Names of all children and their families have been changed.
This is the transcript of Dr. Stephen Ceci's commentary on Dr. Laurie
Braga's interviewing techniques in her interview with the primary child witness
in the Snowden case, child (not her real name).
Braga: Well, sometimes little children come, and they say that a grownup
touched them in a private place. Do you know what a private place is?
Leslie: (Shaking head in the negative.)
Braga: Do you know what this is called here? That's called your vagina, and
that's a private place. It belongs to you, not to anybody else, and these
here, those are your breasts, and that's private, too.
Leslie: And you pee-pee is right here.
Ceci: Right here, what you're seeing is something that today would be
recognized quickly as something not to do. And that is to say everything is
coming from the interviewer. Nothing is coming from the kid. For example, you
don't say to the Leslie, "This is what this is called." First of all, you find
out what they call it. You don't present anatomical dolls undressed. Not that
there's a standardized procedure for it, but you don't do it that way. And you
try to let the child generate most of the narrative rather than being didactic
Braga: Yeah; and did you know that grownups are not supposed to touch
children's private places?
Leslie: (Nodding head.)
Ceci: Okay. Now, what you're seeing here is crossing over the line from a
forensic interview to, for lack of a better word, a prevention or mental health
interview. She's lecturing the child about what grown-ups should and should
not do. "You know, it's naughty to ever let someone touch you there or kiss
you there when you don't have clothes on." This isn't a forensic interview.
This crosses the line.
Braga: Let's suppose if a grownup tried to touch you, do you know what you
Braga: "No." You should say, "No, I don't want you to do that," but let's
suppose a grownup tried to do that, and you still said, "No," and they still
did it. It wouldn't be your fault.
Leslie: No fault?
Braga: No, because a lot of children come, and they talk to me, and they feel very
sad, because they think that they did something bad, but they didn't.
Ceci: See, again this is far afield from an accepted forensic interview. She's
invoking peer pressure. She's creating a context of accusation.
Braga: Lots of children come to me and say...
Ceci: Yeah, the atmospherics are all accusatory. Other kids come and tell me
about bad things. The implied message is that's what we're here to do today as
well. I'm a nice person, you want to please me. There are naughty things that
adults do when they do this or that. So, it's really crossed over the line.
This is no longer a forensic interview, if it ever was.
Braga: Mommy and Daddy said that, after you used to go there a lot, then last
year, when J. would go, and you would go over there to pick up J., that
sometimes, you wouldn't want to go, and I just wondered if maybe you didn't
want to go because you were afraid...
Ceci: What you're seeing here is an accepted mental health practice. If you're
trying to deal with interpsychic conflicts then this kind of suggestion, she's
suggesting that maybe you're hurt, maybe you don't feel good. That may have
its place in therapy. It has no place in a forensic interview. It's very
Braga: Mommy and Daddy are not going to be mad at you. They would be so proud
if you could tell, because, you know what?
Ceci: You're seeing something crossing the line from what I would call subtle
reinforcement to almost being a bribe. "Mommy and Daddy will be so proud of
you, if you tell." Again, these are departures from accepted forensic
Braga: Did this happen in the living room or the bedroom?
Leslie: In the living room?
Braga: In the living room? What about the shower? Did it ever happen in the
shower, in the bath tub?
Leslie: It happened in the shower.
Braga: In the shower?
Braga: In the shower, too, so it happened more than one time?
Ceci: What you see, not just this piece but the whole interview, is a rather
endless repetition of very directive questions. Was it living room or kitchen?
Was it shower or bathtub? Now, kids have response sets or biases. They're
much more likely to take the second things that you say. They assume that one
of those two is always the answer and they tend to like the second one, the
last one that you say. There's very little coming from the child. There's
very little self initiation from the child. There's no what I would call free
narrative where the interviewer says to the child, "I'd like you to tell me, in
your own words, everything that happened." Now, when you do that, the child
doesn't tell you a lot, but what they tell you tends to be highly accurate. And
then you just sit there and you stare at the child and say, "Uh hmm. And what
else?" And it's a little unnerving at first for the kid when you do this, but
that's exactly the way to get a free narrative with minimum taint. And that
isn't what she's doing. In fairness to her, that's not what any of them were
doing 15 years ago.