In some countries there are guidelines for interrogating child witnesses to avoid the risk of false accusations. The guidelines are important to protect innocent adults from wrongful convictions, as well as protect children from the torment of coercive techniques and the subsequent lifelong guilt feelings for having falsely accused an innocent person. In Italy those guidelines are published by the Italian Criminology Society, but the courts in Italy have declared, in effect, that those guidelines are not binding on interrogators, and judges need not consider repeated marathon questioning, insults, promises, and threats, as evidence that the resulting testimony is unreliable. Witch hunters in the sexual inquisition need to be free from “excessive” regulation.
Here are some specific examples from the interrogations of eight children aged 5 to 14, suspected of being victims of “sexual acts” with an adult. The context of the witch hunt has been described in previous posts. Trigger warning: reading about the vicious mental coercion used on presumed child witnesses may be just as upsetting as reading the details of sexual or physical abuse.
I have long suspected that the attempt to expel me from Italy was necessary to avoid a “foreigner” witnessing the gross misconduct that would follow my departure (a trial in absentia), and the kangaroo court tactics would probably be even worse in my absence. But now that I have chosen to stay and fight, the state’s only possible excuse for what they are doing is to say that Italian law permits prosecutors and judges to commit dishonest tricks to win convictions, hence technically speaking what they are doing is not “misconduct.”
The first rule to avoid false accusations is that during any contact with the interrogators the minor must always be accompanied by a lawyer representing the child, not merely a psychologist or social worker hired by the state for the state’s benefit. Even if a video is made of the interrogation, the child’s lawyer must always be present to witness what is said and done before the video begins and after the video ends. In some cases, as in this one, there was no lawyer, some videos were turned off during the interrogations, and someone spoke to the child while the video was turned off.
Another fundamental rule is to not repeat a question. If a child is asked: “Did that person do anything to bother you?” and the child replies “No.” The interrogators should not repeat: “Nothing at all? Never?” But in this case the interrogators repeated the same question nearly 10 times over a course of hours, expressing more and more frustration, until the child finally changed her answers to please the interrogators and get the torment over with. If there is already objective evidence of abuse (e.g. a photo of the child being abused or an unequivocal medical report), then the interrogators can dispute the child’s claim by saying that they have the photo or the medical report. But if there is no such objective evidence, by repeated questioning the interrogators are inducing the child to invent accusations, embellish, exaggerate, lie.
Another obvious rule is that at the very beginning of the interrogation the child needs to be informed that if she doesn’t remember, she can say so. If the interrogators repeat a question several times the child assumes she has to guess what answer the interrogators want. Incredibly, in this case the witch hunters not only failed to preface some of the interrogations by informing the child of the important option of answering “I don’t remember”, they told her the exact opposite: If a child is telling the truth, then she remembers. Or in other words, if she says she doesn’t remember, then she’s a liar.
The interrogators should also use the accused person’s name (when known). Repeating a question and referring to the accused as “that person” even when the child and interrogators have already mentioned his name, expresses that the interrogators are not merely seeking information about a person who may be innocent. They are communicating that they already know or believe the accused is a bad person, so the child should not answer in any way that contradicts their desires or expectations. When a child says “that person” didn’t do anything to bother her, and then the question is repeated over and over again, the child perceives that the interrogators want her to change her answer, and to please the really scary, arrogant “authorities,” that’s exactly what she does.
When one child witness invented a story about meeting me in an after-school center and supposedly witnessed me touching other children – upon which I was supposedly fired, the interrogators took the child’s claim for granted. It would be very easy for the police to go to the center, check the school files for that year, and find out the child had never even been present at the center when I was there, nor was I ever fired. In fact the child’s older sister had already testified that the younger child was never at the center. But the interrogators merely included the child’s invented story in the public record as if there is no reason to doubt it ever happened.
After hours of non-stop questioning and threats to keep the child in the police station all night, the child was so overwhelmed that she began nodding assent to whatever new accusations the interrogators suggested. When the interrogators read aloud the summary they had printed, the child didn’t even object when they read off statements and accusations that the video shows the child never said. The child was so desperate to get out of the interrogation room as soon as possible that she quickly signed every page of the summary without even reading it.
During the multiple interrogations over the course of several weeks, the child witness said she couldn’t even remember what she had told the interrogators two weeks earlier, but the interrogators expressed no skepticism when the child offered detailed descriptions of conversations and events that supposedly took place three to five years earlier. The interrogators admitted that every time the child talked to them, she added new accusations. If they met with her another 100 times, the child would “reveal” another 100 new instances of abuse.
In the prosecutor’s request for an arrest of the accused, she added a few accusations that weren’t even in the transcript or the summary of the interrogations. The judge who approved the arrest merely repeated the prosecutor’s claims without even checking the transcript or video to verify if the child ever really said such things. After all, prosecutors never lie, exaggerate, or make mistakes, right? As I mentioned in a previous post, the verbatim transcript of an audio recording of an interrogation in 2016 featured hundreds of omissions and errors, in which the transcript reports the exact opposite of what the witness actually said. Even after a “verbatim” transcript was made of some videos in this case, the prosecutor claims some of those videos were damaged and no longer visible. The supposedly damaged videos were not even made available to the defense to verify the “damage.” The accusations were so horrific that the evidence didn’t matter.
Threats should be considered obvious coercion, but in this case the “psychologist” told the child that if she didn’t tell the interrogators “everything,” the child would never leave that room. Even after the child repeatedly assured her tormentors there was nothing else, they kept interrogating her for hours. Nonetheless, the preliminary judge who approved my arrest, quoting the transcripts which he supposedly read, made no mention of the interrogators’ multiple threats.
In the end what upset the interrogators the most was not that the girl claimed she was sexually abused, but rather the problem was her reaction – or lack of a very negative reaction – which contradicted their politically correct expectations. The child didn’t cry or even express any discomfort in describing the “sexual acts with an adult” that supposedly occurred over the course of years. The interrogators insisted that the witness should have “screamed” – assuming the abuse really happened. Instead of interpreting this incongruity as an indication that maybe the abuse didn’t really happen, the witch hunters were furious that they were witnessing a heresy. They believed it was urgent to stop the abuser as soon as possible, to prevent the heresy from spreading, even if that means ignoring the suggestive questioning, contradictory answers, repeated threats, and multiple changes in the child’s story.
When asked why the child never told anybody about the repeated abuse that supposedly occurred over the course of years, the child replied that the abuser threatened to stop coming if she told. Huh? If the monster really did such horrible things, then not coming back anymore would be a reward not a threat. In cases where the abuser is a parent or guardian so abandonment would be truly terrifying for a child, then such a threat would be credible. But is this case the accused was completely outside the child’s family.
Some people assume that even if paid by the state, a psychologist or social worker will protect a child witness from mistreatment by the state. But in reality some psychologists and social workers are more cruel than anybody else. Although most people are afraid to say it out loud, western society is obviously in the grip of an international hysteria so terrifying that few people have the courage to criticize it.
Eventually one child witness appeared before a judge and recanted. She admitted she had invented her incredible stories because she was afraid of the police. So the judge replied in an angry, threatening tone: “This is very serious.” The “professional” psychologist chimed in: “What you are saying now is crazy.” The judge added “You made hundreds of pages of accusations. It’s impossible that they aren’t true.” Upon which the terrified child immediately retracted her recantation, to the smiling approval of her state protectors.
In reality the judge’s response was illogical as well as simply untrue. The mere quantity of accusations does not make them likely to be true. Worse, there are NOT hundreds of pages of accusations; there are hundreds of pages of attempts by the interrogators to coerce the witness to make accusations, as well as arguments back and forth in which the child attempted to resist the coercion. The interrogators indulged in repeated, page-long monologues browbeating the child. There are actually very few “accusations.” What is really very serious is that the judge ignored the hundreds of pages of coercive questioning, and instead perceived the handful of accusations as occupying “hundreds of pages.”
Ideally justice means not merely protecting the innocent and punishing the guilty. Justice also requires that proper rules of procedure be followed to determine if someone is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. False accusations are possible even in the absence of coercion by the interrogators. But when the rules of proper procedure are not respected, false accusations are much more likely and the resulting show trail is similar to vigilante street justice. In the emotionally charged field of child sex abuse allegations, officially sanctioned vigilante justice has become the norm.