18 Children’s Legal Rights Journal [Vol. 36: 1 2016]
may be allowed, state statutes often address the crimes where this tool is permitted. For example,
the West Virginia statute provides that anatomical dolls or drawings be used during trials involving
sexual crimes with witnesses or victims under the age of eleven.210
Courts in four states (Colorado,211 North Carolina,212 Oklahoma,213 and South Dakota214)
have addressed the use of demonstrative aids. These cases rule that demonstrative aids can be used
as long as the use of the dolls does not fall under hearsay evidence. Anatomical dolls were
supported by the court during a hearsay statement in People v. Bowers.215 In that case, the Supreme
Court of Colorado declared the use of anatomical dolls for a three-year-old victim of child sexual
abuse as hearsay evidence because of her difficulty in verbalizing the abusive incidents and her
reliance on other means of responding.216 The use of the dolls was only intended to be
communicative and was therefore not admissible.217 Aside from these cases, courts in North
Carolina and Oklahoma have been supportive of the use of anatomical dolls during trial to serve
as corroborating evidence of a child’s testimony in order to diagnose a child as a victim of child
The Supreme Court of South Dakota has permitted the use of anatomical dolls by a social
worker, even when the child is not testifying in court. In State v. Spronk,219 the victim of sexual
abuse was a three-year-old female. She did not testify at trial, but her mother, grandmother, and
social worker were allowed to testify on her behalf.220 The social worker had been trained in
working with child victims of sexual assault and had used anatomical dolls during her interview
with the child.221 The interviews with the dolls were supported as evidence by the state supreme
court. The testifying social worker stated, “The most important thing, I guess, the credibility for
using the dolls lies with the interviewer. The interviewer must have knowledge of the child’s
development.”222 This statement identifies the inherent difficulty in writing statutes on this
controversial issue. Spronk was abrogated by State v. Cates, removing the requirement for
testimony corroboration in cases with sex crimes victims.223
Case law and state statutes are limited on the use of demonstrative aids during children’s
testimony. As in the case of the use of leading questions, children cannot be assumed to understand
the vocabulary of adults, especially in a court setting. Children’s vocabulary regarding genitalia is
derived from their caregivers, who might be too embarrassed or uncomfortable teaching their
children anatomical terms.224 The use of anatomical dolls and diagrams allows children to
physically respond to questions without having to verbalize the complete details of an
210W. VA. CODE ANN. § 61-8-13 (West 2015).
211People v. Bowers, 801 P.2d 511 (Colo. 1990). The victim’s use of the dolls during interviews with police officers
and therapists met the requirement for corroboration of sex crime testimony.
212State v. Bullock, 360 S.E.2d 689, 690 (N.C. 1987).
213Godbey v. State, 731 P.2d 986, 987 (Okla. Crim. App. 1987).
214State v. Spronk, 379 N. W.2d 312 (S.D. 1985).
215Bowers, 801 P.2d at 523.
217Id. at 522.
218Bullock, 360 S.E.2d at 690; Godbey,731 P.2d at 987.
219Spronk, 379 N.W.2d at 313.
221Id. at 314 (Henderson, J., concurring).
222Id. (Henderson, J., concurring).
223State v. Cates, 632 N. W.2d 28, 37 (S.D. 2001).
224Kimberlee S. Burrows & Martine B. Powell, Prosecutors’ Perspectives on Clarifying Terms for Genitalia in Child
Sexual Abuse Interviews, 49 AUSTRALIAN PSYCHOL. 297, 298 (2014).