Forensic Psychology

Specific Forms of Crimes

What was the Kelly Michaels Case?

Kelly Michaels was a 26-year-old nursery school worker who fell victim to the widespread hysteria about child molestation—particularly in day care centers—that occurred in the 1980s and early 1990s. In 1988, Michaels was convicted of 115 offenses related to child sexual assault, all of which allegedly took place at the nursery school where she worked. Based on the testimony of 20 of her three- to five-year-old charges, she was sentenced to 47 years in prison. The children’s allegations included bizarre and highly improbable sex acts, such as spreading peanut butter on their genitals and violating them with silverware and Lego blocks. The absence of physical signs of abuse in any of the children failed to influence the outcome.

Michaels spent five years in prison before her case was overturned on appeal. Examination of the interviews of the children revealed highly suspect techniques. Children were badgered, cajoled, and bribed into giving the desired responses. The children were simply too young to understand that they were being pressured to say things that were not true. Following cases like this, researchers turned their attention to the various ways children’s testimony can be distorted and corrupted.


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