Network Formation

By the time a child is initially interviewed regarding allegations of sexual abuse, she is frequently surrounded by a network of adults who already assume that the alleged abuse did occur. Surrounded by a network of adults who believe she has been abused, the child is under enormous pressure to conform her reports to what this trusted network of adults believes. From an early age, children perceive their adult conversational partners as cooperative, truthful and not deceptive (Nelson, K. & Gruendel, J. (1979). Thus, children attribute more credibility to what adults say compared to their peers (Ackerman, 1983). In response to the influences of this kind of an adult network, children can readily revise their memories regarding allegations of sexual abuse. The processes of memory revision are such that the child remains unaware of how their own memory has been contaminated and distorted over time; and consequently, the child most certainly is not consciously fabricating events.  Similarly, the adult network surrounding the child also is not engaged in any deliberate process of fabrication.

Peer Group Influences

As long as 1900, Binet reported that children will alter their responses to conform with those of their peer group — even when the altered responses are mistaken (Binet, 1900).  Children’s recollections of a sniper attack on a school in February of 1984 were also profoundly influenced by their peers (Pynoos & Nader, 1989). Some of the children who were interviewed about this incident were not at the school during the shooting.  They were either already on their way home after school or otherwise absent. Nevertheless, even these nonwitnesses reported memories:

“One girl initially said that she was at the school gate nearest the sniper when the shootings began.  In truth, she was not only out of the line of fire, she was half a block away.  A boy who had been away on vacation said that he had been on his way to the school, had seen someone lying on the ground, had heard the shots, and then turned back.  In actuality, a police barricade prevented anyone from approaching the block around the school” (Pynoos, R.S. & Nader, K. (1989, p. 238).

Wanting to define themselves as part of the “in-group” that experienced this attack, these children subsequently revised their memories of what they witnessed.  Otherwise, they would have felt reduced to “out-group” status.