I first noticed word of this study on CrimProfLog. The study, published in the February issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry is described by Thomas Lyon, a professor of law and psychology at USC who co-authored the study. Although my review of Prof. Lyons's publically available material indicates that he may approach his research with a certain predisposed attitude toward the prosecution, his research does contain some helpful hints (in bold) for the defense.
“Some researchers have begun to question the assumption made by clinicians and others who work with sexually abused children that children are reluctant to disclose abuse,” said Lyon. “This study supports the classical view - even when children overcome barriers to disclosure, they are still susceptible to pressures.” The researchers did not find any evidence to support the belief that retraction is a sign that the original allegations were false. Lyon explained: “If inconsistencies mean the child really wasn’t abused, then one should see a relation between inconsistency and other evidence of abuse. We didn’t see any such pattern.” The study has important implications for how cases of sexual abuse are investigated and prosecuted. “When a child is at high risk of reversal,“ suggested Lyon, “investigators should carefully document the child’s first interview. Videotaping can preserve the child’s story. It might even reduce the likelihood that the child will be pressured by others.” The results cast new light on doubts raised in several recent high-profile sexual abuse cases about the credibility of child witnesses. For example, the alleged victim and his brother in the Michael Jackson case were impeached by the defense based on inconsistencies and the alleged victim’s initial reluctance to acknowledge that abuse occurred. “Perhaps they really were lying,” said Lyon, who notes that the young men did not suffer from an unsupportive parent. “But jurors should also be told how difficult it is for truly abused children to maintain their story.”
The study can be found for a fee here.
In the study, Friedman and fellow researcher Thomas Lyon, professor of law and psychology at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, working with a team of Oberlin undergraduates, conducted two in-class demonstrations with 86 Oberlin schoolchildren between the ages of 4 and 13 shortly before and after Halloween. Three months later, the children were asked to recall the content of the demonstrations and when they occurred.
Friedman and Lyon discovered that no matter what their ages, the children had difficulty remembering that Halloween was near the demonstration date. They also couldn’t remember whether the demonstrations had happened before or after the holiday, although they could remember other details very well. Findings from the study were published in the November/ December 2005 issue of Child Development.
The study also showed that open-ended questions, such as “Tell me everything you remember about that day,” almost never produced information related to the time of the event. At the same time, focused questions like “What season was it?” led to lots of inaccurate answers. This, says Friedman, demonstrates a need for future research on what kinds of questions elicit the most accurate information while minimizing the amount of inaccurate information.
Thomas Lyon's Resume is here.