A case study of child sexual false allegation

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Purpose: The objectives of the case study reported in this article were twofold. The first objective was to follow the path by which a naive suggestion made in the course of a mother-child conversation was transformed into an allegation of severe sexual abuse. The second objective was to analyze the child's interview scientifically and explore the limitations of scientific tools for detecting implausible allegations. Methods: Independent case facts were collected and analyzed to determine whether the event described by the child was likely to have happened. The credibility of the child's account was assessed using Criterion-Based Content Analysis and the information provided in both the "implausible" and "corrected" statements was compared to quantify the fabricated details in the implausible statement. Results: The event described by the child was "very unlikely to have happened" but the credibility assessment failed to detect its implausibility. Comparison of the two statements revealed that the child did fabricate central details but incorporated them into a description of an event she really experienced, and most of the information provided was truthful. Conclusions: The pressure to conform to suggestions can be irresistible, inducing some children to make false allegations of severe sexual abuse. Scientific tools designed for credibility assessment are limited and may fail to detect implausible statements especially when they incorporate information about genuinely experienced events.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1397-1411
Number of pages15
JournalChild Abuse and Neglect
Issue number10
StatePublished - 2001


  • Child sexual abuse
  • False allegations
  • Suggestibility

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health


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