For Specialists

Suggestibility of children – sexual abuse victims

When it comes to the hearing of minors – victims of sexual abuse, where there are no direct witnesses, the child’ statements is the most important evidence. Therefore, it is of utmost importance that the child’s statements are true, uninfluenced by external or internal factors. It is therefore essential that, from the moment of the crime and until after the hearing, the memorization, retention and recall of the event to remain untouched by the phenomenon of suggestibility.

Ceci and Bruck (1995), in their work of children hearing, define suggestibility as “the degree to which memorization, retention and recall of event can be influenced by multitude of internal and external factors.”

By external factors we mean for example,:

  • Adult discussions with the child prior to the hearing, which may influence/modify the child’s statements;
  • Prior to the hearing, repeatedly asking the child to recount the abusive event, which may influence the child’s retelling of the event;
  • During the hearing, the use of inappropriate listening technics by the person hearing the child (for example, addressing suggestive questions).

We will next look at internal factors that are related to children’s suggestibility.

According to Bruck and Melnyk, (2004), the most important internal factors are the following:

Factors related to the child’s cognitive and verbal abilities and creativity:

  • Children who are more intelligent seem to be more resistant to suggestions than children with low intelligence or mental disability;
  • The higher the child’s level of intelligence, the better the child seems to use better memorization strategies, seems to understand questions more easily and seems to have more confidence in his or her own memory;
  • However, the differences in intelligence between typically developing children do not seem to influence their suggestibility;
  • For pre-school children, the ability to resist suggestions was found to be directly influenced by their verbal abilities; in other words, the more developed the child’s language, the better he/she is able to resist suggestions;
  • In terms of creative abilities and imagination, children aged between 5 and 8 years were found to be more easily influenced the more creative they are.

Self concept:

  • Children with a positive self-image may cope better with auditioning in terms of their confidence in their own memory and their ability to resist suggestions;
  • On the other hand, children with low self-confidence may not say all the things they remember or may be more easily influenced.

Attachment and quality of the parent-child relationship:

  • Studies show that the child’s resistance to false suggestions is directly related to the quality of attachment to the parent (attachment is understood as the parent’s ability to empathize with the child, to offer support when the child experiences negative emotions)


  • In general, as the child advances in age, memory abilities improve and suggestibility decreases; in other words, expectations about the ability to memorize, retain, and recall information about an event will differ depending on the age of the child – the memory abilities of a three-year-old will be different from those of a six-year-old.


Article written by Patricia Aramă, clinical psychologist


Bibliography: Mireille Cyr, Conducting interviews with child victims of abuse and witnesses of crime – A practical guide, Ed. Routledge, 2022