The #1 Reason Children Recant Abuse Allegations

Apr 5, 2016 | Child Abuse, Children, Childrens' Rights, Crimes & Violence, Family, Foster Care, Sexual Exploitation, Youth & Teens


In the world of child forensic interviewing, there is a well-known fact…
Disclosure is a process, not a one-time event.
Disclosing abuse, be it sexual, physical, psychological or neglect, can be incredibly difficult for a child. The same holds true for adults… imagine yourself sitting in a room with someone you just met who begins asking questions about your last sexual encounter…

  • Were you alone?
  • How many people were in the room?
  • Were pictures or videos taken?
  • What you were doing… and what happened next?
  • What were you wearing?
  • Why did it stop?

Children who have been victims of abuse can experience a wide range of thoughts and emotions from not knowing or understanding the abuse is wrong… to being fearful for their safety or the safety of people they love… to feeling ashamed and that they are actually the root cause of the abuse. (All reasons why Child Advocacy Centers play such a vital role in the investigation of child abuse allegations!)
In approximately 23% of child abuse cases, children recant (take-back) allegations of abuse. Research has been conducted to better understand why children do this:
the #1 reason children recant abuse allegations is their primary, non-offending caregiver (which in the vast majority of cases is the mother) DOES NOT believe them.

46% of the children recant[ed] their prior disclosure when mothers merely suggested that they should.

In a study published by the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology entitled, “Children’s recantation of adult wrongdoing: An experimental investigation“, it states (see report for research scenario and testing information):
46% of the children recant[ed] their prior disclosure when mothers merely suggested that they should.  In contrast, no children in the supportive condition recanted, implying that children are unlikely to make spontaneous recantations following supportive caregiver reactions – at least when it comes to minor acts of wrongdoing committed by adults.”
From the abstract:
“No age differences in recantation rates emerged, but 8- and 9-year-olds were more likely than 6- and 7-year-olds to maintain their recantation throughout Interview 2. Children whose mothers reacted supportively to disclosure became more forthcoming in Interview 2, and those whose mothers reacted unsupportively became less forthcoming. Results advance theoretical understanding of how children disclose negative experiences, including sociomotivational influences on their reports, and have practical implications for the legal system.”

So, what does this mean?

Children are more likely to recant when they are younger, abused by a parent figure and who lacked support from the non-offending caregiver.

In a nutshell, nearly a quarter of children who make allegations of abuse will “take back” or “change their story” IF their moms don’t believe them or suggest they are in some way wrong or at fault for the abuse.
Sanford Health in North Dakota brilliantly summarizes child recantation:
“Recantation is common among children who disclose sexual abuse; approximately 23% of children who disclose sexual abuse later recant. Studies show that most children who recant are telling the truth when they originally disclose. Recantation is largely a result of familial adult influences rather than a result of false allegations.
Children are more likely to recant when they are younger, abused by a parent figure and who lacked support from the non-offending caregiver. Interestingly, children who were placed in foster care immediately following the disclosure of sexual abuse were slightly less likely to recant then those children who remained with family members. Finally, when looking at reaffirmation rates, the researchers noted that 48.3% of the children who recanted their statements of sexual abuse eventually reaffirmed at least some part of those statements.

Hey, moms!

… and dads, guardians and other people who care for children — if a child EVER discloses abuse to you, there are 3 responses you MUST make:
1. Say “I believe you.” The facts will work themselves out in the end, but at the moment a child chooses to confide in you, you have a responsibility to trust that child and believe him/her. Not doing so can have long-term, damaging effects, including continued victimization of the child. Research also indicates that the percentage of false allegations made by children is extremely low, so odds are, your child is disclosing something that did indeed happen.
2. Assure the child, “It wasn’t your fault.” Sexual predators and abusers often will place blame for the abuse back on the child victim in an attempt to keep him/her quiet or ‘accept’ the abuse.
3. Immediately secure the child and report the abuse. I don’t care who the allegations are made against… your spouse, another child, a family member… you have an obligation to protect that child by ensuring s/he is NOT in the presence of the alleged abuser and then allowing professional investigators the opportunity to figure out what’s going on. Mandated reporters of abuse vary from state to state here in the U.S., but I believe we all have a moral obligation to report which, in turn, shows that child s/he is important enough to protect! Follow this checklist of 7-steps to follow if a child discloses abuse, or you suspect a child is being maltreated in any way.

About Ginger

Chance and GK 2013-04-26Raising awareness of the world-wide epidemic of child abuse has become Ginger’s life mission. An impassioned child advocate, trainer, speaker and child forensic interviewer, Ginger regularly blogs about child protection issues and has produced printable references for parents and other caring adults including “12 Scary Apps”Click here for your free copy of this informative 13-page report. Along with her husband John and pets Lexi and Chase, Ginger enjoys traveling, skiing, hiking, brisk mornings, colorful sunsets and just hangin’ at home with “the Pack”.

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  1. Andrea

    Thank you for posting this. We are currently dealing with a very difficult situation where my fiance’s son was abused. We share 50/50 custody with his mother who has refused to Co-parent for years, and it’s been getting worse. He was at his mom’s and came to our house during spring break. I noticed bruising on his arm and we asked him where he got the bruises. He broke down in tears and said “Ron grabbed me, I was being ‘sassy’ with my mom and I didn’t want to go skiing”. Ron is his mom’s newest boyfriend. We acted immediately, called cps.. we took him to his pediatrician, who identified 5 bruises on his upper arm. 1 on the front 4 on the back.. he also ordered a blood test to rule out possible clotting issues.. he ALSO made a report. CPS and the sheriff’s dept. got involved, interviewed Tommy at our house and then went to his mom’s house to interview them.. his mom and Ron lied to CPS and stated that Tommy is a “little liar”. Due to our custody arrangement we had to return Tommy when he was due to go back to his mom’s – we felt like we had no choice, the IR CPS guy believed Tommy, but told us we need to follow our court order and return Tommy when it was his mom’s turn. It doesn’t make sense! We wanted to keep him but where told to return him to his abuser??? Now WE feel like we did something wrong by doing what we where told. Cps contacted his mom and had HER bring him to be interviewed by another CPS worker. He recanted. He said he didn’t know how he got the bruises. That CPS worker said she didn’t believe the recant but was more worried about his stress level than his bruises and that all of this is a product of a “bad divorce”.. we are more worried about his safety and she should be too.. it’s her job! Bad divorce or not this child is in danger. She also wanted all 5 of us (her, us, “Lucy” and “Ron”) to sit in a room and “talk it out”… wow… His mom never showed ANY interest in figuring out HOW Tommy was bruised. She was married again back in 2012 and Tommy’s ex step dad abused him for a year! She knew about it! She condoned it! We didn’t know about it until we found out after someone called the police on them. We intervened but somehow she maintained custody. We don’t know what to do now. Now, CPS is not talking to us, Tommy said his mom told him to lie to CPS about the bruises. She told Tommy that she was “afraid of going to jail”, she told him to say that WE pressured him into accusing Ron. Her good friend is also Tommy’s new therapist, Tommy said he told him he was grabbed by Ron, he said “now why would Ron do something like that?”, Tommy said he didn’t believe him and treated him like he was lying when all he needed was someone to listen to him. She hasn’t said a word to us about it.. if I was her, and I was truly innocent, I would leave no stone unturned. But she hasn’t said a peep. Tommy now says he remembers being grabbed but doesn’t remember the face of who did it. This is so sad, and we feel so helpless. Tommy is so depressed and nobody seems to care about this anymore. He has nightmares now of his past abuse and now of this new incident. We are looking for more help, this child needs help desperately.

    • American SPCC

      Thank you for posting your comment and reaching out to our organization, and for stepping up and speaking up on behalf of this child. We are truly sorry to hear of this horrible situation. No child should ever have to suffer.
      Unfortunately, our organization does not have the professional staff or resources to handle individual cases. We would HIGHLY recommend that you contact the 24/7 National ChildHelp Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-CHILD or to go their website for further guidance and assistance. Plus, you can also find additional contact information by state on our Reporting Child Abuse Numbers by State report.
      We truly hope you find these resources helpful in seeking assistance for this child, and wish you well in your endeavor in finding the correct help. Please let us know if there is anything else we can assist you with.


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