it to stop and not knowing how to tell the truth. It caused arguments with our family due to some of my relatives not believing me.

To add to the issue I continued to add to the lie and made claims that there were indecent pictures of other children I knew in the headteachers collection. Looking back I wanted people to believe me so I avoided punishment.

The police found nothing and dropped the case. The headteacher had solicitors warn my family about my actions. I recall feeling scared, alone and shameful.

I heard the man and his family moved later on. I now understand how destructive my actions were. I have felt guilt and shame for 29 years. I am not sure if he is still alive, nor where he lives now. I need to make amends for my mistake. I confess to this charity and offer money to help other victims of wrongful accusation. I do this as I am beginning to follow Buddha’s teachings and wish to make amends and cause no more harm to all beings. I want to state how sorry I am for causing Mr —- and his family suffering. May my donation help others and in some measure cover over my negative action with positive.

You will find the sum of 300 pounds transferred into the account details you passed to me Brian. May it help FACT ease the suffering of others.

See also

Why wrongful allegations happen

The suffering of the wrongfully accused