Should Children Be Allowed To Testify In Court?
Over the past ten years, more research has been done involving
children's testimony than that of all the prior decades combined. Ceci & Bruck
(93) have cited four reasons for this :
- The opinion of psychology experts is increasingly being accepted by courts as
- Social research is more commonly being applied to the issues of children's
- More research into adult suggestibility in accordance with reason naturally
leads to more research into child suggestibility,
- Children are more commonly being used as witnesses in cases where they are
directly involved (i.e. sexual abuses cases), requiring the development of
better ways for dealing with them as special cases.
Some psychologists deem children to be “Highly resistant to suggestion,
as unlikely to lie, and as reliable as adult witnesses about acts perpetrated
on their bodies” (Ceci & Bruck 1993). However, children are also described as “
Having difficulty distinguishing reality from fantasy, as being susceptible to
coaching by powerful authority figures, and therefore as being potentially less
reliable than adults” (Ceci & Bruck 1993). The suggestibility of child witnesses,
the effects of participation on children's reports, and the effects of postevent
information on a prior memory representation must be taken into account when it
comes to seeking answers to the reliability of their testimony, especially
because sexual abuse and sexual assault cases are a big part of children's
testimony and they are often the only witness.
Those psychologists who feel that children can be rated as “Highly
resistant to suggestion....” etc. seem to have a good argument, whereas those
who take the opposite view also seem to have just as valid an argument. Which
psychologists are right? Maybe both. It seems that without outside influences,
social encounters, or other interference's, children's testimony has the
potential to be quite valid. This is under ideal situations, however, which
unfortunately rarely occur.
One of the major problems when assessing the validity of child witnesses
is the suggestibility of the child. Ceci & Bruck (1993) define suggestibility
as “The degree to which children's encoding, storage, retrieval, and reporting
of events can be influenced by a range of social and psychological factors.” A
child's perception of events may be manipulated by many factors with misleading
questions being the most common way to assess a subjects suggestibility (Smith
& Ellsworth, 87). A misleading question according to Smith et al, is one that “
provides information that is inconsistent with the event witnessed, suggesting,
for example, the existence of an object that was in fact not present.” After
being asked leading questions, a subject is much more likely than a person not
asked leading questions to report the presented false information as correct.