Allegations of child physical or child sexual abuse can be impacted by delay at three separate points in time: between the first incident of abuse and its disclosure, between disclosure and the forensic interview, and between the forensic interview and the child’s testimony at trial.
The Memory-Accuracy-Detail belief is based on the idea that the more details an eyewitness reports, the more accurate is their testimony. A companion belief is that the more vivid a memory is, the more accurate it must be.
Over the past three decades dozens of research studies have identified the optimal forensic interview techniques to use when questioning children about allegations of physical and sexual abuse. These studies have culminated in a set of best-practices which, if carefully followed, can assist children to provide reliable narrative accounts of their experiences.
Understanding the mechanics of how human memory works is necessary for assessing allegations of child sexual abuse. In his text, memory researcher Richard McNally (2005) explains basic principles involved in memory for normal and traumatic events. Following is a summary of processes that are relevant when evaluating these allegations.
Research-based forensic interview protocols direct interviewers to use question prompts that encourage children to report events in their own words and minimize questions that convey information from the interviewer or that introduces topics the child has not previously mentioned (Poole, 2016).