Memory processes in children: implications for investigations of alleged child sexual abuse.

E. K. Johnson and R. J. Howell,
Bull. Amer. Acad. Psychiatry & the Law 21(2): 213-26, 1993.
Allegations of child sexual abuse naturally raise the ire of the populace at large, as well as the fears and apprehensions of those who may be falsely accused as perpetrators. Within this emotionally charged and litigious climate, the memory functions of children have become a matter of acute interest for those professionals involved in the ensuing investigations and legal proceedings. This is especially true, given that the child witness, approaching a court of law, is likely to encounter numerous circumstances that will invite memory distortion. These circumstances include interviews by concerned adults and protective service workers, as well as cross-examination by a defense attorney. Well-intentioned efforts may be replete with leading questions or subtle inferences that may distort episodic memory. The present paper will discuss developmental aspects of long-term memory functions in children, events, and cognitive processes that may contribute to memory distortion, and recommendations for improving procedures related to the investigations of alleged child sexual abuse.