University of Southern California law Prof. Thomas Lyon, a Harvard-trained attorney with a doctorate in psychology, has helped show that open-ended, nonjudgmental questions can prompt more detailed narratives from children, reports the Los Angeles Times. His federally funded research shows that getting a child to promise to be honest actually makes it more likely that they will tell the truth. Lyon, 52, says, “Actually I find abuse work often terribly depressing, but what keeps me in it is how great the kids are despite the abuse they suffer. They still tend to be really resilient, really interested in things, really excited about stuff. And that’s inspiring.”
His field has generated debate among psychologists and lawyers for decades. “Anyone who works with abused kids knows the kids are afraid and threatened and reluctant and ashamed,” said Lyon. Critics say he tends to be too pro-prosecution. Lyon said he is not out to convict the innocent but wants the criminal justice system to understand how memories of childhood abuse can last through adulthood. Lyon is among the experts who have trained sheriff’s deputies in interviewing methods that they’ve subsequently used in recent abuse cases in the Los Angeles schools.