Science of child abuse, its media presentation, and forensic considerations
Organizer: Jennifer J. Freyd, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology, University of Oregon, Eugene, Oregon, 97403. Phone: 541/346-4950, fax: 541/346-4911, email: email@example.com. AAAS Fellow, Section J, Psychology,
Co-Organizer: Kathy Pezdek. Ph.D., Professor of Psychology, Claremont Graduate University, 123 East Eighth Street, Claremont, CA 91711-3955. Phone/fax: 909/621-6900. email: Kathy.Pezdek@cgu.edu.
The study of child abuse, and the larger domain of trauma research, is inherently among the most political of research endeavors. Trauma studies intersect with many of the most controversial social issues of modern times. The role of trauma in our culture, particularly intergenerational violence and sexual abuse, rape, incest, and domestic violence touch deeply held beliefs and values in all of us. In addition, the study of trauma leads us into larger legal, social, and cultural questions, the meaning of violence in our society, and even varying cultural and religious views about human sexuality, the nature of the family, and the relationship between men and women.
We will examine the methodological approaches taken in some of the research in this area: its applicability and its limitations to understanding child abuse and trauma, including the way researchers frame their research questions, the way this research is presented to the media, and the way the media portrays this research. The presenters will also discuss how and why trends in scientific research, and the media presentation of this work, can foster disbelief in reports by victims, discount the experiences of real victims of sexual abuse, and create opportunities for misuse of research results in forensic contexts.
Misleading and Confusing Media Portrayals of Memory Research
Jennifer J. Freyd, PhD, Professor of Psychology, University of Oregon
Freyd is the moderator of this symposium. In her opening remarks she
will comment on errors often made in coverage of research on memory for
childhood abuse. These errors include imprecise use of terms and the conflating
of conceptually distinct aspects of human memory. Freyd will suggest tools
for clarifying the scientific issues, with the goal of promoting the advancement
of science in this area, and with the goal of promoting the constructive
and appropriate application of research results.
Confidentiality and Problems Verifying Claims about Childrens Testimony
Ross E. Cheit, PhD, JD, Associate Professor of Political Science and Public Policy, Brown University
There is an obvious and recognized need to protect the identities of
children testifying in child abuse cases. Most states provide basic protections
aimed at protecting the names, addresses and phone numbers of alleged
victims in these cases. Some state statutes protect the court record more
broadly. Trial court judges also have the authority to issue protective
orders seeking to seal sensitive evidence, particularly audio or videotapes
of child interviews. Neither the literal effectiveness of these protections
nor their broader consequences, intended and otherwise, have received
much scholarly attention. This paper argues that some of the most intensely
publicized casescases where privacy protections are simultaneously
most relevant and most severely challengedsuggest serious cause
for concern. Court orders have routinely been violated in high-profile
cases, leaving the intended beneficiaries of these rules (children) with
little or no protection. Despite these breaches in privacy, the scholarship
about childrens testimony is surprisingly difficult to scrutinize.
In the name of protecting anonymity, standards of scholarship in this
area have suffered. Ironically, efforts to protect childrens privacy
in criminal proceedings have apparently helped insulate a body of scholarship
that unduly favors the defense position in these cases.
The Costs and Consequences of Child Abuse
Frank W. Putnam, MD, Professor of Pediatrics and Child Psychiatry at Children's Hospital Medical Center, Cincinnati, OH.
The long term consequences of childhood maltreatment are often regarded
as 'merely psychological' and therefore frequently dismissed as essentially
inconsequential in terms of physical health and economic costs. Recent
research, however, has identified significant impacts on physical health
as well as dramatically increasing an individual's risk for costly disabling
mental disorders such as major depression and suicide. It is now documented
that childhood maltreatment and related adverse childhood experiences
make a substantial contribution to many of our leading public health problems.
Among these are drug and alcohol abuse, AIDS, tobacco use (heart disease
and lung cancer), and major depression. Research is also providing evidence
that child maltreatment results in dysregulation of neuroendocrine stress
response systems and impairs early brain development. Although a rigorous
economic analysis remains to be done, informed estimates of the costs
of child maltreatment range from $50 - 100 billion dollar annually. Several
child abuse prevention programs have proven their effectiveness, although
results to date remain modest. Investment in child abuse prevention and
early intervention research could have a substantial impact on several
of the most costly public health problems facing the United States.
Stranger danger and the false denial of sexual abuse
Thomas D. Lyon, J.D., Ph.D., Professor, USC Law School
Media coverage of stranger child abductions may distort public perceptions
regarding the risks of child sexual abuse. Stranger abductions are popular
in the media precisely because they are so rare, whereas sexual abuse
by people familiar to the victim is quite common. The virtue of media
coverage, however, is that close analysis of some high-profile cases reveals
that victims and perpetrators are often involved in more mundane abuse
that has gone undetected or was not believed. Stranger abductions that
can be proven enable the public to accept and believe the familiar abuse
that had been overlooked.
False Memory Research: A Study in Problematic Research Paradigms
Kathy Pezdek. Ph.D., Professor of Psychology, Claremont Graduate University
Kathy Pezdek is Professor of Psychology and Director of the Applied Cognitive
Psychology program at Claremont Graduate University. As discussant of
this symposium, she will identify cross-cutting themes in the papers presented.
From her point of view as a cognitive psychologist, Pezdek will also discuss
current methodological trends in cognitive psychology research that may
sometimes have the effect of trivializing real memories of abuse victims.