The biases of child sexual abuse experts: believing is seeing.
T. M. Horner, M. J. Guyer and N. M. Kalter,
Bull. Amer. Acad. Psychiatry & the Law
21(3): 281-92, 1993.
Experts in clinical evaluations of child sexual abuse were studied using a paradigm that requested
them to estimate the likelihood of a 3-year-old child having been sexually molested by her father,
as alleged by her mother, when she was two years old. All of the experts claimed special
qualifications and experience in the field of diagnosing and treating child sexual abuse victims.
Expert-respondents provided two estimates of the likelihood that the child had been molested, the
first following a detailed presentation of the clinical case by the actual evaluator of the child (the
presentation included opportunities to ask questions ad libitum beyond the presentation material),
the second following an extensive discussion of the clinical material with other child experts present.
The range of estimated likelihoods that the child had been molested was extreme among the expert
respondents. The clinical conference format that was used seemed to provide the experts with no
apparent means for eliminating or reducing differences in their clinical opinions. Recommendations
concerning how the supervising court should regulate further child-father contacts were similarly
varied. The implications of these findings for judicial acceptance of expert testimony in cases of
alleged child sexual abuse are discussed.