111125TalbotApril 10, 2013

“Consider the use of anatomically detailed dolls to prompt shy or frightened children to reveal abuse. This was an innovation of the 1970s, and at first it certainly seemed like an effective and compassionate one.

“But more recent studies have cast doubt on whether these dolls prompt more accurate recall, especially for the pre-schoolage children for whom they are usually deployed.

“The doll is supposed to be a body double for the child him- or herself; but since the vast majority of children this age lack the symbolic thinking required to make such a connection– most two- and three-year-olds, for example, cannot see the relation between a room and a scale model of it – this proposition turns out to be rather dubious.

“More to the point, it seems that some children who have not been sexually abused will also play with an anatomically detailed doll in sexually suggestive ways – promptly removing its clothes, touching or grabbing its ‘genitals,’ sticking their fingers into various orifices. As the authors of one study judiciously put it, the ‘average amount of sexualized doll play by presumably non-abused children is not alarming, but there is enough of it to be potentially problematic in clinical or forensic situations.’

“In other words, if you are prepared to see signs of abuse, you may see them even in behavior that, in other contexts or at other times, would be attributed to normal sexual curiosity.

“And this is precisely the issue: At a time when there was comparatively little data available on what constituted normal sexuality in children, this vacuum was filled by people with a very narrow view of the possibilities.”

– From “Against Innocence: The truth about child abuse and the truth about children” by Margaret Talbot in The New Republic (March 15, 1999)

Prosecution therapists in the Little Rascals case made extensive use of anatomically correct dolls. During Bob Kelly’s trial, therapist Janet Hadler of Chapel Hill showed a video clip of a 5-year-old girl pressing together the pelvises of a male and a female doll. “Children who are demonstrating explicit sexual contact,” Hadler testified confidently, “are doing that because they have some knowledge of adult sexual behavior.”