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Another Voice: Investigating techniques have improved greatly for child sexual abuse cases

By Judith G. Olin

I am writing in response to The News story and editorial about a child sexual abuse case from 1991. The story reports that two children made false allegations in the early 1990s because they were coached by authorities. This piece is meant to educate the public about recent developments and research in the field of forensic interviewing of children and child sexual abuse.

The News editorial acknowledges positive changes in child forensic interviewing since the time of the reported case. The field of forensic interviewing of children has grown by leaps and bounds since 1991.

In 2004, a panel of experts in New York State developed a child forensic interview protocol titled “The New York State Forensic Interview Best Practices.” This protocol trains child forensic interviewers to use neutral, developmentally appropriate interview techniques that are not leading or suggestive. Other nationally recognized child forensic interviewing protocols have developed since 1991.

Forensic interviews of children take place in Child Advocacy Centers, which are governed by national accreditation standards. Nationally, there are 770 accredited child advocacy centers. The CAC in Erie County opened in 1994, and was one of the first two accredited CACs in New York State.

Fabricated claims of child sexual abuse are very rare. One study published in a peer-reviewed journal looked at 551 cases of child sexual abuse reports to the Denver Department of Social Services over one year. Only 1.5 percent of the cases involved a deliberately made fabrication of sexual abuse by a child. While recantation of abuse allegations does occur, it is usually not evidence of a fabricated claim. A 2007 article in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry tells of a study conducted by nationally respected researchers that looked at cases in which child abuse allegations were substantiated, i.e. credible evidence of abuse was found, by child welfare workers. In this pool of cases, recantation rates ranged between 19.5 percent and 23.1 percent.

Researchers agree that child sexual abuse is under-reported. Some research shows that only 38 percent of child victims disclose the fact that they have been sexually abused. Sadly, child sexual abuse is a common occurrence, with research showing prevalence rates between one in four girls, and one in six boys to one in 10 children being sexually abused before their 18th birthday.

Increasingly, child sexual abuse is being viewed as a serious public health problem. According to the widely cited study, Adverse Childhood Experiences, childhood sexual abuse is an adverse childhood experience linked to serious problems in adults such as heart disease, depression and suicide attempts.

Judith G. Olin is director at the Lee Gross Anthone Child Advocacy Center Child & Adolescent Treatment Services.