July 16 2001
Scholars Debate Extent of Suggestive Questioning
by David Marshall
David Marshall is a Seattle attorney who
concentrates his practice in child abuse cases and is an expert on legal
issues in the area.
psychologist Stephen Ceci and law professor Richard D. Friedman have
published a defense of the work of Ceci and other researchers in child
suggestibility. Their article answers an attack on that research by law
professor Thomas D. Lyon.
child subjects in studies by Ceci and others were questioned much more
suggestively than are children in actual child abuse investigations.
Ceci and Friedman describe field research showing that investigators-even
very experienced ones-routinely obtain information by asking children
leading and suggestive questions.
argued that children tend not to acquiesce to false suggestions that they
have been molested. This argument is based on the work of psychologist Gail
Goodwin, whom Lyon called the "researcher-heroine of the child
Friedman answer that Goodwin's results actually support Ceci's and his
colleagues'. Some of the children Goodwin studied did acquiesce to
abuse-related suggestions. Lyon's disagreement with Ceci and others may
amount to a disagreement about whether the glass is half empty or half
Friedman agree with Lyon that suggestive child interviewing increases the
chance of eliciting a true abuse allegation-and also increases the chance
of eliciting a false one. In considering how suggestive questioning ought
to be, then, one is weighing two harms: failure to detect child abuse
versus conviction of the innocent.
Friedman's article, "The Suggestibility of Children: Scientific
Research and Legal Implications," appears at 86 Cornell L. Rev. 33
(Nov. 2000). Lyon's, "The New Wave in Children's Suggestibility
Research: A Critique," appears at 84 Cornell L. Rev. 1004 (1999).