False Accusations: The Myth that Perpetuates Child Abuse

When my daughter was molested by her third-grade teacher, I was talking to a neighbor who said to me that my daughter should watch what she is saying because she could be ruining a man’s career. My neighbor was a Kindergarten teacher at the time. I can understand how she would be misguided. Schools don’t require their staff to be trained on child sexual abuse prevention. If you haven’t researched the topic it is easy to believe the myth that insurance companies and unions have spent millions of dollars on marketing so that their defense attorneys can keep them from paying millions of dollars to victims.

For the last ten years, since my child was molested, I have consumed as much information I can find on the subject matter and have taken training programs from six different organizations so that I can educate others on child sexual abuse prevention. I have found plenty of research that substantiates how rare it is that victims are lying and in fact, children tend to disclose far less than what actually happened to them or never report at all.

The scary part is that this myth leads people to not report abuse when it is witnessed or disclosed (see chart below and research below). Even when there are Mandated Reporter laws that require them to do so or face fines up to $1,000 and possible jail time. There is no justification for not reporting abuse when disclosed by a child or witnessed firsthand if you are a Mandated Reporter it is the law you must report. It is not your job to determine if the allegation is false, that is for the authorities to decide. For the complete law (in CA) and a list of mandated reporters refer to California Penal Codes 11164 --11174.3

This myth is helping the predators have the opportunity to molest our children. This myth is keeping predators employed in schools and youth-serving organizations that should be actively working to prevent child abuse. This myth is protecting the wrong person. This myth shows that our society would rather risk the child being abused than risk falsely accusing an adult. A child doesn’t have a means to protect itself an adult does. A child is automatically discredited which is further traumatizing.

Child sexual abuse prevention training is crucial for the safety of our children. Mandated Reporter training only focuses on reporting not preventing. If schools and youth-serving organizations focused on prevention then reporting would become less of an issue. If insurance companies spent money on prevention they would have fewer liability claims. If unions fought for prevention training they would have fewer issues to address. If everyone decided that preventing sexual abuse of children should be a priority everyone would profit.

Following are excerpts of studies and reports from a wide range of sources, including links to the source, that dispel the myth of false accusations.

The Leadership Council - a nonprofit independent scientific organization composed of respected scientists, clinicians, educators, legal scholars, and public policy analysts.


Research has consistently shown that false allegations of child sexual abuse by children are rare.

Jones and McGraw examined 576 consecutive referrals of child sexual abuse to the Denver Department of Social Services and categorized the reports as either reliable or fictitious. In only 1% of the total cases were children judged to have advanced a fictitious allegation.

Children Tend to Understate Rather than Overstate the Extent of Any Abuse Experienced

In a more recent study, investigators reviewed case notes of all child sexual abuse reports to the Denver Department of Social Services over 12 months. Of the 551 cases reviewed, there were only 14 (2.5%) instances of erroneous concerns about abuse emanating from children. These consisted of three cases of allegations made in collusion with a parent, three cases where an innocent event was misinterpreted as sexual abuse and eight cases (1.5%) of false allegations of sexual abuse. Oates, R. K., D.P. Jones, D. Denson, A. Sirotnak, N. Gary, and R.D. Krugman: Erroneous Concerns about Child Sexual Abuse. Child Abuse & Neglect 24:149-57, 2000…. Children Tend to Understate Rather than Overstate the Extent of Any Abuse Experienced – Research with children whose sexual abuse has been proven has shown that children tend to minimize and deny abuse, not exaggerate or over-report such incidents.


Jim Feuer, Children’s Hospital Medical Center, Cincinnati


Children’s Testimony More Reliable than Physical Exams

Allegations made by child victims of sexual abuse closely match the confessions of perpetrators. In addition, physical exams are unreliable indicators of sexual abuse. Children’s testimony more reliable than physical exams in cases of sexual abuse. Although many people find a child’s testimony in cases of sexual abuse hard to believe, a new study proves that their allegations should be taken seriously.

The study, conducted at Children’s Hospital Medical Center of Cincinnati, shows that allegations made by child victims match closely with confessions of pedophiles. The study also shows that genital exams are most often normal in victims of sexual abuse, even when genital penetration is admitted to, making it all the more imperative to listen to what children say, according to the study’s authors.

The researchers reviewed the records of 31 pedophiles who confessed between 1994 and 1999. The case files contained all available victim, witness and perpetrator statements, and pertinent victim medical records. They analyzed each case for admissions or denials of specific sexual acts. They also analyzed victim medical histories, examinations and reports from criminal investigators for specific histories of sexual assault and exam findings.

The 31 perpetrators confessed to a total of 101 acts of sexual abuse, some of which they committed multiple times. The perpetrators abused 47 children. The 45 old enough to provide a history described 111 acts of sexual abuse.

Office of Justice



Understanding the disclosure process is critical for both the investigative process and child protection outcomes. Research to date on children’s disclosure of sexual abuse— based mainly on retrospective surveys of adults and reviews of past child abuse investigations—indicates that no single pattern of disclosure is predominant (Lyon and Ahern, 2010). Disclosure happens along a continuum ranging from denial to nondisclosure to reluctant disclosure to incomplete disclosure to a full accounting of an abusive incident (Olafson and Lederman, 2006). Some children also disclose less directly, over a period of time, through a variety of behaviors and actions, including discussions and indirect nonverbal cues (Alaggia, 2004).


Crimes Against Children Research Center


A Statewide Study of the Public’s Knowledge of Child Abuse Reporting Policies

Crimes Against Children Research Center Factors that Influence Child Abuse Reporting: A Survey of Child-Serving Professionals. To help inform new directions for child abuse reporting policy reforms, we conducted an online survey of 556 child-serving professionals about their experiences with reporting suspicions of abuse and neglect.

A key concern is that child abuse is underreported, and research suggests that professionals do not always report suspicions of abuse and neglect. This study estimated that 80% of the non-reported child maltreatment cases would have been investigated had they been reported. These data thus suggest that professionals are under-reporting.


Center for Judicial Excellence


16. Do children often maliciously fabricate allegations of child sexual abuse?

Fact: No. Children hardly ever fabricate allegations of sexual abuse. Studies analyzing maliciously fabricated allegations of child sexual abuse have found that children bring only 0% to 2% of such allegations. There is no reputable research to support the notion that children can be brainwashed to believe they have been sexually abused when they have not.


Princeton University – Future of Children


Believability of Children's Testimony

While most children have the cognitive and moral capacity to be competent witnesses, competence is not the same as believability. A witness may be competent to testify but unworthy of belief. Thus, the crucial question is, can children be believed?

At the outset, it is worth asking whether children deliberately lie about sexual abuse. By age three, children learn to bend the truth. There is no evidence, however, that children are any more or less prone to lie than adults.5 Although children—particularly adolescents—sometimes deliberately fabricate allegations of sexual abuse, research reveals that deliberate fabrication is uncommon, particularly among young children.6 Moreover, young children are not very good at maintaining a lie.7 Of greater concern than deliberate lying is the possibility that young children who are not abused may be coached or led into believing that they are. Some harsh and unbalanced critics envision an army of corrupt and malevolent professionals on a witch-hunt of false allegations.8 There is no evidence of such a witch-hunt. There is evidence, however, that some well-intentioned but misguided therapists, police, social workers, and attorneys use interview techniques that could distort children's memories.9 In rare instances, improper interviewing may actually create a "memory" of abuse that never happened. In these instances, children describe nonexistent abuse, all the while believing what they say. Although wholesale creation of abuse "memories" appears to be rare, the possibility cannot be ignored.


Quote from a Criminal Defense Lawyer


“If you have children, or live, work or have contact with children, it is possible (though statically quite unlikely) that, at some point, you might be falsely accused of child molestation or other sexually inappropriate behavior with a child”