Submitted by Gunda Wo•ner (CA 180)
The question of whether allegations of past child sexual abuse is a question of:
(a) under which circumstances does the so called recollection occur (spontaneous, therapy induced, incentives?);
(b) which techniques helped eliciting this recollection (hypnosis, regression, psychotherapeutic techniques, suggestive interviewing techniques, self-help groups, books);
(c) the time between the alleged offence and the incrimination (is there a time limit when the allegations has to be considered as not valid anymore? But also the question whether the prosecution is subject to a statute of limitations).
The following statement gives a short survey over the present state of the art from a German perspective. However, since most of the research in that field has been conducted in the United States, one also has to rely on results found in the USA.
The discussion on the recollection of past child sexual abuse has long been a discussion whether these recollections are real or fictitious.
(a) Allegations of past child sexual abuse are more likely to be true, if the "victim"'s recollection is spontaneous. The role of psychotherapy seems to be critical for recollecting or disclosing such incidences. Most of the recurring memories occur outside a therapy setting, ie adult persons are very likely to seek psychotherapeutic help once they recollect some kind of past abuse. The more severe the past abuse, the more likely the victim needs psychotherapeutic support. However, there have been efforts of actively disclosing past child sexual abuse in psychotherapy with adults. The probability of fictitious allegations under such circumstances increases with dubious interviewing techniques (see (b)). Some psychotherapists judge unspecific symptoms as a reliable and unfailing indicator for being abused in the childhood. Such symptoms include addiction to alcohol or drugs, eating disorders, but also hygiene behaviour that may be negligent or compulsive.
There are no findings on whether certain incentives such as the prospect of compensation result in a higher proportion of fabricated allegations. However, the fact that compensation regulations should no longer exist are accompanied by a supposed drop in reported abuse cases does not inevitably permit a reversal conclusion. Being abused is connected with feelings of shame. The prospect of compensation may act as an incentive for victims. Once these assets are omitted the shame that is connected with reporting an abuse case may prevail over other benefits.
(b) There are a number of interviewing techniques that are detrimental to an objective, unbiased investigation of alleged past child sexual abuse. Such highly suggestive interventions may include leading questions or asking a person to hypothesize, just to mention two. It is important to trail back the history of the allegations to be able to find potential interviewing techniques that may have contributed to a fabricated allegation.
(c) The longer the passed time between the actual abuse and the allegation or realizing the abuse the higher the probability of distorted recollection. It is important to note, however, that especially in the field of past child sexual abuse the perpetrator may have been a close relative or friend of the victim. In this constellation the child or youth victim may not be aware of being wronged. After all, there are a considerable proportion of abuse cases in which the perpetrator may be "good" to the victim or the victim may be dependent upon his or her perpetrator. In such cases, the child or youth victim may not understand that he or she is being abused. Only later, in adulthood, he or she may become aware of what had happened as a child or youth. Only with the time distance and the consciousness of an adult the offences may become clear as offences. As a child or youth it might be impossible to judge self experienced child abuse behaviour appropriately.
The above mentioned guidelines may be of general help when dealing with allegations of past cases of child sexual abuse. However, an individual consideration of each allegation seems to be indispensable. These guidelines do not render a case specific evaluation invalid.