by John E.B. Myers, University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law

from Psychology, Public Policy and Law, 1995 (c) American Psychological Association, Inc.

There is increasing skepticism regarding children's credibility. Three sources of this skepticism are discussed. First, the popular media is increasingly skeptical of a child witnesses. Whereas press coverage of child victims during the 1980s was largely positive, coverage during the 1990s indicates increasing doubt about children's credibility. Second, some writers in the psychological literature portray children in an unnecessarily negative light, contributing to unwarranted skepticism. Third, the 1994 decision in State v. Michaels is likely to exaggerate doubts about children's memory and suggestibility.

Infants of very tender years often give the clearest and truest testimony.

--William Blackstone, 17691

Children are the most dangerous of all witnesses.

--A. Baginsky, 19102

The law has long been ambivalent about children's credibility. In early days children were precluded from the witness stand. In Jewish history, for example, witnesses had to be "of full age, that is, more than thirteen years old...."3 In England, great stock was placed in the oath, and children who did not comprehend the divine penalty awaiting perjurers could not testify.4 The minimum age may have been 7, and children below that age were "regarded as always wanting" the capacity to testify.5

During the sixteenth century, categorical exclusion of child witnesses eroded. English judges permitted selected children to testify.6 By the time Blackstone published his influential Commentaries on the Law of England in 1769, the law was "settled, that infants of any age are to be heard; and, if they have any idea of an oath, to be also sworn...."7 The 1770 decision in Rex v. Brasier 8 solidified the principle that there is no age below which children are automatically disqualified from testifying.

The trend toward accepting children's testimony continued in the United States. In 1895 the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the competence of a 5-year-old to testify in a murder trial, writing:

That the boy was not by reason of his youth, as a matter of law, absolutely disqualified as a witness is clear. While no one would think of calling as a witness an infant only two or three years old, there is no precise age which determines the question of competency.9

By 1918 the U.S. Supreme Court wrote that "the conviction of our time [is] that the truth is more likely to be arrived at by hearing the testimony of all persons of competent understanding who may seem to have knowledge of the facts involved in a case...."10

Early in this century, American's leading scholar of the law of evidence, John Wigmore, wrote:

A rational view of the peculiarities of child nature, and of the daily course of justice in our courts, must lead to the conclusion that the effort to measure a priori the degrees of trustworthiness in children's statement, and to distinguish the point at which they cease to be totally incredible and acquire suddenly some degree of credibility, is futile and unprofitable....Recognizing on the one hand the childish disposition to weave romances and to treat imagination for verity, and on the other the rooted ingenuousness of children and their tendency to speak straightforwardly what is in their minds, it must be concluded that the sensible way is to put the child upon the stand to give testimony for what it may seem to be worth. To this result legislation must come.11

Wigmore's call for legislation gained momentum, and in 1975 Congress enacted the Federal Rules of Evidence, which provide that "[e]very person is competent to be a witness...."12 Although the Federal Rules apply only in Federal Court, the Rules have a significant influence on state law, and today most children are permitted to testify.

On one hand, the twentieth century witnessed growing confidence in children's credibility. On the other hand, however, the early and middle years of this century represent a high watermark of skepticism about children's credibility. Early psychological research in Europe fueled the belief that children are dangerously suggestible.13 Skepticism was particularly rife regarding allegations of sexual abuse, with influential scholars such as Wigmore warning of "the sinister possibilities of injustice that lurk in believing such a witness without careful psychiatric scrutiny."14

During the past 20 years, mental health professionals revisited the issue of children's credibility. Modern research exploded the old bromide that children are invariably highly suggestible.15 Old prejudices regarding claims of rape and sexual assault were rejected.16 By the 1980s, children's credibility reached its zenith.

Optimism about children's credibility coincided with and contributed to redoubled efforts to prosecute child sexual abuse. Although prosecution is not new, the volume of such litigation escalated significantly during the 1980s.17 Unfortunately, as the number of child abuse investigations and prosecutions grew, three counterproductive influences emerged. First, some professionals investigating and prosecuting child abuse fell prey to excesses of zeal. Social workers, police officers, prosecutors, and others who work in the trenches of child protection understand the cruel reality of child abuse. Maintaining objectivity is no easy matter when children suffer, and it comes as no surprise that a few professionals lose the balance required for this difficult work.

The second counterproductive influence was the belief among some professionals that children do not lie about sexual abuse. In 1988, Mantell observed that "[a]n article of faith seems to have arisen which holds that 'children never lie about something like this.'"18 Statements such as "children never lie about sexual abuse" are dangerous for two reasons. First, such statements oversimplify a complex situation. Research indicates that children seldom deliberately fabricate allegations of sexual abuse.19 Nevertheless, occasional fabrication occurs, particularly among older children and adolescents.20 The second danger of unfounded belief in children's credibility is that this belief contributes to improper investigative interviewing. Interviewers who take everything children say about abuse at face value may fail to pursue benign explanations for children's statements.

The third counterproductive influence at work during the 1980s was naiveté among many interviewers regarding the danger of excessive use of leading questions, particularly with young children. A decade ago, professionals interviewing children were largely uninformed regarding the forensic implications of their work.

These three influences--over zealousness, unfounded beliefs, and excessive reliance on leading questions--appear to have been particularly prevalent during the 1980s. The mixture proved volatile, erupting in unsuccessful prosecutions such as the infamous McMartin preschool case in southern California. The New Jersey prosecutions of Margaret Kelly Michaels began in 1985--during the heyday of over zealousness, unqualified belief in children, and indefensible interviewing. It appears all three influences played roles in the Michaels case.

By the mid-1980s, then, children's credibility reached its high point. Late in the decade, however, the pendulum began a shift in the opposite direction, and today, midway through the 1990s, there is growing skepticism regarding children's credibility. Although it is important to abandon unduly optimistic beliefs in children, there is real danger that the pendulum will swing too far in the direction of disbelief. In the legal system there is a long tradition of doubting children who make allegations of sexual abuse.21 Unless care is taken to stop the pendulum at the midpoint, the law and, on a broader scale, society may once again close their eyes to the reality of child sexual abuse.

In a remainder of this article I analyze three sources of escalating skepticism regarding children's credibility: (a) the popular media, (b) professional literature, and (c) the New Jersey Supreme Court's decision in State v. Michaels.

Popular Media

During much of the 1980s, the effort to protect children from sexual abuse received largely positive media coverage. In September 1983, for example, Time magazine's cover story was "Private Violence: Child Abuse, Wife Beating, Rape." Time reporters wrote that more should be done to come to grips with child abuse, domestic violence, and sexual assault. A reporter praised the fact that "[t]he wall of silence is breaking down even in case of incest and sexual abuse of children by close acquaintances, which were almost always hushed up in the past."22 The Time article typifies much of the reporting during the early and mid-1980s. By and large, the print and broadcast media encouraged greater support for victims and increased resources to respond to abuse.

Toward the end of the 1980s, media and editorial coverage of the child protection system became increasingly negative.23 Several themes dominated the critical reporting that arose at the end of the decade. Some writers asserted that the child protection system was out of control.24 Others alleged that the child protection system was pursuing a baseless witch-hunt similar to the Salem witchcraft trials of 1692.25 Indeed, it is difficult to count the number of newspaper and magazine articles that compare the modern child protection system to Salem. One writer stated. "From the witch hunts of Salem to the communist hunts of the McCarthy era to the current shrill fixation on child abuse, there runs a common thread of moral hysteria."26 Another opined that "[t]he laws of this case would have been the envy of the seventeenth century prosecutors at Salem."27

A writer hoping to denigrate the child protection system and capture attention is hard-pressed to find a more frightening image than the Salem witchcraft trials. In Salem, innocent people were condemned by the testimony of children who had been interviewed with leading questions. Today, children's testimony is often the most importance evidence of abuse and, as in bygone days, children today are interviewed, sometimes with leading questions.

Although Salem is a powerful image, the comparison of modern child protection to Salem, Massachusetts, in 1692 is misleading. In Salem, all of the accused "witches" were innocent. Today, many who are accused of child abuse are guilty. In Salem, children were 100% accurate. Playing the Salem card distorts reality and fuels irrational fears.

Cries of witch-hunt are not the only tactic used to ridicule the child protection system and children's credibility. The print media contains numerous articles accusing parents and professionals of hysteria.28 The following quotes illustrate the common reference to hysteria:

Invasion of the child savers: How we succumb to hype and hysteria. 29

The hysteria over child abuse.30

Many observers say the flurry of arrests and new laws aimed at easing the trauma of young victims sometimes misfires, creating a child-abuse hysteria.31

Respectable experts say that therapists...are helping to stir a kind of mass hysteria.32

The U. S. appears to be witnessing its third great wave of hysteria. The first, the Salem Witch Trails, in 1692 lasted only a few months. Nineteen people were hanged before it became apparent that the accusations were suspect. In the 1950's, at the time of the McCarthy hearings, hysteria over the communist threat resulted in the destruction of many careers. Our current hysteria, which began in the early 1980s, is by far the worst with regard to the number of lives that have been destroyed and families that have disintegrated.33

Repeated references to hysteria undermine confidence in the child protection system and in children. The hysteria image is particularly disturbing because it perpetuates discrimination against women. There is a long tradition of discounting women's and girl's allegations of sexual abuse and describing such claims as hysteria.34 A press that repeatedly attributes allegations of sexual abuse to hysteria reinforces this legacy of disbelief.

The media is far from monolithic, of course, and it is not difficult to find print and broadcast stories that support child protection system and children's credibility.35 Nevertheless, the increase in highly critical media coverage contributes to evolving skepticism.

Professional Literature

Professional writing on children's credibility and the child protection system is diverse. At the margin of responsibility are inflammatory statements such as "a climate of hysteria and witch-hunt mentality predominates,"36 "the vast majority of children who profess sexual abuse are fabricators,"37 and "observers have likened the climate created by [child abuse] laws to that of Salem during the witch hunts, to that of Nazi Germany in 1939, or to that of the McCarthy era in the 1950s."38 One of the child protection system's most relentless critics wrote a book in which he compares the "hysteria" over sexual abuse to the Salem witch trials.39

Responsible professionals are often highly critical of the child protection system. There is no gainsaying the faults of the system.40 Moreover, many responsible professionals are doubtful of children's credibility, at least in some circumstances. Criticism and doubt, therefore, are not the issue. What is troubling today is that a number of influential commentators on the child protection system and children's credibility put an unduly negative "spin" on portions of their writing. Because these commentators play a central role in the dialogue regarding children's credibility, it is important to draw attention to their "spin" and to emphasize its potential to damage legitimate efforts to protect children.

Stephen J. Ceci and Maggie Bruck are important commentators on children's credibility. Their 1993 article in which they explored the suggestibility of children as witnesses41 is a leading exegesis of research on this topic. They published a second article in 1993.42 Although both articles are important, their potential to advance understanding is compromised by their tone, which is unnecessarily negative and, at times, misleading.

Ceci and Bruck began their Psychological Bulletin and Social Policy Report articles by establishing a climate of skepticism about children's credibility that casts a pall over both articles. To create the desired mood, they began with detailed descriptions of three high-profile child sexual abuse prosecutions. The Social Policy Report begins with a two-page recitation of facts from the McMartin preschool case in southern California. The Psychological Bulletin article begins with the New Jersey prosecution of Margaret Kelly Michaels and the so-called Country Walk Baby-sitting Services case against Frank Fuster in Florida.

Ceci and Bruck created the impression that the McMartin , Michaels, and Fuster prosecutions were miscarriages of justice by emphasizing the bizarre acts of abuse that were alleged in the cases. Of the Kelly Michaels prosecution, they wrote:

Margaret Kelly Michaels, 26-year-old nursery school teacher, was accused of sexually abusing children at the Wee Care Nursery School. She was said to have licked peanut butter off children's genitals; played the piano while nude' made children drink her urine and eat her feces; and reaped and assaulted them with knives, forks, spoons, and Lego blocks. She was accused of performing these acts during school hours over a period of 7 months. No alleged act was noticed by staff of reported by children to their parents. No parent noticed signs of strange behavior or genital soreness in their children or smelled urine of feces on them.43

Regarding the Country Walk case in Florida, Ceci and Bruck described Frank Fuster in benign terms as a 36-year-old businessman, who with his wife, Iliana, "operated the Country Walk Baby-sitting Service out of their Miami home."44 Children cared for by the Fusters demonstrated unusual behavior, and several of them disclosed sexual abuse.45 Ceci and Bruck revealed their doubt about the allegations when they wrote that

[i]ntertwined among the credible allegations that the children made were ones that seemed fabulous, such as riding on sharks and eating the head of another person. The children claimed that Frank Furster [sic] videotaped their sexual abuse, although the alleged tapes were never found.46

The Fusters were prosecuted and convicted . Ceci and Bruck created the impression that the convictions were unjust and were obtained only because Iliana Fuster was coerced to testify falsely against her husband.47

Ceci and Bruck's description of Country Walk is remarkably one-sided. Nowhere is there mention that Frank Fuster and previous convictions for child molestation and manslaughter. Nowhere do the authors mention that Frank Fuster's conviction in the Country Walk case was upheld by the Florida Court of Appeal.48 Finally, Ceci and Bruck's statement that the police may have coerced Iliana Fuster's testimony against her husband was based on information supplied by Debbie Nathan, a reporter who is anything but neutral regarding children's credibility.49

Ceci and Bruck used the McMartin, Michaels, and Fuster cases at the background for their portrait of children's credibility. In one respect it is appropriate to mention the McMartin and Michaels prosecutions. Both cases were plagued by seriously defective investigation interviewing. Moreover, in the Michaels case the investigative errors were compounded by errors during the trial.50 There were no convictions in McMartin and, fortunately, Kelly Michael's conviction was overturned on appeal. The Fuster case is a different matter. Fuster was convicted, and his conviction was affirmed on appeal. Ceci and Bruck's portrayal of the Fuster case is misleading.

Although Ceci and Bruck cannot be criticized for mentioning the McMartin and Michaels prosecutions, they can be faulted for the way they use these cases in their writing. They began their articles by creating the impression that McMartin, Michaels, and Fuster were miscarriages of justice, in part because children were interviewed numerous times with leading questions. They then implied that the questioning techniques used in the McMartin, Michaels, and Fuster cases are the norm rather than the exception in child abuse investigations.

These cases serve as "windows" through which the points we make later can be viewed; namely, how accurate are children's recollections of everyday events? How suggestible is the child witness? How much difficulty does the child have distinguishing reality from fantasy? How honest are children?51

There is more than one "window" with a view of children's credibility. Unfortunately, Ceci and Bruck's articles examined children's credibility through only one window--the window of doubt and skepticism. They viewed children "through a glass, darkly."52

Throughout their Psychological Bulletin article, Ceci and Bruck implied that the norm in child abuse investigations is to interview children multiple times and to overuse and abuse leading questions. For example, the authors wrote that questioning techniques used in psychological experiments on suggestibility "are pale versions of interviews carried out in legal settings. In the latter content, children are questioned, on average, 11 times prior to testifying in court...."53 Later, they asserted that "they typical forensic case" involves "multiple prior attempts to create an 'atmosphere of accusation."..."54 Still later they wrote that "[i]n the legal setting, children are interviewed many times by a variety of interviewers before they ever testify in court."55 Ceci and Bruck described the highly improper interviews in the Michaels case and wrote that "[s]imilar patterns of threats, bribes, and insinuations that their friends had already told investigators of the defendant's abusive behavior can also be seen in other cases."56 They added that children "are usually questioned repeatedly within and across sessions...."57

In another article, Ceci and Bruck claimed that "[t]he McMartin case is not a singular happening. There have many similar cases...."58 Elsewhere, they referred to "the McMartin case and hundreds of others like it."59 Ceci and Bruck alleged that "many court cases...involve repeated interviews which are highly suggestive...."60 They added that "[t]he modal child witness has been interviewed between 4 and 11 times prior to the first courtroom appearance; sometimes children are interviewed weekly for years about the same event--in therapy sessions, for instance."61 Finally, they asserted that highly suggestive interviewing is used "in many" cases.62

The reader comes away from Ceci and Bruck's articles with the impression that many, if not most, interviews are conducted improperly and that children's descriptions of sexual abuse are often false. The author's occasional references to children's strength and to proper interviewing are lost like the proverbial needle in a haystack.63

If Ceci and Bruck supported their assertions with sufficient evidence, they would have to be taken seriously. However, they fail to support their indictment of investigative interviewing and children's credibility. Although the authors are important contributors to the literature, their articles convey an unnecessarily pessimistic picture of the child protection system and children's credibility.

Two further aspects of Ceci and Bruck's writing require mention. First, in the Psychological Bulletin article the authors seem to go out of their way to devalue any research that emphasizes children's strengths. Casting aspersions on professionals with whom they disagree does not advance the debate.64

The second issue is the idea that the Psychological Bulletin and Social Policy Report articles are impartial reviews of the literature. In fact, both articles are advocacy pieces that skillfully tell one side of the story. The articles are not objective and should not be portrayed as such. Psychological research and the professional literature play important roles in the debate regarding children's credibility and the child protection system. Unfortunately, Ceci and Bruck's two articles lack the objectivity required to advance the debate. In the final analysis, the articles fuel unwarranted skepticism of children and the system designed to protect them.

1William Blackstone, 4 Commentaries On The Law of England 214(1769).

2G.M. Whipple, The Psychology of Testimony , 8 Psychol. Bull. 307, 308 (1911) (paraphrasing A. Baginsky).

3The Jewish Encyclopedia 277(1916)

4John R. Spencer & Rhona Flin, The Evidence of Children: The Law and the Psychology (2d ed. 1993).

5John H. Wigmore, 3A Evidence In Trials At Common Law 1821, at 399(1979).

69 William S. Holdsworth, A History of English Law 188 (3d ed. 1944).

7William Blackstone, Commentaries On the Law Of England 214(1769).

8168 Eng. Rep. 202(1770).

9Wheeler v. United States, 159 U.S. 523, 525 (1895).

10Rosen v. United States , 245 U.S. 467, 471(1918)

11John H. Wigmore, 2 Evidence In Trials At Common Law 509, at 719(1979).

12Fed. R. of Evid. 601.

13See Stephen J. Ceci & Maggie Bruck, Suggestibility of the Child Witness: A Historical Review and Synthesis , 113 Psychol. Bull. 403, 405-407(1993); Gail S. Goodman, Children's Testimony in Historical Perspective, 40 J. Soc. Issues 9(1984).

14A Wigmore, supra note 5, at 240. For a discussion of the skepticism with which allegations of sexual abuse were viewed, see Erna Olafson et al., Modern History of Child Sexual Abuse Awareness: Cycles of Discovery and Suppression, 17 Child Abuse & Neglect 7(1993).

15See Child Victims, Child Witnesses: Understanding and Improving Testimony (Gail S. Goodman & Bette L. Bottoms eds., 1993).

16See John E.B. Myers, Evidence In Child Abuse And Neglect Cases (1992).

17There are no national statistics on the number of child abuse prosecutions. For discussion of the expansion in child abuse prosecustion, see John E.B. Myers, Taint Hearings for Child Witnesses? A Step in the Wrong Direction , 46 Baylor L. Rev. 873 (1994).

18David M. Mantell, Clarifying Erroneous Child Sexual Abuse Allegations , 58 Am. J. Orthopsychiatry 618, 618(1988).

19Mark D. Everson & Barbara W. Boat, False Allegations of Sexual Abuse by Children and Adolescents, 28 J. Am. Acad. Child & Adolescent Psychiatry 230(1989); David P.H. Jones & J. Melbourne McGraw, Reliable and Fictitious Accounts of Sexual Abuse to Children, 2J. Interpersonal Violence 27(1987).

20See David P. H. Jones & Ann Seig, Child Sexual Abuse Allegations in Custody or Visitation Cases: A Report of 20 Cases, in Sexual Abuse Allegations in Custody and Visitation Cases (E. Bruce Nicholson & Josephine Bulkley eds., Am. Bar Assoc. Center on Children and the Law, 1988).

21See Erna Olafson et al., Modern History of Child Sexual Abuse Awareness: Cycles of Discovery and Suppression , 17 Child Abuse & Neglect 7(1993).

22Ed Magnuson, Child Abuse: The Ultimate Betrayal , Time, Sept. 5, 1983, at 20.

23For a review of newspaper and magazine stories that are highly critical of child protection, see John E.B. Myers, The Literature of the Backlash, in The Backlash: Child Protection Under Fire (John E.B. Myers ed., 1994).

24See , e.g., Jerry Dean, Parents' Group Names "Hit List" in Child Welfare, Ark. Democrat Gazette, Feb. 14, 1993 at 1B.

25See , e.g., Alexander Cockburn, Abused Imaginings, New Statesman and Soc'y, Jan. 26, 1990, at 19; Richard P. Cunningham, Recruiting the Press for Witch Hunts , The Quill, Apr. 1990 at 10; Richard A. Gardner, Modern Witch Hunt--Child Abuse Charges , Wall St. J., Feb. 22, 1993, at A10; Nat Hentoff, Pay No Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain, The Village Voice, June 16, 1992, at 22; Richard Lacayo, Sexual Abuse or Abuse of Justice?, Time, May 11, 1987, at 49; Aric Press et al., The Youngest Witness: Is There a "Witch Hunt" Mentality in Sex-Abuse Cases?, Newsweek Feb. 18, 1985, at 72; The Salem Epidemic , Nat. Rev., Sept. 3, 1990, at 14; Satanic Abuse: Salem Revisited , The Economist, Aug. 31, 1991, at 23.

26Dorothy Rabinowitz, From the Mouths of Babes to a Jail Cell--Child Abuse of Justice: A Case Study, Harper's Magazine, May 1990, at 52,63.

27Alexander Cockburn, Beat the Devil, The Nation, Feb. 12, 1990, at 190.

28See, e.g. Barbara Amiel, The Hysteria Over Child Abuse, Maclean's, Aug. 22, 1988, at 5; Rabinowitz, supra note 26, at 52; Abusing Common Sense, Natl. Rev., May 28, 1990, at 16; Satanic Abuse, supra note 25, at 23.

29Jean B. Elshtain, Invasion of the Child Savers: How We Succumb to Hype and Hysteria, The Progressive, Sept. 1985, at 23.

30Amiel, supra note 28, at 5.

31T. Gest, The Other Victims of Abuse: In the Campaign to Aid Youngsters, the Reputations of Some Parents and Teachers are Unjustly Being Ruined, U.S. News & World Rep., April 1, 1985, at 66.

32Satanic Abuse, supra note 25, at 23.

33Gardner, supra note 25, at A10.

34See, Olafson, supra note 21, at 7.

35See, e.g., M. Brannigan, The Accused: Child-Abuse Charges Ensnare Some Parents in Baseless Proceedings, Wall St. J., August 23, 1989, at A1; M. Horn, Memories Lost and Found, U.S. News & World Rep., Nov.29, 1993; Lisa Manshel, Reporters for the Defense in a Child Abuse Case, Wash. Journalism Rev., July/August 1991, at 16.

36L.D. Spiegal, Child Abuse Hysteria: A Warning for Educators, 54 Educ. Dig. 55, 56(1989).

37Richard A. Gardner, The Parental Alienation Syndrome and the Differentiation Between Fabricated and Genuine Child Sex Abuse (1987) (referring to the author's experience with allegations of sexual abuse in custody cases).

38R. Emans, Abuse in the Name of Protecting Children, 68 Phi Delta Kappa 740, 740(1987).

39Richard A. Gardner, Sex Abuse Hysteria: Salem Witch Trials Revisited (1991).

40See U.S. Advisory Board On Child Abuse and Neglect, U.S. Dept. of Health and Hum. Serv., Neighbors Helping Neighbors: A New National Strategy for the Protection of Children(1993).

41Ceci & Bruck, supra note 13.

42Stephen J. Ceci & Maggie Bruck, Child Witnesses: Translating Research into Policy, 7 Soc. Pol. Rep. of the Soc. for Res. in Child Dev. 1(1993).

43Ceci & Bruck, supra note 13, at 403-404.

44Id. at 404.

45For detailed discussion of the Country Walk case, se Jan Hollingsworth, Unspeakable Acts(1986).

46Ceci & Bruck, supra note 13, at 404.

47Id. at 404 ("[a]fter nearly 15 month of denials, Iliana Furster[sic] turned state's evidence against her husband.") Ceci and Bruck reveal their willingness to believe that Iliana Fuster's testimony against her husband was false, stating: Since we wrote this section, we have learned of arguments that Iliana Furter's[sic] "confession" might not have reflected her true opinion. She was held in solitary confinement for 1 year following her arrest. During this time, she consistently denied any allegations of abuse. Then, for a period of 2 months, she was visited on a daily basis by a friend of her lawyer, a priest, and a therapist. The latter claimed to have made every effort to persuade her to turn state's evidence to save herself from a much more severe sentence. Id. at 423 n. 5. To the best of my knowledge, Mrs. Fuster was not held in solitary confinement. In fact, she was given special privileges while in jail.

48Fransisco Fuster Escalona v. State, 588 So. 2d 337(Fla. 3d DCA 1991). Three judges of the Court of Appeal decided the case. One judge believed that several counts of the verdict should be reversed. These were counts involving children who were allowed to testify via closed-circuit television outside the presence of the defendant. Id. at 337-38. On the remaining counts, however, the dissenting judge joined the other judges in the decision to affirm the conviction. Thus, as to some of the counts against Frank Fuster, the Court of Appeal was unanimous in affirming the conviction. Id.

49Debbie Nathan has published a number of articles that are highly critical of the child protection system and certain prosecutions. See, e.g., Debbie Nathan, Latest Pick for AG has a Nanny in Her Past, The Sacramento Bee, Feb 21, 1993, at forum 3(criticizing Attorney General designate Janet Reno because of Reno's involvement in Fuster's prosecution while Reno was a Florida District Attorney). See also Debbie Nathan, Cry Incest, Playboy, October, 1992, at 84(criticizing therapeutic techniques used with adults to recover memories of child sexual abuse).

For criticism of Nathan, see Lisa Manshel, see Reporters for th Defense in a Child Abuse Case, 13 Wash. Journalism Rev. 16 July/August 1991).

50 For discussion of the errors at trial, see State v. Michaels, 625 A.2d 489(N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div. 1993).

51Ceci & Bruck, supra note 13, at 403.

52Corinthians 13:1

53Ceci & Bruck, supra note 13, at 420. They cited no authority for their claim that "children are questioned, on average, 11 times prior to testifying in court." Id. at 420. They may be referring to Lucy S. McGough, Child Witnesses: Fragile Voices in the American Legal System(1994), which they cited in the sentence preceding the foregoing quote. Ceci & Bruck, supra note 13, at 420. McGough states, "Whitecomb and collegues report that most child victims are interviewed at least a dozen times during the course of an investigation." Lucy S. McGough, Child Witnesses 192(1994)(citing Debra Whitcomb, When the Victim is a Child(2d ed. 1992). Service providers who testified before the Attorney General's Task Force on Family Violence reported that child victims average at least a dozen investigative interviews throughout the course of child protection proceedings, criminal prosecution, and custody proceedings, criminal prosecution, and custody proceedings.. Whitcomb derived her statistic from the Attorney General's Task Force on Family Violence: Final Report(1984). ("In many cases, children are subjected to over a dozen grueling and detailed investigative interviews.") The authority for the foregoing statement is the testimony of two witnesses who testified before the Attorney General's Task Force. See id. at 15. Thus, Ceci and Bruck's assertion that "children are questioned, on average, 11 times prior to testifying in court" may--in the final analysis--be based on nothing more than the testmony of two witnesses given nearly a decade earlier. I fully concede that too many children are interviewed too many times by too many professionals. See P. Kienberger Jaudes & M. Martone, Interdiplinary Evaluations of Alleged Sexual Abuse Cases, 89 Pediatrics 1164(1992); California Attorney General's Office, California Child Victim Witness Judicial Advisory Committee: Final Report(1988). However, Ceci and Bruck do not give sufficient credit for progress made in many jurisdictions to improve the skills of interviewers and reduce the number of interviews. See California Attorney General's Office, Child Victim Witness Investigative Pilot Porjects: Research and Evaluation Final Report (1994). (describing pilot projects that succeeded in reducing the number of interviews); supra note 17(dicussing ongoing efforts to improve the skills of interviewers).

54Ceci & Bruck, supra note 13, at 421 (emphasis in the original). They cited no authority for the statement in the text.

55Id. at 422. Ceci and Bruck cited no authority for this statement.p> 56Id . at 423. I concede that highly improper interviews occur too often. Ceci and Bruck cited as authority Elissa P. Benedek & Diane H. Schetky,Problems in Validating Allegations of Sexaul Abuse, Part 1, 26 J. Am Acad. Child & Adolescent Psychiatry 912, 914(1987)(writing anecdotally of "suggestive, coercive, and deploriable techniques sometimes used" during interviews); and id. Part 2, at 916.

57Ceco & Bruck, supra note 13, at 425. They cited no authority for this statement in the text.

58Stephen J. Ceci & Maggie Bruck, ChildWitnesses: Translating Research into Policy, 7 Soc. Pol'y Rep. of the Society for Res. in Child Dev. 2(1993) (referring to only three other cases: the Margaret Kelly Michaels case, the so-called Little Rascals case in North Carolina, and in the Country Walk case in Florida involving Frank Fuster).

59Id. at 3. The authors cited no source for the statement in the text.

home | join the discussion | forum | bob kelly's trial | readings | summary | profiles of the defendants | tapes & transcripts | press
explore FRONTLINE | wgbh | pbs online

New Content Copyright © 1998 PBS and WGBH/Frontline pbs