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The Dangers and Difficulties of Child Testimony in Child Sex Cases

Most experienced lawyers will tell you that the most difficult cases are those involving an accusation that an adult was involved in sexual behavior with a child. We as a society strongly condemns such behavior. As a culture, we have both a number of

A Boy and a Lawyer – “down on the Farm.”

Let me give you an example involving an accusation against a well-respected lawyer. A young boy who nephew to the lawyer told his mother how he been out at the lawyer's farm and the lawyer “was dicking him.”

Mom took the child immediately to the police. They asked him what the lawyer was doing. The child once again said he “was dicking him.”

The case went to the prosecutor who, at that time, was in charge of sex crimes at the District Attorney's Office.

I'll tell you the end of the story in just a second but first, let's speak about four of the difficulties concerning child testimony in sex cases.


Children Can Give False Testimony without Lying.

Most parents recognize kids lie about certain things but, most adults think that children, particularly young children don't lie about sexual matters.

The testimony of children, particularly young children, is quite different from that of adults.

Children may honestly believe something to be true that never happened. For example, a child may tell his parents that he saw a monster under his bed. The child may honestly believe this. Adults will recognize that there is no monster under the bed and try their best to convince the child that he is simply mistaken in his belief.

While what the child is saying is not true, the child believes it to be true. In most people, whether child or adult exhibit different behaviors when they are speaking about something believed to be true as opposed to when they are intentionally lying.

There are a number of unconscious behaviors often displayed when we lie. For example, a young child might cover their mouth when telling a lie, almost as if to keep the lie in. The expression “shifty-eyed liar” is another example of unconscious behavior that may give way that someone's being dishonest.

But there won't be these clues when someone mistakenly believes what they are saying to be true. And as adults, we might scoff when a child says there's a monster under the bed; when the same child says uncle, Frank was on top of him on the bed we don't scoff and more often than not the police are called.


Children's Testimony Can Be Tainted

And this raises another difficulty in child testimony. Oftentimes well-meaning adults (and sometimes not so well-meaning adults) will repeatedly question the child about what happened. Whether intentionally or not the end result is that false memories can be planted in the child and their testimony can be tainted. If mom keeps asking the child “Tell me about Uncle Frank's touching you, it's okay just tell me where he touched you, was it your privates?” She may unintentionally be planting false memories in the child and the child may honestly believe that Uncle Frank did at some point in time touches privates.


Very Young Children Can Have Advanced Sexual Knowledge.

Another difficulty in child cases is the belief that children, particularly young children are not sexualized- that they lack sexual knowledge. Of course, given the prevalence of the Internet and the easy access to materials that are inappropriate for children many children now are exposed to sexual content and gain sexual knowledge that in past times was unheard of. This means that a young child may have a greater knowledge of sexual activities than most adults would expect. While a child's knowledge of sexual activities alone does not mean they are victims of a sexual abuse, this knowledge can cause great difficulties for someone who is falsely accused.


Things Get Lost in Translation.

Young children don't always communicate well. Sometimes things children say can be completely misinterpreted.

 The Hole Story

 So, what happened to the lawyer who is accused of “dicking” the child?

The prosecutor asked the child to be brought to his office. He then carefully questioned this child.

“What do you mean when you said your uncle was “dicking” you?

You know… “dicking”

Not really. Can you show me what you mean?

With this, the child lifted of both arms and quickly shove them towards the ground in a V motion.

The prosecutor asked where were you when all of this happened?

The child said we were riding in his truck and we get out and “dick” and then get back in the truck driver little and do it again. We did this a bunch. We had big sticks.

The prosecutor asked do you mean digging? Like with a post hole digger?

The child said yes, they were together “dicking” with the post hole “dicker.”

Fortunately, the prosecutor realized that this was simply a misunderstanding and the lawyer was not arrested and not charged with a crime.


Of course, I wonder if the person accused had not been a prominent lawyer if the case would've been so carefully screened. As terrible as true sex crimes against children are, it is also terrible when someone is mistakenly accused.

I truly hope that nobody reading this finds himself accused of any kind of sexual charge involving a child. Of course, if you are in this terrible predicament and, you're considering retaining a lawyer to help you feel free to call us.