the child terror
Interview: dr. stephen ceci
see below for text
dr. stephen ceciDr. Stephen Ceci is a professor in the department of Human Development at Cornell University.  He testified as witness in the Fijnje trial and appeared on both the prosecution and defense witness lists.  At the request of both sides, he presented the state's plea bargain to Bobby, an offer he advised Bobby to take.  He also reviewed the Snowden case, offering expert opinion on the interviewing techniques used and filing an amicus brief in the appeal.

Names of all children, except Bobby Fijnje, and their families have been changed.

I remember talking to you about some of experiments that you were doing... What would you do with kids?

The purpose of the investigation seemed to shift from whatever the truth is to--'We got to get this guy and get him at all costs,' because the decision had been made in the community's mind that child sexual abuse was rampant, there are organized circles of people that are preying on kids, and that this guy is one of them. The experiments were animated by a desire, a curiosity, really, to [find out] what would happen if we interviewed children the way they were interviewed in a particular case. For ethical reasons we can't really interview the kids the same way; you can't abuse half the kids and have a control group that weren't abused, you can't even interview the kids the way some of child protective service workers and mental health professionals interviewed them. But within the ethical constraints that we as scientists work [under], we would try to design experiments to mimic the important aspects of some of these mass allegation daycare cases. And we would discover that if we did to the kids what the interviewers in those cases did, a certain percentage of the kids, not the majority, but a significant minority, would begin to make the kind of disclosures that some of the children in these cases made.

Tell me specifically what they would they disclose, these children?

For example, in a lot of these cases, the trigger allegation, the first disclosure, was made to a mental health professional, not to a social worker or to law enforcement, but rather to a therapist, because there was a suspicion on the part of the parents, teachers, law enforcement, that something untoward may have happened, so the child was put into counseling. And at first the child doesn't disclose, [it] may be three months before the child makes an explicit disclosure. So we say, "Well, what was happening in those three months?" Well, often what happens is a lot of pretend play, for example, the therapist might say, and this was true in the Fijnje case. It was also true in the Snowden case. It was true in the Country Walk case as well, where children are asked to suspend belief for a moment. They're asked, "Let's pretend that something happened. Let's pretend that he put his finger in your butt. Now what would he have been wearing? Would it hurt? How would it feel? What would you do? What would you say to him?" And so on. So there was this repeated enjoinder to pretend.

Sometimes it was couched in role playing, so there would be an anatomically detailed doll that would represent the defendant, and they would name the doll after the defendant, for example, "This is Bobby. " And there would be a doll the child would have selected to represent herself. And they'd say, "OK, now, show us what you're going to do if Bobby comes into the room again. Let's pretend he comes into the room." And you would see from the audio transcripts of the sessions, things like the child karate chopping the defendant doll, for example, and screaming for his father, "Dad, help me, help me! Bobby's come here!" And the dad would often be right in the therapy session so he'd come over and help the child. Well, we would try to design experiments that would, not once or twice, but ten times in a row, [try] to mimic what happens once a week in therapy for three months....

And what's the significance of that, the pretend piece of that?

The significance from a research standpoint is that, at first when you ask a kid if something happened that never happened, something bizarre like, "Did you ever go up in a hot air balloon and drop a watermelon on the sidewalk?" and that's never happened, the first time you say it to a kid..., the kid says no. And then say, well, "Let's pretend it happened. Now where would the balloon land and who else was in the balloon with you/" and so on, and then you bring the kid back a week later. Let's pretend a little bit more about the balloon, and so on. By around the sixth or eighth week, what you find is that a minority, but a significant minority -- in our study is somewhere around 34% of the kids -- give you this very embellished narrative about going up in a hot air balloon with classmates and having a picnic and dropping a watermelon on the sidewalk and hitting someone, etc., etc. And it's got a beginning, a middle, an end, it's very, very persuasive to people who you show the video to of the kid in the tenth week saying this. If you just ask psychologists or law enforcement people, we want you to watch this video and tell us if you think this event really happened, they're blown away. But more importantly, the child has begun to believe it happened as well. And the scientific significance is [that] we've come to understand why that happens, why the child has acquired this false belief in something. We sort of understand the mechanisms by which that unfolds....

Is there a qualitative difference between such a memory and the memory of a real event?

...There doesn't appear to be any difference that experts can pick up on. You can toss a coin and do as well as experts at saying whether this is a real event or a fictional event.... We call it false belief, because the child deeply believes now what they're telling you. Thank God we deal with very benign events like hot air balloons and not sexual abuse, because we and the child's parents have difficulty debriefing the child. The child argues with us. We say to the child, "Billy, that didn't really happen, that's just in your head, you know, we've been asking you to pretend all these weeks, it didn't happen." And Billy says, "It did happen!" "No, Billy, it didn't happen." "You weren't there, it happened!" And so we and the parents have had some difficulty trying to dissuade the children once they get over that hurdle and they adopt the false belief.

Does the relatively benign nature of these experimental scenarios that you're doing make it any more likely that a kid would accept such a scenario than if, for example, you were saying, "And did you know that you were physically tortured, you remember that scene down in the dungeon?"

...Maybe the experiments that we've done with the pretend work because they're fairly benign events. But would they work, to use your phrase, if they involved torture or personal embarrassment or pain? We've done other experiments, and we've taken advantage of naturally occurring experiments of nature to try to test that piece of the hypothesis. So, for example, we will go into emergency rooms at hospitals where kids come in for suturing or blood work or other kinds of painful procedures, inoculations at clinics, and we try to do suggestive things about these much more salient personal events, again, they're not sexual abuse, although some of them do involve things like genital catheterization, anogenital exams by the pediatrician, and so on. They're not perfect, they're societally sanctioned, unlike child sexual abuse, and there are other things about them that are different, but if you put them in the context of the studies we and others have done before and after, they're there to sort of rule out alternative possibilities. And when you take them together they suggest to me that there's probably no area that's out of play in terms of suggestibility. I don't think you could say that because an event happens to a child's body, to their anogenital region, you couldn't suggest something false about it. We and others have demonstrated that's definitely not the case....

Some of your colleagues, many of them, perhaps, became, as we begin to see this outbreak, I guess, is what you could call it, in the late '70s, early to mid-1980s, of accusations of mass ritual abuse in collective situations, daycare centers and schools and so on, a lot of your colleagues became sort of semi pro expert witnesses, going from trial to trial to trial. You, generally speaking, resisted that for the longest time and still do. Why is that?

I feel as though the adversarial context of these criminal courts is not the context where I can best describe the research and the complexities of the research.... I find that I best serve science staying out of that arena and doing my research and leaving it to others to translate my research when they feel it's relevant to cases they testify in, with the awareness that there's a risk there that they may distort my findings one way or the other.

And yet in the case of the state against Bobby Fijnje down in Dade County, Florida, a young man accused of the most horrific series of child abuse crimes, you did become involved. Tell me how you came to that case.

There have been only three cases in my career that I've agreed to be involved in. In Fijnje, when I was first contacted, I was contacted by the defense. They called me at home, I said, "I don't go in as an expert witness," and I gave them names of other people who do. And it was approximately a year later, one of the names of the people I'd given them, they had apparently picked up on and were using, and this person called me himself and said, "I've been working with the defense in this case, but there's a piece that I can't do because it involves your research, and would you do it." And this sort of conversation unfolded over a few telephone calls and at the same time the prosecution contacted me and were asking if I would be listed on their expert witness list. So finally I sort of agreed to do it....

When you finally agreed to engage the case, and you began to look at its parts, what did you see there, what was that case?

I saw a constellation of ingredients that worried me, because they seemed similar to the sort of things that I and others were doing in our experiments to produce inaccurate reports with preschoolers.

Such as what?

Well, for instance, there's something that we call stereotype induction in the literature, which means that if you repeatedly tell kids that someone's bad, sooner or later quite a few of those kids start acting in accordance with that. They start fearing the person, they won't be in the room with him, some of the kids will begin to confabulate stories about bad things the person did to them. We and others have done lots of experiments on this where we induce stereotypes in the preschoolers that someone takes something that didn't belong to him or someone doesn't share with another or someone is clumsy and is always breaking things or whatever. And we look to see what impact that has three, four months later, and it does have an impact on kids' accuracy. They give you a lot of this stereotyped consistent confabulation. And in Fijnje there was quite a lot of that.... For instance, the interviewer says things such as, "Don't worry, Bobby's in jail," or, "Did your mom and dad tell you he can't hurt children anymore because he's in jail?" That kind of repetitive negative stereotyping can be found, it's really littered throughout lots of the interviews in that case.

Conducted by whom?

The interviews in that case that were most worrisome to me were conducted primarily by mental health professionals, not by law enforcement, not by child protective services.

So in essence what you were seeing was [that they were] asking kids questions that are always framed in the context of "Bobby's a bad guy and a scary guy, now let me ask you about this," [and by] that what they were doing was planting the idea that Bobby was a bad kid, which would color their testimony?

Yeah, kids are cooperative conversational partners. They believe that you're asking them about something because it probably happened. They want to please you, they want to give you the answer that they think will make you happiest, and especially if the first couple times they resist this and say no and you keep bringing it up, they start to get the message that, "Well, maybe I've been giving the wrong answer and I should switch." So the negative stereotype induction frees kids. It allows them to use their imaginations about what other things would be consistent with someone who's bad, so you start to hear things about how, "Oh yeah, I remember, he made us kill a baby and put it in the microwave and we cooked it and we ate it." So you'll hear some fantastic things that come out of it that are consistent with the stereotyping. This is just one ingredient, I mean, if that were the only thing, I would have selectively looked through the evidence for cases where there was no negative stereotyping. But in every case there was some ingredient that was worrisome to me.

The thing that is striking to an outsider is that apparently when these interview sessions would occur and something such as you just said about taking a baby from a womb and putting it in a microwave and eating it, when that sort of statement would come from a child, it didn't have a negating effect on everything else the child said. In other words, people wouldn't say, "Well, that's ridiculous, so this kid's obviously in a fantasy here." Why is that?

Well, there is some evidence that in true disclosure, that is to say, where a child really was abused, you often get a combination of bizarre unbelievable details with plausible details. So the fact that the kids were saying some stuff that was incredible didn't as a kneejerk reaction lead people to say, "Well, therefore the stuff that's not incredible must be false, too." Again, there is some research that says that you can see both those, the true and the false, in the same statement.

So we shouldn't necessarily say that any rational person could have seen this kid was making this stuff up because they had this bizarre component. They may well have been able to say, "Well, that's a piece of it, but the truth is in here somewhere."

Yeah. A lot of most bizarre stuff in Fijnje had to do with [what] I would call "self empowerment training" that some of the counselors were doing with the kids.

Self empowerment training?

This was another of that constellation of ingredients that I found worrisome. What you saw unfolding over the course of weeks, months, years of therapy is something like the following: the therapist may have as her objective not a forensic interview, she isn't trying to get the facts and only the facts, but rather she's trying to bring to fruition some intrapsychic hurt for the kid and interpret it. And the historical accuracy is secondary to that. From a certain theoretical orientation it doesn't matter if what the kid believes is real or not, it's psychologically real to them, so you work on it as though it's real....

So what you see is, for example, the therapist might use an anatomically detailed doll to represent Bobby and they name the doll Bobby, and then a doll to represent the child. "Now show us what you're going to do the next time you see Bobby." So the kid'll come over and kick Bobby and take on this superhero action figure kind of mentality, they'll put a cape, a Superman cape on the child doll, and he'll fly around and he'll do things like he'll karate chop his chains off and so on. Now some of those same kids, when they gave statements, claimed things like they were chained by Bobby in the back of a truck and they were taken to Bobby's parents' house three miles away and they were made to watch Bobby's parents and sister fornicating on the bed, and then they karate chopped their chains off and they beat up Bobby and his parents and then they jumped out the window and they ran back to the Old Cutler daycare three miles away. Well, it was clearly incredible, but you could see how it was seeded through this self empowerment training over many months.

This self-empowerment training... I can understand its potential therapeutic value for these children, but couldn't it also be somewhat dangerous in a forensic context? In other words, if what it's going to [be used in] is a criminal case?

You just put your finger on the important problem. This disconnect between a forensic interview and a therapeutic interview. Yes, this may indeed have therapeutic value, but to use it as your principal law enforcement evidence is fraught with problems.

More about interviewing techniques.

You were asked at one point to in essence fulfill the role of a kind of a mediator, as opposed to an advocate's defense or a prosecution witness, regarding a proposed plea bargain for Bobby. Tell me about that. Who proposed it and what did they want from you?

During a pre-trial deposition in Miami, the prosecution and the defense were quarreling over whether or not the defense represented accurately to Bobby Fijnje the plea offer that the state was making. Both sides agreed that I would be a good person to go to Bobby and to relay to him exactly my understanding of what the state was offering, so the prosecution asked me to do it and the defense agreed that I should do it....

What is your memory of what that offer was?

My memory is sort of vague now, but I thought it was a maximum two years private psychiatric hospital, a nolo contendere, no plea, it wouldn't be on his record after he was released, he would have to apologize to the children and their families, he would be under the control of the state probably in terms of probation until he was of age, whatever that is, 21. I'm a little vague on it, but I think that was the essence.

And it was not a confession exactly, but a concession that, "Yes I had done this." Not exactly a guilty plea, but in essence, Bobby would have said, "Yes, these things happened, but I'm not a hardened criminal." Do you have a memory of the actual setting in which you had this discussion with the Fijnjes?

We met in a chamber off of the courtroom in Dade County, in Miami. Bobby's mother, father, and he and I were sitting at the table. I described the state's offer. Bobby's father is a very strong and strong-willed Dutch gentleman. He was pounding the table. "No son of mine is going to say he did something he didn't do. He can spend the rest of his life in jail rather than admit to that stuff." I remember saying, "Mr. Fijnje, if it were you, fine. But if Bobby were my child, I think I'd tell him to take the state's plea." I remember saying, "I don't say this because I think Bobby's guilty. It's not for me to say. I have a lot of concerns about the way the children's statements were elicited. Perhaps Bobby is totally innocent, but I work with kids that age. I work with jurors who listen to kids that age. They can be extremely persuasive." Bobby was looking at life without parole in Florida if he was convicted on any of the criminal counts. I said to Mr. Fijnje and Mrs. Fijnje and Bobby, "Were he my child, I wouldn't roll the dice. I'd take the offer. I'd swallow my pride. I'd apologize. I'd go into the psychiatric hospital." Obviously it was bad advice from me. Bobby and his family rolled the dice and he was acquitted on all counts....

You say now, and of course in retrospect it's easy to say I guess, that your advice was wrong because Bobby was acquitted and yet, you gave that advice for an understandable reason. Bobby was himself a kid at that time...

Although I believe my advice was the wrong advice -- he obviously didn't get convicted -- I would give the exact same advice today. I wouldn't back off it one inch. Bobby was 15 years old and a very young 15. He was looking at life in one of the toughest penitentiaries in this country. I didn't have the impression that Bobby was going to hold up well under those circumstances. If he had done anything, it allegedly would have been done between the ages of 11 and 13 because he was taken into custody when he was only 13. So he was a very young man. He had his whole life ahead of him....

Let me go to a couple of the particulars of the case. [With] one of the alleged victims [referred to as D.M.]... there was this element about her stories, the narratives that she was giving to therapists and to her parents, that in some way, as it turns out, paralleled or perhaps even derived from these fantastical cartoon videos and fairy tale stories.

There was a lot of discussion about the videos in the home that she had been watching and how some of that got imported into some of her later claims. But I was more impressed by the way the whole thing was triggered. I think she's referred to as simply D.M. in the transcripts. D.M. initially resisted going to church day care with the family. This was several months after Bobby had ceased working there. The family [started] probing, "Why don't you want to go with us anymore? You've been going there for years. You used to like it." At some point she allegedly said to her family that she was afraid because Bobby did rough things to her. The only example I can recall that she said was that he kept throwing her up in the air very roughly and he wouldn't stop... roughhousing. That was corroborated by some of the workers, that Bobby -- I mean he was a kid himself -- he didn't really know when to stop.

So, they had some concerns, there were these anxiety attacks, she seemed to have night tremors, there was some regressive toileting going on at the same time, so she went into therapy. There wasn't anything that looked like any kind of probative disclosure or even close to it for several months. It wasn't until, as I recall, the tenth or twelfth week in therapy where you get the first inkling of a disclosure. What troubles me is that at that point, that particular therapist I believe started recording the sessions because now you have something that's forensically quite relevant, a child's disclosure of sexual abuse. So from then on, we can listen to the tapes and there were a lot of these ingredients that I was talking about earlier that are of concern to me. I always thought, "Gee, if she were willing to do that on tape, I wonder what she did the first ten weeks before the tape was turned on." At the very least, more of the same, but maybe it was even more suggestive.... And of course what was happening in the home was totally off the record. People surmise about the videos that she was watching and discussions, that sort of thing, but we don't have a record of it.

I believe we're speaking of Suzanne Keeley. Now she doesn't do exactly what you do for a living. Is your memory that she was a therapist, a licensed therapist? What was her credential to be doing this sort of thing?

My memory is that she was a licensed mental health professional, that she did counseling and therapy.

A counseling and therapy that would be perhaps more appropriate to treatment than to a forensic application?

Oh, yeah. I don't believe she had any credentials in terms of forensic interviewing. She had, as I recall, testified to attending some continuing education type workshops, half a day, one day sort of things, occasionally reading second-hand reports and things, but that's a far cry from being trained as a forensic interviewer and I don't think she touted herself that way....

But she was an integral part of the prosecution to the degree that she even, in the case of one girl I'm thinking of in particular, she actually helped to prepare the child for testimony. Do you remember that?

As I recall, that particular child showed up for a videotaped anatomical doll interview with Pam Gorman in Dade County carrying Dr. Keeley's anatomical dolls with her. I remember watching that video. I'm a little vague on the details but I recall when the child came in, Pam Gorman saw the child had her own dolls and asked her about that and she said something like, "Dr. Suzanne gave me these to practice," or something like that. It was some clear evidence that there had been massive doll use in the counseling sessions; I believe Dr. Keeley herself testified to perhaps 40% of the sessions using the dolls.

So here's a child who's coming to testify in a case that may send this other child, Bobby Fijnje, to prison... who has been practicing with her dolls with a therapist plainly to provide testimony that is not necessarily grounded in reality.

I think in fairness to the mental health professionals that were doing what turned out to be the law enforcement interviewing, the forensic interviewing, they weren't aware of the reliability risks of the various tactics they were using, whether it was fantasy, self-empowerment training, stereotype induction, role playing with anatomical dolls, etc.

On the other hand, these were folks who were willing to participate in the sending away of perhaps innocent human beings to prison. Wasn't it incumbent upon these people to find out the possible complications of what they were doing?

I won't presume to speak for their internal motivations, but as a sort of bystander to this whole process, I can say that there's a very strong lure there. One side or the other sucks you in. You become a team player. Everything that you're told is filtered through that side. You end up wanting to please that side. You put a spin on your testimony. You leave out certain things that won't be to the advantage. That happens on both sides. It happens on the defense side as well as the prosecution. Unfortunately in that case, yes, to answer your question, she and others were on the side that was going to put away essentially another child for life using techniques that have known reliability risks.

After the Fijnje, case you got involved, at least tangentially, after the fact of his conviction, in the case of Grant Snowden. You were part of an amicus brief filed before the court before a court. Tell me about that, what was that about?

Well, my colleague Maggie Bruck and I -- we coauthored the book Jeopardy in the Courtroom -- we have written in several cases "friend of the court" briefs. These are cases where we had been researching the case anyway because we want to use it in some research that we're doing so we know something about the case. And we prepare an amicus brief whereby we review the scientific literature that's pertinent to the details of that particular case, and we submit it to the court free of charge, as do other organizations....We did one of the Grant Snowden case.

And what was the related research? What did it pertain to?

Well, in looking at the children's disclosures in the Snowden case -- I think L. was the court child in that and then there was G. and a number of other kids -- we studied the disclosure process and then we brought to bear the scientific studies that were most relevant to that part of this disclosure, for example, there might be a very frequent enjoinder to pretend, for L. you see this over and over again in the interviews prior to her and after her disclosure. The therapist interviewer might say, "OK, let's pretend Grant put his finger in your butt, or let's pretend this or let's pretend that." So there was a lot of that. The interviewer would also shift and say, "Let's not pretend now, let's just tell me what really happened." We would talk about the effect in scientific studies of asking kids repeatedly to pretend to a point where some of them have difficulty discriminating whether something really happened or they just imagined it happened....

And what is that phenomenon of that technique....

It's called guided imagery, where you repeatedly guide a child to create images of an event that may or may not have happened, and if you do it often enough preschool kids have a real difficult time discriminating whether this really happened, this image in my head, or whether I just imagined it to have happened.

And so a child's intended truthful testimony may in fact be an artifact of this interview process.

I think it's a fair statement to say that when a child's deliberately lying they can fool some people but they don't fool everyone. But when a child has a false belief, when, as a product of going through repeated suggestive interviews, a child has come to believe something that's not true, that child's very convincing. They believe it themselves. So their face has none of the leakage it has when they're lying. Usually if you cross examine a child who's lying for one or another motive, to gain rewards, to avoid embarrassment, to protect a loved one, whatever, the child becomes inconsistent in their story. When a child has a false belief they don't; it's a very elaborate embellished narrative. It's very persuasive....

...What do you remember from what you saw of the interview techniques applied by the Bragas in the Snowden case?

It was very similar to techniques in Fijnje in the sense that there was the negative stereotyping. The kids were told Grant Snowden had been arrested, he couldn't hurt other children. There was a very frequent enjoinder for the kids to fantasize, to pretend. First they would ask the kid, "Did this happen or not?" And the kids would say, "No, it didn't happen," or they didn't answer. And then they'd say, "Well, let's pretend it happened. Did he touch you here or there?" And then they would sort of try to get the kid out of the pretend at certain points and say, "OK, now let's just talk about what really happened." That kind of yo-yoing was happening throughout the interviews. They were confusing to the kids. They were confusing to me, to even read the transcriptions of the audiotaped interviews... There was a lot of confusing questioning, there was a lot of yes/no, did he touch you here or there.

There was very little, "Tell me in your own words everything that happened." We know from research that when you ask those kind of open ended questions kids don't often give you a lot, but what they give you is accurate. The most accurate disclosures you get are from asking those kinds of open ended questions very soon after the alleged event by a neutral interviewer. And in the Grant Snowden material that I reviewed with my colleague Maggie Bruck, there was sort of a violation of all three prongs of that. The interviewer didn't appear neutral, rather, that interviewer appeared to have a hypothesis that this happened, that Snowden abused the kids. And therefore she employed a variety of techniques including the negative stereotyping, the repeated pretend play, the repetition of questions where if you say to someone, "Did someone touch you here?" and they say no, and then you ask that question again, "I'm going to ask you again, did someone touch you there?" well, the message you're sending to children is their first answer was incorrect and therefore they should change it. And preschoolage kids are disproportionately susceptible to that kind of thing. So there was a lot of that.

This was south Florida, Dade County, late '80s, Bobby Fijnje. A place and a setting that had by that time grown accustomed to the spectacle of these awful cases.... It's not just one prosecutor who's fired up about a case and perhaps a little overzealous, or one detective or one therapist or one concerned parent. When it becomes a whole community, the media, an entire department of a prosecutor, this whole population willing to believe, what is that?

I would say that if you looked broader than just the Florida cases, if you looked around the country and even in Europe, the mass allegation day care cases that really had a splash in the media were not characterized by a single zealous prosecutor or a single concerned parent, but they were exactly what you described. They were an entire community that rose to the call. The media often was party to it. Parents, mental health professionals, law enforcement, the courts, there was shared knowledge, this was constantly going on between the media, the parents and mental health professionals. We heard that D.M. said that W.K. was also in the room when Bobby did that. So then W.K.'s parents ask, "W.K., well don't you remember that? D.M. says you were there when Bobby did that." There's a lot of that. There's shared knowledge about the indicia of pedophilia. For example, at the time, one of the popular, I think I can call them myths, was that there are rings of pedophiles and they're part of satanic cults, so parents and kids were quizzed for whether Bobby and his associates wore pendants that were eight-sided and whether the number 666 appeared anywhere in writing or tattoos or so on. This information was swapped back and forth. There was a large coterie of individuals including media, parents, law enforcement that were reinforcing each other and sharing knowledge.

What term can we apply to that fever that happens, that engulfs and takes away reason? Is that hysteria?

Some people have called it hysteria, but the subjective sense that I had from being there is that it resulted in a type of vigilantism. It was quite scary.

What do you mean by vigilantism?

What I mean by it is that the purpose of the investigation seemed to shift from whatever the truth is to, "We got to get this guy and get him at all costs," because the decision had been made in the community's mind that child sexual abuse was rampant, there are organized circles of people that are preying on kids and that this guy is one of them. At all costs, we've got to take him down. That's what I meant by vigilantism. I would contrast it with a more open-minded approach that says well, our primary hypothesis is that he abused the kids in this way. What's an alternative hypothesis? How could these kids have come to say these things if they didn't happen, for example, and in a fair-minded way test the alternatives.

Is it striking to you in any way, Dr. Ceci, that you and I have sat here and talked about a phenomenon that Lord knows showed itself in all corners of this country, But we're talking about [a number of] rather remarkable cases, that occurred in a period of time in one place, the State Attorney's office in Dade County, Florida, at the time that that office was run by Janet Reno. What should we take from that?

Well, if I want to be glib, the way to become the Attorney General of the United States is to aggressively pursue pedophilia. It's an easy crime to hate.... But that is a sort of glib analysis. I don't know if that's true in general....

In the effort to make it, if you will, a child-friendly, a victim-friendly process, understandably so, what Ms. Reno did down in Miami was to make people such as the Bragas, to make specifically the Bragas, part of the law enforcement system, literally an extension of it. In retrospect was that such a good idea?

It was the beginning of a process that hasn't ended yet. By that I mean jurisdictions across the country mimicked in large degree that model. They set up specially equipped interview rooms with one way mirrors. They had specially trained interviewers. I say it hasn't ended yet because the latest instantiations on the model are having what are called integrated interviews where you have, in addition to mental health, [you'll have] maybe law enforcement and social services present to try to reduce the number of times that the kid'll have to be interviewed subsequently. And this isn't the end, either. It will keep changing. And the reason it keeps changing is because we haven't got it right yet. We're trying lots of things....

That sexual abuse unit that Janet Reno created obviously resulted in some notable successes and in some regard was emulated around the country. Did you see anything that was perhaps not to be so admired and emulated?

Yes, I think that if someone had come to me and said how best can we go about these investigations, then based on the research that was available at that time I would have suggested things that were different. For example, the interviewers themselves would have been forensically trained. They would have been trained in light of the best scientific evidence that was available at that time.

As opposed to the Bragas.

Yeah, I think they were trying to create things on line. I think that once they were sort of nominated and put into this role [they] were using their best clinical intuitions, I guess, to develop a protocol, but it isn't the protocol that would have been dictated had you used research as your guide.

In the Snowden case [there was an expert who testified that of 1,000 kids he interviewed about abuse] 995 ... had told him the truth. And so what you had here was an expert who deals with children saying, as the prosecutor would then interpret it, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, you've just heard a child expert saying that 99.9% of the time children tell the truth. Very impactful statement, but not necessarily so, right?

Well, I think it is very impactful, but it's not accurate. We used to do this as almost a parlor trick when we would go to scientific conventions. We would show videos of kids to the audience, and these were very well trained psychologists and psychiatrists, and we'd say to them, "OK, you think you can tell if a kid's accurate or not. We want you to look at these videotapes and you tell us, are they accurate?" And we would hand out forms where they would rate their confidence for each videotape, whether it happened or not. And you could toss a coin and do as well as professionals, because, again, these kids on our tapes weren't lying. We had persuaded them that something happened that didn't happen, and it became a reality for them. And once it becomes a false belief, a reality for the kids, it's incorrect to say that 999 out of a thousand kids are going to be accurate. Kids that are subjected to that same barrage of suggestive techniques that we have been talking about, negative stereotyping, fantasy inductions, question repetition and so on, a significant minority in our studies will adopt false beliefs that no expert can detect.

And so of such kids there is no particular statistical figure.

There is no statistic. There can't be a statistic because the statistic would have to be confined to cases where kids were subjected to that kind of relentless suggestive interviewing over fairly long periods of time. And if you had a population of a thousand kids that had been put through that and then they were interviewed and you got statements from them, I can assure you it wouldn't be 999 who would be giving accurate reports.

The importance of that particular testimony, not only in terms of whatever impact it may have had on that particular jury, but in the larger sense, was that it underscored a term that has been the thrust of all of these cases, which is simply "believe the children, children don't lie." That motto doesn't necessarily apply in these cases, though, does it?

Two things. One, it was always an oversimplification. It was used as a rallying cry, almost a slogan, "believe the kids." And it presupposed a certain set of motives that were often absent, motives that tilted toward truthtelling, when in fact sometimes motives tilt the other way, they tilt toward avoiding embarrassment or protecting a loved one or keeping a secret or sustaining a game or gaining material rewards or whatever, that tilt it toward non-truthtelling. Anyone who's a parent knows if you're at all attentive to your child that they're not always truthful. When the motivational valance goes a certain way your child will sometimes go that way despite you being a good middle class ethical parent.

The other point is that some have argued that, while admittedly that was an oversimplified slogan in the mid- to late '80s -- at the trials a lot of the parents wore buttons in these trials, "believe the children," that now there's been a backlash. As a result of people's research like myself, people are too skeptical of what kids are saying, that if an interviewer slips in a leading question here or there, the whole interview is considered tainted and therefore that the prosecution of child sexual abuse has been greatly hampered. And now you sort of have this image, "never believe the kids." I think that that's an oversimplification as well. I think that the truth is really in between.



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