Assessing the reliability of child sex abuse allegations: Protocol for the attorney and forensic practitioner

Child sex abuse allegations commonly arise in criminal prosecutions, child protection matters, and divorce/custody disputes. These allegations are high stakes situations for both children and the accused. This outline provides a framework for assessing the reliability of allegations. It is based on a large evidence based review of the literature.

Context—what is the family/relationship context of the disclosure?

Credibility—how credible are the disclosures in terms of the specific behaviors and situation?

Confirmation-forensic interview: the first forensic interview is usually considered the best evidence, but is subject to a number of qualifications*.

Forensic interviews: Best practice standards–There are national best practice standards for the conduct of child forensic interviews. Was the interview competently conducted by a qualified interviewer? Was the interview protocol based on recommended guidelines (e.g., NICHD interview protocol)?

Chain of custody—to whom was the disclosure made? Has the disclosure changed across time?

Influences—what are potential influences on the disclosure and chain of custody?

Taint/contamination—has the chain of disclosure been contaminated? Is there evidence that other have interviewed the child? Is there evidence that the child have been videotaped by a parent or others?

True allegations—are the allegations plausible, properly documented according to best practice guidelines, is the child a competent witness, can taint be ruled out?

False versus fabricated allegations—is the allegation based on a mistake of fact? Are the allegations fully fabricated?

False versus fabricated allegations—fabricated allegations are often driven by malice

Coaching false allegations: a recognized form of child abuse

Error rates: true positives (it happened), true negatives (it did not happen), false positives (it didn’t happen but the alleged perpetrator is falsely accused: harm to innocent person), false negatives (it did happen but the accused was not identified: harm to child and other potential victims).

Standard of proof and decision error: the lower the standard of proof the higher the false positive rate. The higher the standard of proof the higher the false negative rate.

A CPS determination is the lowest standard of proof and creates a proportionately higher rate of false positives; law enforcement and prosecutors review allegations and make determinations whether they can meet the highest standard or proof (beyond reasonable doubt); judges use a preponderance of evidence standard.

Defendants may find themselves caught in between: prosecutors may not go forward but CPS substantiates the allegations.

Permanent contamination–Both children’s and adult memories may be permanently altered due to contamination. Thus, the child may come to believe that they were abused. This poses a problem for future providers since it provoke a repetitive cycle of allegations.

Admissibility of disclosure evidence. Best practice guidelines dictate that all forensic evidence should be documented in audio or video format.

* child’s age and competency; period of time since emergence of disclosure; pre-interview taint.


Hawaii – Pacific Assessment Clinic, Honolulu, Hawaii

Marvin W. Acklin, PhD PC is the site of the Hawaii – Pacific Assessment Clinic. The clinic is directed by Dr. Acklin with his staff of trained psychological assistants. The clinic provides a broad range of assessment consultation for children, adolescents, and adults, for clinical, administrative, and forensic purposes. Dr. Acklin is board-certified in clinical, […]


Alexithymia and Violence: Understanding Rage Murder

This a presentation at the Society for Personality Assessment in Washington DC in March 2018 on the clinical and forensic assessment of alexithymia. The attached paper examines alexithymia and rage-type murder, typically extreme violence that occurs in intimate relationships. The paper discusses rage type murder as a type of affective or impulsive violence as opposed […]


Forensic Psychology at Society for Personality Assessment

Forensic Interest Group Newsletter: May 19, 2018 Marvin W. Acklin, PhD, ABAP, ABPP Why is forensic psychological assessment important to SPA? Or why is SPA important to forensic psychological assessment? There have been substantial changes in the landscape of personality assessment in the past 30 years. Aside from the general decline of assessment services through […]


Orientation to Threat Risk Assessment and Management

Marvin W. Acklin, PhD, ABPP Steven Taketa, PsyD Date: February 15, 2018   Purpose of presentation: To provide participants with basic definitions, concepts, and tools in the structured professional judgment of targeted violence risk assessment and management. Definitions: Threat. Perceived possibility of harm, or statement conveying an intention to cause harm. Violence. Any actual, attempted, […]


Development of a Threat Assessment Team — In progress.

The latest tragic school shooting in South Florida, especially in light of the revelation that that the shooter was reported to the FBI in the previous month, increases the necessity of working local threat assessment teams combining qualified mental health and law enforcement. The attached is a presentation made to Threat Team Oahu on February […]


End of the World: Nuclear Hysteria in Hawaii

On Saturday morning 01/13/2018, around 8:00 AM, the population of Hawaii was informed throuthe statewide emergency alert system of an incoming ballistic missile warning. The warning added, “This is not a drill.” It took authorities 38 minutes to issue a false alarm alert. Regardless of how this SNAFU happened, this singular event provides a natural […]


APA Guidelines for the Practice of Telepsychology

Abstract: “These guidelines are designed to address the developing area of psychological service provision commonly known as telepsychology. Telepsychology is defined, for the purpose of these guidelines, as the provision of psychological services using telecommunication technologies as expounded in the “Definition of Telepsychology.” The expanding role of technology in the provision of psychological services and […]


G2i Knowledge Brief: A Knowledge Brief of the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Law and Neuroscience

Free download of PDf available. Abstract Courts are daily confronted with admissibility issues – such as in cases involving neuroscientific testimony – that sometimes involve both the existence of a general phenomenon (i.e., “G”) and the question of whether a particular case represents a specific instance of that general phenomenon (i.e., “i”).  Unfortunately, courts have yet […]


Proper and Improper Uses of Therapists in Child Custody and Access Disputes

The Family Court and attorneys regularly assign community therapists to provide information concerning a child’s visitation. Apparently judges and attorneys think that is what therapists are there for. These assignments usually involve reimbursement by a third party payor (i.e., health insurance). This practice blurs the lines between clinical and forensic roles, often involves therapists who […]