120220BrownFeb. 20, 2012

Cynthia Brown, medical director of the Mountain Child Medical Evaluation Program at Mission Children’s Hospital in Asheville, was among the first pediatricians credentialed in the subspecialty of child abuse. I asked her to summarize current medical opinion on ritual-abuse day-care cases. Here are excerpts of her response:

“One criticism common to the day-care cases in the ’80s was the inadequate interviewing process used for those children. Some interviewers reportedly made assumptions that abuse had occurred and used leading questions. As a result of these cases, major changes have been made in interviewing protocols. Interviewers go through extensive training and are expected to participate in peer review to assure they are using the protocols correctly.

“In our clinic we meet with the investigators (DSS and law enforcement) and review the child’s initial disclosure….

“We discuss alternative hypotheses….: Could the child have witnessed adult sexual activity accidentally, or through videos or computers? Could the child have been coached? Has the child been inadvertently contaminated by questions asked by a panicked parent?….

“The interview is videorecorded for review by the investigators. It also allows us to evaluate the
caliber of the disclosure and the questioning….

“Several years ago, I spoke with someone involved in one of the day-care cases who now believes there was a kernel of truth in the allegation but that it was obscured by contamination and leading interviews.

“One last thing: The FBI has looked into cases where ritualistic satanic abuse was alleged (not all were in day cares) and has never been able to validate these claims.”