When a child says they have been abused, it is important to listen to the child. Allegations of child molestation are very serious and if there is any truth to what the child is saying, it needs to be investigated and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
Unfortunately, there are some people who are willing to influence a child to say things that are untrue. Coaching in a child molestation case occurs when a person convinces a child to make false allegations of child abuse.
Coaching can be purposeful and malicious or well-meaning and perhaps even unintentional. Purposeful and malicious coaching can be found in the context of custody or divorce cases. When a divorce turns ugly, sometimes one parents will seek to gain an advantage over the other by resorting to coaching. It is almost as unthinkable to believe that a caregiver would use a child as a weapon in this manner, but there have been documented cases where this has occurred.
In other instances, a well-meaning adult may unintentionally coach a child into making false allegations of child molestation by asking frequent leading questions. Studies have shown that children are very malleable and if an adult whom they trust tells them that something has occurred, they can come to actually believe that the thing has occurred. This is often referred to as suggestibility. If the person questioning the child has a grudge against the accused person, a child may even pick up on this bias, making the risk of false allegations even greater.
It is important to determine how many times a child who is alleging abuse was questioned and by whom. It is imperative that the adult who questions the child avoid using leading questions such as “Johnny touched your private area, didn’t he?”. Leading questions such as the one above, even if they are unintentional, can taint the child’s recollection and lead to false allegations.
One sign that a child has been coached can be use of age inappropriate technical terms. For example, if a six-year-old child tells law enforcement that she would like to “report that she has been molested”, this could be a sign that an adult is telling her what to say. Another sign of coaching is rote adherence to the exact same telling of a story with no added contextual details or variations from how the story is told. This tends to indicate that the child is recalling what someone told them to say instead of accessing an actual episodic memory.
However, it is important to note studies which indicate that a child who has been successfully coached can sometimes come to believe the false allegations even to the point of forming false memories complete with contextual details. This is part of what makes being falsely accused of child molestation so terrifying. If you or a loved one has been falsely accused of molesting a child, you should contact an attorney immediately. An experienced attorney, like a sex crimes lawyer Atlanta, GA trusts, can help you determine if coaching may have played a role in the false allegations you are facing.
Thanks to our friends and contributors from Andrew R. Lynch, P.C. for their insight into coaching in child molestation cases.