ANATOMICAL DOLLS IN FORENSIC CONTEXTS: THE BRIDGE BETWEEN RESEARCH AND PRACTICE

   In the previous section, we discussed over 20 experimental studies that examined children's interactions with dolls. Although the data, taken together, do not present persuasive evidence for the value of dolls in forensic and therapeutic settings, there are small pockets of data that would appear to provide some support for the validity of doll-centered interviews. Specifically, the results of the studies that examined the doll play of abused versus non abused children provide the most support for the use of dolls in forensic and therapeutic interviews. However, we feel that these types of studies are not very relevant to the issue of the diagnostic utility of anatomically detailed dolls because those interviewing procedures bear little relationship to the procedures used in actual interviews with children suspected of sexual abuse. In the latter situation, children are rarely observed for over an hour in a free play situation, nor are these children merely asked to undress a doll and name its body parts. Rather, children are asked direct, leading, and misleading questions about abuse with the dolls, and they are often asked to reenact alleged abusive experiences. Often, when children do not respond to the interviewer's questions, they are repeated or rephrased.

As one example of the dubious generalizability of the studies in question, consider the following example from the Little Rascals day-care case. Mrs. E was the mother of one of the suspected abuse victims, and her testimony concerned the police officer's first interview with her son Fred. She eavesdropped on the doll-centered interview from an adjacent room, and testified as to what she heard through the wall:

Mrs. F: She (the female officer) asked Fred what he liked to play with. He went and got some of his He-Man guys, and he said that those were what he wanted to play with. After a few minutes of the playing back and forth she said she had dolls with her. And he said, no, he preferred playing with his. And she said, you know, she had some she wanted him to see.

I couldn't see what was going on, but at some point the dolls came out. I remember clearly saying, "You do realize the difference between little boys and little girls, and little boys have a penis and little girls have opening here," and that's when my husband and I looked at each other and got real upset, and realized for the first time that we were talking about some type of sexual abuse here. My husband wanted to stop the interview right then. I asked him just to hang on and let's see what Fred has to say.

She asked him about pretending and did he know how to pretend, and he said "yes." . . . She asked him to pretend that this doll was Mr. Bob and this (other) doll was him. I remember him at one point saying, "I don't want to be the girl doll." He kept getting his toys back out. I don't think he was very attentive. He didn't like playing with her toys.... At some point, and I'm not sure how, because it was difficult sometimes to hear her because she was speaking softly, she demonstrated something, I'm surmising because she said, "Have you ever seen anyone do this," and "Have you ever seen this?" Um, at one point was his he said, "That's gross." I'm not sure what he saw, but that was his reply.

Attorney: Had your son ever been exposed to that type of anatomical doll prior to this occasion?

Mrs. F: No, but after she left he understood intercourse. He asked me why anybody would want to do that which I think was inappropriate for someone that age. He thought it was pretty disgusting, and thanks to their interview at that young age he was well versed in what it was.

A number of the procedures used in this interview are absent in the experimental studies described in the first part of this chapter. First, the child was asked to pretend that the dolls represented the defendant and himself Asking the child to pretend may have overridden the understanding that he should be telling the truth, because he was given permission to pretend. Next, this child was given instruction on the sexual parts of the doll. Finally, it seemed that the interviewer manipulated the dolls into sexually explicit positions. In this one case, it does not appear that these suggestive techniques were associated with the child making allegations of sexual abuse. In fact, this one child appeared to react negatively to the whole interview. However, it is still possible that a non abused child who was interviewed in this manner might be easily coaxed into pretense play that mimics the sexual demonstrations of the interviewer, especially if he were to be interviewed a second time. In other words, maybe little Fred might react differently the second time he is interviewed with the dolls, not because they are valid diagnostic tools, but rather because he has become bored with doing the ordinary things with them and begins to explore their cavities. This is the essence of one of the criticisms of doll studies that we raised in the first part of this chapter.

In our materials, there are numerous other examples of a disjunction or mismatch between research procedures and clinical practices that further caution us against drawing generalizations from the research literature to clinical or forensic practice. The examples provided by Mrs. F. are far from unique. Adults manipulated dolls in a number of sessions we reviewed. Sometimes parents were co-opted into this role. For example, another parent in the Little Rascals case described a therapy session involving her young daughter; her daughter's therapist, Ms. J.; and herself:

Mother: And I asked her, "Does this doll look like Mr. Bob?"

And she said, "Sort of

And then she was standing near me, and Ms. J. was over there because this had turned into such a spontaneous thing. She didn't have a tape going to record the session; she was over there trying to write down what was being said.

And Ms. J. asked me to ask her-she was mouthing it-if Mr. Bob's penis was soft or hard.

And I did. I said, "Was Mr. Bob's penis soft or hard?"

And she said, "It was soft." And I said, "How do you know?" She said, "Because I had to touch it."

And then I said-she [Ms. J.] asked me to ask her what position his penis was in. All of this was very embarrassing. And I said, "Barbara, was Mr. Bob's penis like this," holding it up (indicating), "Or was it like this?" holding it down (indicating), "Or was it like this?" (holding it straight out). So Ms. J. handed-gave me or instructed me. I'm not, you know, sure exactly how we got the doll, gave me the female adult anatomical doll and I undressed the doll and I said, "Barbara, does this doll look like somebody you've seen?"

In another interview in the same case, an experienced child interviewer showed a videotape to the jury of a doll-assessment interview that she conducted with one of the child witnesses. This interviewer, like Bar- bara's mother, undressed the dolls before the child had a chance to respond whether she was dressed or undressed. Then the interviewer pointed to various parts of the doll's anatomy and asked the child questions of a sexual nature. Our research on 3-year-old children's interactions with anatomical dolls suggests that children may supply answers about how they think they were dressed or how they think things looked by simply looking at the doll and reporting what they see on the doll (Bruck, Ceci, Francoeur, & Renick, 1995 . For example, in our study, we had the children take the socks off the doll, and then we asked them whether their socks were on or off during their pediatric examination. In all cases, the children replied that their socks were off during the examination. We suspect that they took their cues for this inaccurate answer by looking at the doll. Of course, none of their socks were off during the pediatric examination.

In the Little Rascals case, dolls also were used in many therapeutic and investigative sessions with the children. In one memorable example, after Sue had been in therapy for a number of months, she was interviewed with the dolls three times in one week. Interviews were carried out with her therapist and the investigating police officer, and the final interview was conducted by another mental health professional at a university hospital unit that specialized in the assessment of sexually abused children. The latter interview was videotaped and presented as evidence by the prosecution. Note the following interaction at the beginning of this interview:

Interviewer: I've got some special dolls here; they're special because they have all their body parts. Have you ever seen dolls like this before, that have all their body parts?

Sue: (shakes her head no)

It is not clear whether this highly trained interviewer had reviewed the record of this child and had known that this child had been subjected to many doll-centered interviews. Certainly, given the publicity of this case, she at least might have suspected that there had been previous interviews. Even several years later, when she took the stand, this interviewer did not qualify her remarks about her interpretation of this interview, given her knowledge that this child had multiple previous interviews with the dolls.

From: Jeopardy in the Courtroom-A Scientific Analysis of Children's Testimony by Stephen J. Cecil and Maggie Bruck, American Psychological Association, 1995.

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