The first step in assessing false allegations of child sexual abuse involves the “Who, What, Where, When and Why” conceptualization of the allegations. While the formal allegations, in either a civil or criminal matter, may be a simple, one- sentence assertion, the components of the stated allegations are generally much more extensive.For example, the formally stated allegation may be: “That the alleged perpetrator did place his finger in the vagina of the victim while bathing her on the evening of… .” The “components” of this allegation will be determined by a careful exploration and evaluation of data leading to the formal complaint. Rarely, if ever, do false allegations emerge spontaneously, from within a vacuum.
While exploration of these factors in a normal and natural part of an attorney’s initial inquiry, a word of caution is in order. This initial inquiry often becomes the foundation for discovery activities and thus the overall conceptualization of the case.
Failure to probe carefully and vigorously at this point, in my experience, is most often responsible for the oversight of critical forensic evidence.
Thus, if we return to our example, a careful review of the evaluation of this allegation may reveal the following components:  The child was first counseled by her teacher who began to notice “acting out” behavior;  In the course of the teacher’s intervention, the child reported that she wet the bed the other night;  The teacher contacted the mother who explained that she was going through a divorce owing to the “father’s strange sexual behavior”;  The child was referred to a “sexual abuse expert” who subsequently found that the child’s behavior was “consistent with” sexual abuse by the father though no such behavior was directly reported by the child;  The “sexual abuse expert” made a report to the Child Protective Agency as required by law;  Upon interview by a caseworker, the child “discloses” that her father “touched her down there”;  An emergency hearing brought by social services results in the father being removed from the home pending a full investigation;  The child is placed in “treatment” at the protective service agency;  During the course of “treatment” the child “discloses” that the father put his finger “inside” her;  The formal allegation is made in the context of the divorce litigation as the protective service agency does not recommend criminal charges since the father poses no danger to the child at this time.
I have seen scenarios such as this in case after case nationally. It will serve the attorney well to make careful, detailed notes regarding each detail of each component. The example provided above is condensed and summarized for purposes of illustration. In reality one will encounter scores of components in the typical case.
The next important step is to develop a list of questions that flow naturally from each identified component. For example:
 “The child was first counseled by her teacher who began to notice ‘acting out’ behavior.” What was the specific behavior observed? When was it observed? Is this a common behavior for this age?
Has the teacher been instructed regarding the identification of sexual abuse (most have)? By whom? When? What was the content of the instruction? Does the teacher have a background as a counselor or history of working with sexually abused children? Since teachers are mandated reporters of suspected child abuse, why didn’t she make a report? Has she made reports in the past? Why did she decide not to make a report at this time?
 “In the course of the teacher’s intervention the child reported that she wet the bed the other night.” When and where did this meeting with the child take place? Were the parents notified of the meeting and its purpose? Why so, or not? Was there anyone present at the meeting? Were notes taken or was the meeting recorded by any means? Did the teacher speak to anyone, other than those already identified, about the child following the meeting? How did the subject of bedwetting come up? What were the child’s exact words? What inquiries did the teacher make into the child’s home-life? Why were these inquiries made? Was the content and manner of this meeting consistent with the teacher’s sexual abuse prevention training? At what exact point did the teacher suspect child abuse?
 “The teacher contacted the mother who explained that she was going through a divorce owing to the father’s strange sexual behavior.” What is the history of communications between the mother and the teacher? Between the father and the teacher? Why was the father not contacted by the teacher? Did she at this time suspect sexual abuse? If so, why didn’t she report it as required by law? What kind of “strange” sexual behavior did the mother report to the teacher? Did the teacher make notes regarding the conversation with the mother? If not, why not? Did she think the mother’s report was important? Did she discuss her conversation with the mother with anyone? Who? When?
 “The child was referred to a ’sexual abuse expert’ who subsequently found that the child’s behavior was ‘consistent with’ sexual abuse by the father though no such behavior was directly reported by the child.” When the teacher made the referral, did she forward any written notes, write a letter, etc.? How is it that the teacher knew to make a referral to this individual? Was this referral consistent with the teacher’s training and the school’s written protocol in such matters? Is there any relationship, professional, social or otherwise, between the teacher and the expert? At the time of the referral, did the teacher suspect that the child was abused? If so, why did she not make a report as required by law? What are the dates, times, locations, and duration of meetings between the child and the expert? What written notes or recordings of each meeting were made? Was anyone else present at any of these meetings? Did the expert consult with anyone else regarding the child? What is the educational background of the expert? What percentage of her income is derived from the finding of sexual abuse? What percentage of her referrals come from the teacher or the school system? What tests or other evaluation methods were used? What contact did the expert have with the mother, father, relatives, or lawyers? If the child was indeed sexually abused, who are all the individuals who could have perpetrated the abuse “consistent with” the expert’s findings?
 “The ’sexual abuse expert’ made a report to the Child Protective Agency as required by law.” When, by what means, and to whom? Were any notes or other recorded data forwarded? What, if any, is the relationship, professional, social or otherwise, between the expert and the agency or any of its employees or board members? Is the expert a former employee or consultant to the agency? Is the expert currently, or was she formerly, in practice with any employee or board member of the agency? Does the agency make any referrals to this expert? How many? What kind? What percentage of the expert’s income is derived from agency referrals? etc.
 “Upon interview by a caseworker, the child ‘discloses’ that her father ‘touched her down there’.” What are the dates, times, locations and duration of each meeting with each caseworker? Who else, if anyone, was present? What notes, reports, or recordings were made? Were all interviews conducted in a manner consistent with agency written protocols? What tests or other evaluation devices, such as anatomical dolls, were used? What are all the possible explanations for why a father would “touch” a child as “disclosed”? Why did the child make this “disclosure” to the caseworker and not the “expert”? Is the caseworker better trained? What evidence is there that the caseworker is better trained? Is the caseworker familiar with the current research on the suggestibility of children in the context of child abuse investigations? etc.
 “An emergency hearing brought by social services results in the father being removed from the home pending a full investigation.” Was the father interviewed by agency staff? Who, when, where and why? Are there any notes, reports or recordings of these interviews? Was the mother interviewed? Who, when, where and why? Any notes, reports or recordings? Was the agency fully apprized of the pending divorce litigation? What is the agency’s written protocol for dealing with allegations of sexual abuse in the context of divorce litigation? Have any of the parents’ attorneys been in contact with the agency? What information was volunteered to the agency by the parties or their attorneys? Was any pertinent information withheld from the agency by any party? Since the agency’s investigation was not complete, what specific information insures that the child was not abused by the mother or a third-party known to the mother?
 “The child is placed in ‘treatment’ at the protective service agency.” With whom? What are her qualifications and experience? Is she familiar with the current research on the suggestibility of children and false abuse allegations in the context of divorce litigation? What are the dates, times, duration and location of each counseling session? Did she make notes, reports or record any of the sessions? What is the purpose of the “treatment”? Was it the counselor’s understanding that the child was sexually abused by her father upon referral? Was it the counselor’s role to “gather information” regarding “the abuse“? Would it be fair to say that part of the counselor’s role was investigative in nature? Did the counselor meet with either of the parents? When and where? Any notes, reports or recordings? Did the counselor speak to any relatives or friends of the parents? Did the counselor speak to any other counselors or professionals regarding the case? Any notes, reports or recordings?
 “During the course of ‘treatment’ the child ‘discloses’ that the father put his finger ‘inside’ her.” What are the exact details of this “report” that is being characterized as a “disclosure”? What does “inside her” mean? What are all the possible explanations for this alleged report? Exactly where did the father allegedly place his finger? Did the father bathe the child? Did the father ever administer a suppository on doctor’s orders? Did the counselor immediately make referral for physical examination upon hearing this “disclosure”? What is the written agency protocol regarding referral for physical evaluation? In the course of treatment, what reference might have been made to children having fingers placed “inside” them?
 “The formal allegation is made in the context of the divorce litigation as the protective service agency does not recommend criminal charges since the father poses no danger to the child at this time.” What is the agency’s written protocol for recommending a criminal indictment? Did the agency in fact “indicate”, or “validate” the allegations? What, if any, are the circumstances in which the agency would request criminal charges? Has the agency completed its investigation in the timeframe and manner mandated by law, state guidelines, county guidelines and written agency protocols? What is the agency’s written plan to normalize the relationship between the father and child? If no such plan exists, why not?
As you can see from the foregoing, the questions that emerge from even an initial review of the components of an allegation can be extensive. The sample I have presented is by no means exhaustive. I’m sure that as you reviewed them, probing questions came to your mind. The key in making this initial assessment is to create a solid foundation upon which your case is built. It will save hours of work as your case develops and prevents many “11th-hour” surprises.
[From False Allegations Of Child Sexual Abuse by Edward Nichols, MSW, LCSW -- Available for immediate download.]