Reliability of Children’s Claims of Molestation

How is the reliability of children’s statements determined?

Church Law and Tax1994-11-01Recent Developments

Sexual Misconduct by Clergy and Church Workers

Key point: Some courts have listed factors to consider in evaluating the reliability of a child’s accusation of molestation. These factors may be helpful to churches in evaluating allegations of molestation.

A Georgia appeals court listed several factors to consider in evaluating the reliability of a child’s claim that he was molested. The factors may be useful to churches in evaluating similar claims. Here they are: (1) the atmosphere and circumstances under which the statement was made (including the time, the place, and the people present); (2) the spontaneity of the child’s statement to the persons present; (3) the child’s age; (4) the child’s general demeanor; (5) the child’s condition (physical or emotional); (6) the presence or absence of threats or promise of benefits; (7) the presence or absence of drugs or alcohol; (8) the child’s general credibility; (9) the presence or absence of any coaching by parents or other third parties before or at the time of the child’s statement, and the type of coaching and circumstances surrounding the same, and the nature of the child’s statement and type of language used; and (10) the consistency between repeated out-of-court statements by the child.

The court concluded that “[o]ur review of the record, including the transcript of the interview of the victim by the social service specialist, indicates that the victim’s statements, introduced through hearsay at trial, were made originally by the victim in a spontaneous manner without apparent coaching. Although there was evidence presented that the victim had originally named other possible perpetrators, her later statements consistently named the defendant. We find that a sufficient showing of indicia of reliability … was established as to all out-of-court statements made by the victim and testified to by witnesses at trial.” White v. State, 440 S.E.2d 68 (Ga. App. 1994).

See Also: Failure to Report Child Abuse

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