Climate Of Fear

Allegations of sexual abuse by daycare providers created a climate of hysteria during the 80's and early 90's. Universal panic ensued as parents heard horror stories of children abused through satanic rituals and other severe types of child abuse perpetrated by providers against the children in their charge.

Kern County

The uproar began with an abuse case in Kern County, California. Once this case came to light, daycare sexual abuse was brought to the fore of the public consciousness where it remained the focus of media coverage for close to ten years. Other abuse cases began to pop up throughout the United States and then in Canada, New Zealand, Brazil, and several European countries.

The background for the numerous allegations of abuse began in the late 70's and early 80's as more and more women began to work outside of their homes, creating a demand for daycare centers. The daycare market enjoyed a huge boom while working mothers struggled over feelings of guilt and anxiety for leaving their young ones with strangers. These events and the subsequent maternal emotions generated by them are believed to have contributed to a pervasive sense of fear and a willingness to believe accusations of abuse without proof.

One of the issues that arose from the public panic was the difficulties of obtaining reliable testimony from children. Child testimony is vulnerable to wide variety of outside influences. An article written by Maggie Bruck and published by the American Psychological Association stated that children will weave parts of an interviewer's query into their responses so as to provide the interviewer with answers he believes are sought.

Nonsensical Questions

According to one study, when adults ask children nonsensical questions, for instance, "Is water bigger than milk?" or, "Is yellow heavier than yellow?" most children will provide a response. They think that an answer is what is called for rather than an understanding of the question. If the same question is repeated, a child will change his response because he takes the repetition of the question to mean that his former response was incorrect. Research has also borne out the fact that children are more vulnerable than adults when asked leading or suggestive questions. 

In counterbalance to these findings, other studies have suggested that only a small number of reports on child sexual abuse will be found to be untrue. Still other studies emphasize that children tend to be understated when reporting instances of abuse. 

There is no doubt that the bias of the interviewer plays an important part in molding a child's testimony. Preconceived notions on the part of the interviewer tend to result in questions that would elicit responses supporting these assumptions. An interviewer may not even look for evidence to disprove these ideas. He may offer positive reinforcement (nodding, smiling) to the child for providing the answers he prefers, eliciting further responses along the same lines. Research has discovered that when interviewers offer statements of reassurance, children have a greater tendency to fabricate tales of fictional events in the past.