Psychological Experts in CSA Trials

Back in September 2011, I mused about how helpful psychological experts are in CSA trials. Testimony will inevitably have to address developments in several areas, including patterns of disclosure, memory, suggestibility, quality of forensic interviews, and error rates of CSA decision-making, highly technical stuff. The work of Bruck and Ceci has remained authoritative for almost 20 years.

Here are several of their recent papers.

The superb chapter, Forensic Developmental Psychology in the Courtroom, is found in the 6th edition of Ziskin’s classic text, Coping with Psychiatric and Psychological Testimony. The review is a concise, hard-hitting expose of the status of CSA behavioral science. The heart of the paper are Misconceptions and Qualifications of Research on Children’s Suggestibility. Bottom line: interviews do not have to include direct or leading questions to be suggestive and not only young children are suggestible. The volume is an update of Ziskin’s classic text debunking (poor) mental health testimony.

A related paper is found in the Annual Review of Clinical Psychology debunking many assumptions that are commonly found in expert testimony. They assert a primary finding: there is no scientifically valid method to distinguish true and false reports (Unwarranted assumption 6: “false reports produced by suggestive interviewing are distinguishable from accurate reports”). This is also the cases in true and false confessions, an issue I have addressed before an will adsress again.

In the spirit of Ziskin, their paper in the fine text book edited by Skeem, Douglas, & Lilienfeld, 2009, reviews the behavioral science research on traumatic memory, “conditions likely to elicit false reports, the psychological status of false reports, and developmental trends in both.” The book has several others chapters critically reviewing forensic topics.

Bruck and Ceci’s most significant contributions in the last 5 years addresses disclosure, a controversial topic in the courtroom when defense and prosecution attorneys try to prove or disprove cases based on disclosure patterns. Two immensely scholarly papers in prestigious journals reprise these issues including methodological implications for forensic interviewers.


London, K., Bruck, M., Ceci, S., & Shuman, D. (2005). Disclosure of child sexual abuse: What does the research tell us about the ways that children tell? Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, 11, 1, 194-226.

Ceci, S., Kulkofsky, S., Klemfuss, J., Sweeney, C., & Bruck, M. (2007). Unwarranted assumptions about children’s testimonial accuracy. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, 3, 311-328.

Bruck, M., Ceci, S. Reliability of child witness reports. In Skeem, J., Douglas, K., & Lilienfeld, S. (2009). Psychological science in the courtroom: Consensus and controversy. New York: Guilford Press.

Bruck, M., & Ceci, S. Forensic developmental psychology in the court room. In D. Faust (Ed.)(2012). Coping with psychiatric and psychological testimony. New York: Oxford University Press.


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