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Children’s Memory and Childhood Abuse

Fantastic Elements in Child Disclosure of Abuse. (Dalenberg 1996). Full Text.
Impact: 644 children’s videotaped disclosures of sexual abuse were evaluated in regard to fantastical elements; Half of the children consisted of a “gold standard” group, in which the perpetrator confessed and sufficient medical evidence of abuse was found. 7% of children aged 3 to 9 in the “gold standard” group included fantastical elements in their disclosures. The rate of fantastical elements in sexual abuse disclosures was 15% in “gold standard” children who had been severely abused. The study assessed the responses interviewers had to fantastic disclosures: it was found that interviewers were not facilitating the claims. The younger and more severe the abuse, the more likely “gold standard” children were to have fantastic elements when disclosing abuse.
Excerpt: These findings directly counter the hypothesis that fantastic elements in
children's accounts of abuse give reason to discredit the entire account… These data suggest that automatically discrediting such accounts could allow the most severely abusive adults to continue their abuse, since their victims will be disbelieved.

Understanding Bizarre, Improbable, and Fantastic Elements in Children's Accounts of Abuse. (Everson 1997). Full Text.
Impact: Mark Everson explains possible mechanisms behind fantastical elements of disclosures found in Dalenberg’s 1996 study, arguing that the mechanisms behind fantastic elements should be examined before dismissing the child’s allegations. Everson’s proposed potential mechanisms fall into three categories. (1) Interaction of the abusive event with child characteristics: memory distortion due to psychological trauma, threat incorporation, deliberate attempts to confuse the child, or drugs. The use of fantasy in the service of mastery over anxiety, and misperception or miscommunication due to developmental limitations. (2) Interactions with the interview process: Distortion due to interview fatigue or interview props and the use of exaggeration to gain attention or sympathy. (3) Extrinsic factors: distortion due to cultural narratives, dreams or nightmares, or psychosis.

The child sexual abuse accommodation syndrome. (Summit, 1983). Full Text.
Impact: This paper outlines five categories of reactions children could have to childhood abuse that are often a “contradiction to the most common assumptions of adults.” These reactions compound the trauma of the abuse itself and can drive the child deeper into self-blame, self-hate, alienation, and revictimization. Clinicians have the power to interrupt the accommodation process and thereby not only to prevent the victim's emotional disability but also to break the intergenerational cycle of child abuse.

Say it once again: Effects of repeated questions on children’s event recall. (Fivush & Schwarzmueller, 1995).
Impact: This paper reviews research examining the influences of repeated questioning on children’s event recall. Integrating the research findings, the paper presents a developmental framework for understanding the effects of repeated questioning that relies on children’s developing memory and narrative skills as well as their social understanding of the recall context.

Children’s memory for trauma and positive experiences. (Berliner, Hyman, Thomas, & Fitzgerald, 2003). Full Text.
Impact: Results revealed that memories for trauma tended to have less sensory detail and coherence, yet have more meaning and impact than did memories for positive experiences. Sexual traumas, offender relationship, and perceived life threat were associated with memory characteristics. Possible explanations include divided attention during the traumatic event and cognitive avoidance occurring after the event.

Memory presentations of childhood sexual abuse. (Burgess, Hartman, & Baker, 1995).
Impact: Questions are continually raised about the accuracy and validity of very young children’s memories of traumatic events. This study evaluated the memory of children who disclosed sexual abuse. Data from this clinical study suggest the nature of children’s memory is four-dimensional: somatic, behavioral, verbal, and visual.

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