Saturday, September 26, 2015

How Interviwer Bias Can Cause Children to Confirm False Stories

            Upon reading the section "The Suggestibility of Young Children", I was immediately more interested in the story of Kelly Michaels and decided to do more research on this infamous court case. After young preschool teacher, Kelly Michaels, was accused of sexually abusing her students at Wee Care daycare center, based on a misinterpreted comment made by one student, interviewers began questioning all the children at the daycare to acquire more evidence. The problem with this was that the interviewers had a bias. They were already convinced that Michaels was guilty and conducted their interviews in a way that was highly suggestible to the young children. While at first the children would deny any inappropriate or threatening behavior made by their teacher, the interviewers kept pressing until they were satisfied. Ultimately, they would repeatedly ask the same questions until the children falsely admitted to the teacher sexually abusing them, even being asked to demonstrate certain actions on anatomically correct dolls.
            An article in Crime Magazine thoroughly explains the problem with the way this case was investigated, explaining that the justice system overlooked the behavior and thoughts of the young children. Parents, jurors, and interviewers alike all falsely believed that children could provide adequate information to convicting this innocent woman. The more they suggested certain ideas to the kids, the more the children believed that these things actually did happen to them. Parents also began mistaking common toddler behavior for signs of previous sexual abuse. This was all a result of the hysteria that surrounded this case. People became so paranoid and so convinced that these children had been abused and molested that they were willing to believe almost anything without considering rationality.
            Today, these interviewing techniques are not used on children because they have proved to produce false, sometimes damaging results. Interviewing a child properly can produce truthful results, but suggesting an idea repeatedly to a child can falsely convince them that it has actually happened to them. This pseudo scientific method of interviewing and research based more on feelings than facts can place innocents, such as Kelly Michaels, in jail and mentally damage the children involved. That is why it is important to understand the behavior of young children before interviewing them in criminal cases, and these issues should be approached without bias that leads to false claims.

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