Assessing the Veracity of Children’s Allegations of Abuse

One of the most common questions that arises when a person has been accused of child abuse is, “Why would the child lie?” Most Social Workers and investigators often think that they know how to tell whether or not a child is telling the truth about an allegation, but they often overlook obvious clues and sign posts that may signal that a child is making a false allegation.

Three Separate Types of False Allegations

Children will often make false allegations of abuse in the following three situations. 1) Children will often make false claims of abuse because they have been lead to believe in those allegations by a powerful authority figure, like a parent. 2) Children may often come to truly believe that they have been abused because young children often do not have the capacity to accurately recall memories and may resort to fantasy and make-believe to fill in the gaps. 3) Children are intentionally lying about their abuse to please a parent or other authority figure.

Authority Figure Influence

Children may often make false accusations of abuse when they are prompted by adult authority figures. These adults may have a wide variety of motivations for implanting false notions of abuse in children. These range from ex-husbands/wives attempting to gain advantage against their ex-spouse in custody disputes to adults infecting their children with their own delusions and paranoia.

Sometimes parents are motivated to enlist their children into false allegations of abuse because they suffer from “Munchausen’s Syndrome.” Munchausen’s Syndrome occurs when a parent acquires an overwhelming desire to seek sympathy and approval from others due to an illness or injury to their child. People suffering from this symptom may often falsely tell people that their children are suffering from a fake illness or going through some false trauma in order to obtain sympathy from their peers. In the context of abuse allegations, parents suffering from Munchausen’s syndrome will implant false memories of sexual of physical abuse in children so that they can reap the psychological rewards of getting approval and attention from others.

Sometimes a parent suffering from paranoia may infect his or her child with their paranoia. Many parents suffer from delusional disorder, schizophrenia, paranoid personality disorder or other mental disorders. It is not uncommon for parents with paranoia to misinterpret an innocent remark or action of another adult and mislabel that action or remark as “abuse.” In turn, that parent’s misinterpretation may filter down to his/her child and cause the child to believe in their parent’s misinterpretation.

One sign that a parent is influencing a child’s report is when the parent makes statements such as, “That’s not really the truth. The truth is what you told me last time.”

Children may often make false accusations in response to interviewer bias. Interviewers are viewed by children as authority figures. Interviewers may signal to children that they believe that their parents are guilty of abuse and may conduct biased interviews that cause children to tailor their responses to that belief. Interviewers may ask leading questions, or badger children until they give responses that are consistent with their preconceived notions about what happened.

Children’s Abilities to Accurately Recall and Formulate True Memories

Simply stated, children have trouble separating fact from fiction. They do not have the same ability to recall events as adults. Children, especially young children, are often not equipped with the ability to think logically. They don’t have the adult ability to truly make sense of their experience. They often resort to “magical thinking.” They are prone to create fantasies and make up stories to fill in the gaps of their memory. Accusations that include elements from famous movies, tv shows and stories should be viewed with suspicion. Children are also prone to include elements of a story that they get from other sources, such as peers.

Even older children are prone to severe memory problems when they are under extreme stress. The stress of a divorce can easily cause children to have problems recalling basic facts and details. It can also cause children to fall under the spell of a vindictive parent.

The more consistent a story, the more credible it is. Generally, abused children will tell the same story to different interviewers no matter how many times they have to repeat their stories. False allegations often change with each rendition.

Young children often use simple words and phrases to describe objects and events. The use of adult words to describe body parts, or events, is a sign that the child is merely regurgitating what an adult is saying (or telling the child to say). Children usually do not have the capacity to understand technical words, body parts, and sexual activity. True comprehension of adult activities like sex or intimacy only come later, as the child matures. Young children who use adult terminology and express themselves in robotic like phraseology are likely the products of adult manipulation.

Young children are often unable to mask their emotions. One sign that a child may be making an allegation is the emotional response they give when they are retelling their story. Many abused children are sad and angry when retelling the story of abuse. Others shut down. One should be suspicious of children who act in an inappropriate manner while recounting their stories. Children who seem happy or are laughing when they talk about their abuse should be considered with some skepticism.

Some children who have actually suffered sexual or physical abuse may make mistakes in their memory and blame innocent parties for abuse committed by others. Sometimes the psychological damage of having been abused may cause gaps in a child’s memory which may make them prone to confusing details and parties. They make confuse one adult abuser for another completely innocent person.

Children often misinterpret innocent actions as abuse. For example, children may often misinterpret their parent’s bathing of their bodies in the tub with sexual abuse. This often occurs when a vindictive parent plants an idea in the child’s head that abuse has occurred, rewiring the child’s interpretation of the innocent activity into one of abuse.

Intentional False Allegations

Sometimes a child may intentionally lie. There are many reasons why a child may intentionally make a false claim of abuse. Sometimes they are encouraged to lie by a parent engaged in a child custody dispute. Sometimes they are motivated to lie to get back at a parent for disciplining them. Sometimes foster children may intentionally lie about their foster parents so that they can go back home to live with their biological parents. Some children lie to get attention. Other children lie because they feel peer pressure to jump on the bandwagon of abuse.

Whatever the reason, false allegations of abuse can have a devastating impact on you and your family. It is very important that you have an attorney on your side who is familiar with all the ways in which a child will lie and the signs that a child will exhibit when they are lying.