This paper was written for those in the Child Sexual Abuse field who conduct child interviews and investigations. It is meant to be informative. Some of it written for the first time, so Forensic Interviewers and Investigators have the opportunity to implement it into the way they perform their job. The information may seem provocative, but is mainly drawn upon the two authors, behind whose backs are some thirty years in dealing with Child Sexual Abuse allegations. It is our hope you learn from this article, and perhaps, children who have been abused will see their perpetrator brought to justice. However, false allegations are a virulent hostile pathogen. This should concern all those who work in the field of Child Sexual Abuse.
Every day across this nation children, alleged to have been sexually and physically abused, are interviewed by individuals referred to as Forensic Interviewers. This term is approximately five years old and hovers over the world of sex abuse allegations like a 747. Interestingly enough, most Forensic Interviewers are impostors, clearly unqualified to conduct child interviews. Why the worries then? In cases of child sexual abuse, the child’s testimony is usually the only evidence. Incompetent forensic Interviews imperil investigations. My daily job is to find the bridge where the blindfolded capable, stumbles clumsily across to meet the almost competent. The bridge is not as effortless as a solid ground, and most find it to be lengthy. Critical thinking creates avenues for Forensic Interviewers to walk across this bridge making the allegations seem reasonable and logical.
Forensic Interviewers see themselves as children’s advocates . Unfortunately, the training they receive is based upon the unsupported assumptions children don’t lie about sex abuse and can’t have the sexual knowledge to make such allegations. This training bypasses the central mission of these interviews — ascertaining the truth. In most jurisdictions training for the police has been nonexistent. Just recently, the legislatures in the State of Washington passed laws mandating police to have a minimum of twenty hours training. Ponder on this. Someone’s freedom based upon twenty hours of training. The classes are taught by local advocates and professors with one-sided views in line with those held by prosecutors.
Forensic Interviewers and Police are not exposed to views and research which disagree with the zealously held biased opinions of these advocates — views which might be presented by the defense. There is no cross training. If you would take the time and evaluate each jurisdiction that uses Forensic Interviewers, you would quickly find the jurisdictions are no different from Seattle to New York.
The model of child interviewing has come from organizations such as APSAC (American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children), ARI (Ayn Rand® Institute), and so forth. These models are based on the hypothesis “Every child tells the truth about sex abuse.”
They don’t consider multiple hypotheses which would challenge tunnel vision created in the mind’s eye of the Forensic Interviewer from the moment the allegation is reported. Recently, one of their own, Tom Plach, in his book, “Investigating Allegations of Child and Adolescent Sexual Abuse” states,
The notion is so self-evident it’s hard to believe anyone would have to put it in writing.
Unfortunately, most Forensic Interviewers would not agree with Mr. Plach. In my practice, I found most Detectives patronize alleged victims, and condemn alleged perpetrators before even listening to their side of the story. Hazelwood and Warren “propose that fantasy is the link between the underlying motivation for sexual assaults and the behavior exhibited during the crime” (2008, p. ix). Yes, there’s an obvious conflict between the investigator’s obligation to accept the alleged victim’s complaint as legitimate and his duty to develop the facts of the case. However, there are guidelines designed to resolve such conflict and enable them to be objective professionals.
Some features in disclosures are consistent with false allegations. These can include emotional response and absence of physical injury, inconsistent, extremely vague or unnecessarily detailed disclosure and such. Hazelwood and Burgess also note in their book,
I find it very common in cases of false allegations, for a proclaiming victim simply to be a needy and neglected child desperate in search for attention. Children may also choose to create a fictitious crime to avoid personal responsibility for some act or failure. Moreover, the interviewer must know that, as explained by Dr. Victoria Talwar, an assistant professor at Montreal’s McGill University and a leading expert on children’s lying behavior, “lying is related to intelligence” (Bronson P., 2008, p. 4). To conceive the truth and seek alternate reality, and be able to convince the other of new reality, demands certain cognitive development and social skills. The more complex lie is to be expected from a smarter individual. Children may lie indiscriminately —whenever punishment seems to be a possibility.
“Punishment is a primary catalyst for lying, but lying also becomes a way to increase a child’s power and sense of control. Many kids begin lying to their peers as a coping mechanism” (Bronson P., 2008, p. 6).
Therefore, it is imperative investigators monitor the source of the complaints. They must thoroughly trace back all the events that took place prior to the alleged abuse to determine if a child was under any pressure before the alleged disclosure, or whether any personal dilemmas might be related to the alleged incident, and who might have possibly have influenced that child.
In the outside world, A.C. Nielsen Co. reported the average American watches more than 4 hours of TV each day (or 28 hours a week, or 2 months of nonstop TV-watching per year). TV is a neglected addiction that begins to develop from the time they are two years old. Young children can’t weigh the pros and cons of information and are readily influenced. Television, with ads directed to their age group, and innumerable portrayals of sex and mayhem, can drastically influence their attitudes.
The average child watches television 1,680 minutes, or four hours, a day. Seventy percent of daycare centers use TV during a typical day, which might add another two or three hours of exposure.
The average American child spends some 1500 hours a year in front of a TV set. The equivalent of 62 x 24-hour days. Yet, the average American child spends only 900 hours a year in school.
They spend a significant portion of their TV lives exposed to sexually explicit scenes, detailed discussion of sex lives, contraceptive ads, discussions of erectile dysfunction, incontinence, hemorrhoids, menstrual products and contraceptives. And all manner of violence; car chases, shootings, stabbings, fights, and Reality TV scenes of sex crimes. By the time they’re 16, they’ve seen several thousand shootings, rapes, and depictions of mayhem.
Five-year-old children are able to watch Wife Swapping, American Housewife, World Wrestling Federation, and a variety of other shows explicitly dealing with sex. Then, there’s the soft and hard porn available on HBO.
Graphic sex is available at the twist of a TV dial or press of a computer button.
It’s meaningless to say young children can’t know, and know a lot about, sex. In addition to TV (especially HBO), they are exposed to it in salacious, routinely obscene, and often violent rap lyrics. The internet contains images of every kind of sex imaginable.
To a significant extent, children are products of their environment. When Forensic Interviewers interview an alleged victim they fail to explore the child’s environment. The closest they get to this is to ask who lives with them. They don’t ask about other adults in their lives, those who might come into the household, or what the child does and is exposed to in the home environment, or school.
One has to bridge ignorance with common sense to find the reasonable and logical allegations.)) If the interviewers don’t invest time exploring the alleged victim’s culture (which includes age, cognitive level of development, heritage, family origin, family composition, home & school environments etc.), they can’t adequately adjust their questioning to elicit a legitimate statement that may be used as evidence.
What does it take to make these Forensic Interviewers “do the right thing” when interviewing children who may have been sexually or physically abused? Where is the proper training of these Forensic Interviewers and Police?
To do it properly, the Forensic Interviewer must be trained to perform the interview in a Structured (Cognitive) Interview Protocol (Debra A. Poole and Michael E. Lamb, 1998, p. 87). Here are the five steps:
The secret to conducting this interview with flawless transitions from one point to the other is to make sure the questions are reasonable and logical. Probably the trickiest part of interviewing children is to remain objective and capture signals of their body language, along with the tone of voice, in order to comprehend the emotional trauma, if any is present, and the extent to which the child might be susceptible to exaggerate and/or even deceive.
Thus, the interviewer must not only be friendly, but function as a true professional who understands children, how they think, how they see the world at various stages in their development. For example, I once had a five-year-old boy tell me he was in the closet or under the bed when his father would come to get him. That disclosure, together with the child’s affect, doesn’t necessarily mean he was under the bed or in the closet. Instead, it might suggest the boy was afraid of his father. I have found, when a child demonstrates no affect, the child’s allegation can possibly hold some misinformation and untruths. This doesn’t mean the child hasn’t been sexually abused; it does, however suggest there could be something wrong and troubling which needs to be explored. Moreover, when the child states someone engaged in “bad touch” it’s particularly important to look into the details of their statement. Is it seemingly made by rote, are they parroting someone else’s words? Can they go beyond the simple declaration and discuss various aspects of the alleged event?
We, as humans, need to talk, especially during
difficult times. Particularly when one tries to touch someone
inappropriately. Further exploration is justified to
The statement Forensic Interviewers recommend for children use is, “If you don’t remember or you don’t know,” you can just say that. I find this to be provocative at best. The sole job of the Forensic Interviewer is to find out what happened. When guidelines such as these are given to young adults who might be lying they can say “I don’t remember” or “I don’t know” to get out of difficult questioning by a competent Forensic Interviewer. My guideline is just a little different from the artifact prosecution Forensic Interviewers give. In the guideline section I inform children my task is to ascertain what occurred and if they have trouble remembering or they don’t know, to please let me know, and as a Forensic Interviewer, I say “My job is to find out why you can’t remember or why you don’t know.”
In Tacoma, Washington, Pierce County Child Advocates allow children to say “I don’t know” and “I can’t remember.” In fact, they advise children to say this. In an interview at the Pierce County Child Advocate Center, I reviewed the alleged child victim statement produced by the Forensic Interviewer. In the period of 17 pages there were 72 “I don’t knows.” When I attempted to interview her, she was told by the Child Advocate to say “I don’t know” when the questioning became difficult. So how do you properly interview a child when they can rest their laurels on “I don’t know”?
In performing some interesting research I was able to find that Mr. Bull (Bull and Memon, 1999), was one of the first to bring the “I don’t know” into a child interview. There has been no scientific data on what telling a child they can say “I don’t know” will ultimately produce. My experience has found it to be a limiting method of ascertaining the truth, and improper advice by the Child Advocates. Ultimately, the jury will weigh the child’s credibility. Should a child who says “I don’t know” 72 times have any credibility with anyone? The cost of freedom should require more stringent requirements when it comes to child interviewing. In my defense interview of the girl, she said “I don’t Know” 77 times, and when I tried to explore i.e. possible hypotheses, I was shut down by the statement, “I don’t know.” All she could say was “My grandfather touched me.” A patient attempt to ferret out the truth was blocked because someone said to say, “I don’t know.” It’s difficult to get Prosecutors, Police Detectives and Forensic Interviewers to realize something is amiss when a child discloses only that “My grandfather touched me.” One hundred forty-nine times in two interviews the child said, “I don’t know.” Perhaps this will offer a brief demonstration:
Recently, I had a case where the Guardian Ad Litem wanted me to sit at a table with color crayons and stuffed animals. I told her that I didn’t conduct interviews this way, that the greater the distraction the less real the child’s answers would be. She told me the interview wasn’t about me, but the child.
I told her the interview was about the truth, and using the proper protocol, I would attempt to ascertain it. This is an example of the lack of training not only in the criminal arena but in the domestic and civil arenas. I find it a great advantage, when given the opportunity, to travel down to the alleged victim’s residence and interview them there in an atmosphere that’s comfortable for them, eliminating all possible distractions and making sure parents are not in the room at any time. What will it take for these alleged child advocates to understand that the interviews are not about the Forensic Interviewer, Police Officer, or Child Advocate? Instead, it is about taking the proper steps and using a protocol that considers and applies alternative hypotheses, and from there, hopefully, finding the truth.
The job of forensic interviewing is tricky and requires strong critical thinking skills. The interviewer must be able to think fast and creatively, be able to multitask, have a good memory, and be constantly aware of his or her body language. The interviewer’s behavior alone can either repel or attract the alleged victim in term of willingness to converse. It has been estimated that over 50% of our communication is done in a nonverbal form. Therefore, a child interviewer must put a priority on understanding what certain gestures mean.
“Almost every part of our bodies can be used to communicate, be it the way one looks into another's eyes or the way one crosses their legs. The human face is arguably, though, the most expressive part of one's body. The eyes alone can reveal numerous emotions, like anger, fear and sadness; however, the importance of one part of the face that is sometimes overlooked is the eyebrows” (Rieman, T., 2008).
Thus, any professional in the field of forensic interviewing should invest time to learn body language. It makes a significant difference in the amount of stress caused during the interview if one can understand what the child is communicating nonverbally. It would also help the interviewer decide what questions to ask. There’s no guide, no list of specific questions to ask a child of a given age at a given moment that the interviewer can memorize and use cook-book fashion.
In summary, the Forensic Interviewer must be an individual with personal skills that allow him or her to construct questions suitable for a particular situation quickly. Because amongst children and cases, just as with snowflakes, there are no two alike.
The interviewer must be aware that children are highly vulnerable to suggestibility, tend to be inconsistent, can be easily be misled, struggle with recall, and not be eager to give narrative responses. They might also have a motive to deceive and exaggerate.
Karen J. Saywitz and Thomas D. Lyon wrote an article few years back based on a scientific study that is probably the best illustration of the problems one can encounter while interviewing children. “When children are asked to describe what they have seen, heard, or experienced, they bring their limitations along with their capabilities to the task” (Saywitz, K. J. and T. D. Lyon, 2002). In this article they present results from a basic research conducted on developmental psychology, which reveal the following three factors affecting children during the interview:
If exposed to wrong interviewing techniques, such as leading questioning, children acquiesce, and even worse, accept the false information as true, and incorporate it into subsequent memory for the event. Later, children have trouble distinguishing between the original event and the memory that came with the leading questioning. One amusing example of such problem was depicted in a study involving preschoolers. A group of children was repeatedly asked to think about an event, creating mental images each time he or she did so. Amongst the events were actual events they experienced in distant past and fictitious events. One group was asked about getting their hand caught in a mousetrap and having to go to the hospital to get it removed. At the end of interviewing sessions that lasted for about 10 weeks, children were interviewed individually and nearly 60% of them produced false narratives of the fictitious events. Some children even elaborated the story with an incredible amount of details, such as including more people and details in their version than they were given in the interviews. One child believed the false story so much that, even when confronted, refused to accept that it never happened to him (Ceci S. J. and M. Bruck, 1995, Jeopardy in the Courtroom).
With that in mind, a true professional would avoid asking children specific, leading, misleading, coercive, and multiple questions. And, once again, it takes not only an awareness of the problems, but skill implementing such knowledge and using the best techniques to promote the child’s optimal performance. Such comes with extensive practice, experience, and honest devotion to labor of child interviewing.
There exists no statistic on what cities, counties and states use anatomical detailed dolls or drawings. However, in the years of my practice with giving expertise on forensic interviews conducted in neighboring states, I have almost never seen an interview where the anatomical doll or drawing was used and was not subsequently misused. In my experience, they are highly suggestive and have no place in a forensic interview. It’s all right to introduce a stuffed bear into the interview process, but only as the last straw.
The interesting issue is — most forensic interviewers fail to allow the interview to develop. They bring in the anatomical drawings or stuffed animals prior to reaching that point in the interview where it might be necessary to use drawings and dolls. Forensic Interviewers fail to demonstrate patience. The problem with Forensic Interviewers is they attend a two-day training and are taught to utilize the anatomical drawings and stuffed animals, but the training doesn’t provide guidance on when the anatomical drawings and stuffed animals should be implemented into the interview. Most forensic interviewer trainers would say this is common sense and comes with experience. Unfortunately, this isn’t common sense. Sure, experience helps, as long as forensic interviewers are evaluated and taught not to jump the gun.
Amid the questioning standards, one more crucial part of child interviewing is omitted at times — videotaping, audio taping, stenographer use, and note taking during the interview. Note taking, depending on the person, has the little to none accuracy. Our memories acquire, store, and retrieve. Memories of a conversation are readily contaminated by a multitude of factors, including past and present experience and expectation.
Many times police personnel interview children without realizing how challenging it can be to do it properly. They then dare not record the disclosure, or only take a page of brief notes they tend to destroy right after making a biased summary of the interview several days later, and before any of this information is submitted to prosecutors and defense. Then, the prosecution relies on these previously improperly collected testimonies in reference to consistencies of utterances, and everyone in the courtroom fails to notice how highly contaminated these statements truly are. Consider this part of a Police Officer report:
What does it report? The report states the alleged perpetrator fondled three victims. However, this is only one of the officers amongst those that were present in observation room during the polygraph test. The other reporting officers and the recording of the polygraph test elicit the truth of the alleged perpetrator’s disclosure. That person never disclosed any inappropriate touching with the siblings of the alleged victim. This is one practical example of how the “mistake” in the report might have had immense consequences.
I am most aggravated with medical personnel who interview children about sexual abuse during the medical examination. This is a common practice in Oregon and Eastern Washington. The child is scheduled for a forensic interview and a medical exam. The medical personnel assisting the child is aware the alleged victim will be interviewed right after the exam. But the doctor or nurse decides they are competent enough to conduct a little investigation of their own. They start with “So has anybody ever given you touches like this?” or “Children often tell me that they have been touched inappropriately, has that ever happened to you?”
Imagine what the child is going through at that moment. He or she is already uncomfortable with examining procedures (they practically always involve genital examination), and is now pressured by an authority figure to disclose something. The worst part comes when the child ends up being questioned and none of the conversation is even hand recorded. Do you see what has happened? The alleged victim has been just exposed to coercive questioning only to undergo stress of yet another interview, the statement’s been tainted, and almost none of the information collected was documented. This hurts both sides of the case: it undermines the credibility of the alleged victim, and/or ratchets up the allegations against the perpetrator. This is yet another one of the master pitfalls of the investigation.
My practical way of finding “the Bridge of Reasonable and Logical,” is in assisting attorneys by analyzing forensic interviews and investigations and testifying on the matter. The reason I testify in cases of Child Sexual Abuse, is that Forensic Interviewers and Investigators simply have not performed at the level of competence they needed to perform at. Difficulty is in having to accuse another professional that their work was either flawed, or incompetent, clumsy and so forth. However, someone needs to speak up and tell a Jury of twelve the Forensic interview and investigation didn’t reach the mark.
So what is the mark that I am referring to? Simply, when a Forensic Interview is properly conducted and the next day the Forensic Interviewer is hit by a truck the videotaped interview would speak for itself. Indeed, so loudly that the allegation against the perpetrator is confirmed beyond doubt. This takes considerable effort though — to walk a child through all the steps and to ask the right questions. Problems that generally persist in forensic interviews are: asking leading and suggestive questions, failure to follow-up on questions which would demonstrate the interviewer might be considering an alternative hypothesis, and rewarding the child after they say something positive for the prosecution. I could go on forever about this.
Ergo, why don’t police officers conduct the interviews of alleged child abuse victims? The reason, I presume, dates back years ago. Some child advocates thought it would be better for children to be interviewed by non-threatening individuals. The problem with not allowing the investigative officer to conduct the interview is they can’t get the feel as to whether they’re on the right track or not. It’s much different when you interview a witness yourself. You watch body language, which you can’t see through a two way mirror, you can hear the child’s breathing and watch the child’s eyes when they may be telling the truth or lying. Consequently, the majority of police departments rely on Forensic Interviewers who have never arrested a suspect and did not interview all the witnesses.
I’m not looking for Sherlock Holmes. However, I am looking for a competent police officer who can approach a case with a multitude of hypothesis and not the tunnel vision generally seen in the Forensic Interviews I review. This is why I testify — because individuals who call themselves Forensic Interviewers don’t have the credentials of a police officer who has years of experience in interviewing children and adults for other criminal matters. The police can take off their uniform and dress down to interview children whom may have been sexually abused. The training is available for police officers across the world, only Police Officers must want to be better than they are.
I generally testify in the states of Oregon and Washington. The issue considered is, did the Forensic Interviewer conduct a competent interview? In order to explore this, I need everything the attorney has received and or produced. There are three things I need:
Once this list of materials is received, I review the video recording of the interview to capture visual cues. I observe body language of the interviewer (if possible to see on the picture) as well as that of the alleged victim, watch for a display of any affect during the disclosure, note at what time the child might appear to be distracted from questioning, or seemed tired of the interview. Next, I read the Protocol the Forensic Interviewer was to follow during the interview. I take the interview transcript and put checkmarks on the basic format of the interview, such as presence of rapport-building questions, narrative section, closing, and other. I break the interview down even farther to the bones. All the questions asked by the interviewer get sectioned in categories. For example, there are open-ended questions, leading questions, coercive questions, multiple-choice questions etc. I determine how much and what kind of information was retrieved from the alleged victim by each type of questions and relate that percent to the total amount of questions asked. This method allows me to show what kind of questioning dominated throughout the interview.
I use up-to-date research and rely on my own experience to write an analysis section for each type of question asked to demonstrate its beneficial or detrimental effect on the disclosure. I combine the analysis of body language with the analysis of questioning to show how exactly the interviewer has or has not influenced the alleged victim. I also like to devote a separate section to interviewer’s skills and discuss the extent to which he or she adhered to the assigned protocol directions in the particular interview. My interview analysis also includes evaluation of the alleged victim. The usual overextended 30-min. video and a 20-page verbatim of the interview are more than enough for a professional to learn about the alleged victim and the interviewer’s abilities.
I offer a personal insight on the alleged victim’s responses and credit them genuine and complete, or incomplete, coached, non-legitimate. I form a plot of consistencies vs. inconsistencies from the alleged victim’s report, and this is one of the sections that surprises people the most. The interviewers usually don’t pick up on the inconsistencies in the course of the interview. Once I go in to select particular accounts given by an alleged victim, it sure does become clear whether or not that the child is being truthful, lying or exaggerating. Besides that, I collect attributes of the alleged victim’s ability to recollect memories, and comment on the significance of the amount of detail described.
During the rapport building, some children can tell lengthy and extremely detailed stories from their last year's birthday and long-gone Halloween parties, but when later addressing an incident of abuse only about a month old they begin to struggle and shrug their shoulders saying, “I don’t really remember. I don’t do so well on memorizing stuff,” but don’t exhibit any emotions, nor discomfort. Right away, this screams “rehearsed disclosure” and “tainted, if not implemented,” memories. The process of such evaluation is lengthy and challenging, but the outcomes of are crucial for the investigation. A great share of my new clients claim this type of service is unique, and they never used it before.
Why isn’t this popular practice? Once again, because not too many people out there recognize the damage caused by improper interviewing, and not too many brave experts take on the responsibility of evaluating someone else’s work. Some simply write books on what they assume are proper interviewing methods, and I find myself writing about techniques I actually implement. The analyses I completed have already caused a couple cases to be dismissed before trial because of the powerful representation they make, and amount of information they elicit. In some cases the alleged victim disclosure proves to be honest and legitimate; in others, my analysis renders the disclosure inadmissible for evidence. Therefore, I strongly encourage attorneys to have a special look at the alleged victim interviews conducted.
Depending on the case type and jurisdiction, different dimensions of case analysis are performed. Besides evaluating children’s interviews, I also work on cases that require inspection of all the discovery documents, such as DHS reports, Police Reports, witness statements, and others. An Attorney forwards all the material available on the case for my review and similarly to interview analysis, I break down all the information in sections so as not to omit any detail. I have twenty years of experience as a Police Officer, and know that, once the allegations are received, the first task of the investigator is to attempt to reconstruct the crime scene.
In my Affidavits I call this section “The Origin and Environment.” Often I discover Protective Services did nothing to investigate the circumstances surrounding the alleged incident. In that scenario, I approach all aspects of the household environment in which the allegations arose: the dynamics of relationships, people of influence, people of interest, financial circumstances, legal circumstances, and all that pertain to such topics. If some of that information has been collected I demonstrate its relevance to the alleged victim’s account. The next section I examine is perhaps the central theme of the investigation — the alleged victim. I examine the alleged victim’s cultural, ethnic, religious or social frame of reference — anything that might change the “rules” for interpreting the alleged victim’s statements, actions, affect, response to authority, suggestibility, etc. Thereafter, I investigate the alleged victim’s cognitive function and developmental history, including academic achievements, performance in testing, language and communications issues. This is done to note any disabilities that might impair the alleged victim’s memory and ability to fabricate the disclosure.
The alleged victim’s mental health or counseling history is also reviewed. Sometimes children who are subjected to “therapy” by overzealous counselors or therapists will suddenly “disclose” inappropriate touching. Often, the interpretation of a child’s statements is “enhanced” by these “mandatory reporters” of abuse, who fear legal repercussions if they don’t report anything vaguely resembling abuse. From such exaggerated “reports” have arisen countless allegations, which typically “evolve” into more serious situations as therapists bring out the sand and the paint and evoke drawings and sculpture from children, interpreting their random scribbles or blobs of sand as penises and “signs of abuse” or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. In the “alleged victim” section I further recreate the entire landscape in which the disclosure was made and form “a disclosure history.”
It is very important to note under which circumstances the child disclosed a particular incident, and also to whom such testimony was reported. These hearsay accounts are often valuable for tracing any patterns of coaching, excessive interviewing and inconsistencies or “evolved” statements. In addition, I assess how detailed the disclosure was, and whether this detail was provided spontaneously or in response to specific questions. If a disclosure is spontaneous, with no apparent probing questions, then the allegation is more likely to be true. I use three tests when determining the likelihood that a disclosure may be true:
Besides the testing technique described above, I consider the child’s affect at the time of disclosure to be a separate and important factor. I consider if the affect was consistent throughout the interview and appropriate to the statements being made. I believe a competent investigation must be complete in its nature, which is achieved by evaluating family members, or persons associated with the alleged victim. If possible I search for a history of hyper-vigilance, and accusations of sexual abuse against other people in the past, as well as a history of possible sexual abuse suffered by parents or close friends.
Children can be used as tools by their parents, relatives or older friends. I attempt to formulate a list of individuals who might confirm or refute any portion of the alleged victim’s disclosure. I formulate alternative hypotheses and outline any mistakes and omissions done by the facilitating/caretaking offices, and child protective services. Besides, I consider the findings of the medical examination and compare them to the alleged story line. Once again, I include a thoughtful analysis of the forensic interview(s). There exist many ways in which an interviewer might alter or compromise a witness’s memory through the conducting of improper witness interview(s). I follow-up with a conclusion and a summary of my findings, as well with my expert opinion about the validity of the alleged victim’s account based on the investigation I’ve done on the case.
Now, what renders me capable of objectively analyzing someone else’s work is interviewing practice of my own. I have done over 5,000 interviews and am a leading expert in conducting child interviews. When I interview a child, the first step I perform is what I call the narrative stage of the child interview. This is where I instruct the alleged victim on the importance of truth and accuracy, and rehearse understanding of such concepts. I engage the alleged victim in a casual conversation and learn about his or her family, favorite hobbies, school progress etc. My objective at that stage of the interview is to get to know the child and his or her intellectual abilities, cultural values, and spot any signs of distress and symptoms that pertain to abuse. I determine the alleged victim’s attitude toward me, and adjust the conversation style to make the child feel comfortable, yet stay aware of me as an authority figure and remember to be truthful. I constantly make sure children pay attention to me and are not distracted, and if such distractions exist I remove them, or stop the interview and resume when the problem gets fixed. Often, younger children may begin to tell embellished stories about their favorite cartoon characters and whatnot, and unlike most interviewers, I have courage to stop the child and carefully explain that fantasies are not something we want to talk about during the interview.
I make the child think of his or her environment, family and friends, and in such way transition from the narrative stage to the disclosure. I ask them how those close to them treat them and what kind of feelings the alleged victim associates with such people. If the child has been a victim of sexual abuse, here is when their appearance and attitude change, body language signifies fear and or embarrassment, as they begin to utter “I don’t like him. He does “this” to me.” Here is a focal point of the interview, and suggestive and leading comments and questions are inadmissible. I encourage the child to go ahead and explain what they mean further, “tell me more about that,” and or, “help me understand.” If the alleged victim is reluctant to say much more, I would ask them to explain such behavior. The explanation might not result in any further disclosure, but it renders me information of the etiology of the fear that the child has, and whether such emotion is genuine.
I would never try to bribe the child as some interviewer do in such instances, offering deals and compromises, such as “well if you tell me really quick you can have this toy and go see mommy.” As a true experienced professional, I keep my questions open-ended, and my expressions, together with responses, neutral. At all times during the disclosure, I remain willing to entertain the “null hypothesis” — that is, that nothing has happened. I make sure to cover the following elements of the alleged incident history:
I help the alleged victim retrieve the experience
by providing multiple opportunities for free-response. Meanwhile I
assess other factors observed during the child’s history, such as level
of spontaneity when answering questions, guardedness, or appearing
“rehearsed.” It is very frustrating to children having to repeat
his or her account several times, and to minimize such stresses I kindly
ask children to speak up and speak clearly. I terminate the
interview if the child appears to be tired, or informs me that he or she
needs to take a break. I always thank the alleged victim for
talking to me and compliment their patience and cooperation. I
have never had a child
A certain percentage of abused children just don’t want to talk during the interview. Child caretakers will often inform their child that the interview will be conducted and talk to them about cooperative during that process. Others simply tell children that they will have a “check-up” appointment. Regardless of what children were prepared for or told to expect, they have their own agenda, and sometimes it conflicts with the goals of the interview. Children may also talk to the interviewer about some circumstances of abuse but resist certain topics of discussion. They may do so consciously as well as unconsciously. Besides the modest refusal to talk, children may manipulate the interviewer by resisting discussion of “the full story.”
Children can resist in most subtle ways — by conveniently faking forgetfulness, by omission of mention (pretend well-being), by changing the subject, by means of exaggerations, by use of diversionary tactics (such as telling jokes and asking to go to the restroom just to interrupt the questioning), etc. (Morrison, J., 2008, p.189). The alleged victims use such methods to avoid exhuming information for variety of reasons. They might not sympathize with the interviewer, they might feel very sensitive about the subject, there might be fear of criticism and responsibility, and the alleged victims might also do so because of anger. This possesses many problems for the Forensic Interviewer. A couple months ago I received a case where the police officer, demonstrating her impatience, suggested the answers to the child by using multiple, leading and coercive questions, such as,
When I interviewed the Police Officer, I asked her why she didn’t shut down the interview and re-interview the child on another day. She told me that the child and her mother had driven a long ways to come to the interview, therefore, she found it necessary to press the child. Here are a few examples of that,
Moreover, I asked her why she didn’t videotape the interview, and she said she was doing a favor for another jurisdiction. Yes, said I, how many excuses did she have in her pocketbook? It is a great pity to come across the interview where the Police Officer does not even recognize the implications of the lousy and incompetent job they performed. Yes, it is very important to determine and remedy whatever the cause of children’s resistance to talk, but there is right and wrong way to do it. In my professional opinion, Forensic Interviewers feel they have to get a disclosure from the child no matter how the Forensic Interviewer gets it. In the example I just gave there were several things the Police Officer did that were obvious indicators of biased interview. They were:
I could provide additional examples of Forensic Interviewers who changed the tone and attitude of the interview. Children will talk to you if you ask the right and proper question on their timetable, not the Forensic Interviewer’s.
Child Sexual Abuse is a very complex and complicated type of allegation. Forensic Interviewing is necessary to resolve a case of Child Sexual Abuse. But as demonstrated throughout this article, Police Officers and Juries should be mindful that such interviews don’t always produce reliable testimonies. Children were interviewed way before such terms as Forensic Interviewing surfaced and Interviewing Protocols were created, and children can be viable witnesses. In current years of youth corruption and children’s inevitable exposure to multiple sources of sexual knowledge, the investigation must be able to count on a truly professional interview and interview analysis. Unfortunately, Forensic Interviewing, as of now, has low standards on techniques implied, and there are no people out there that like me to speak up and perform the investigation of change. The bridge of reasonable and logical is ultimately the destination of “truth of the story.” I find the bridge of reasonable and logical every day in my practice, and I know that it protects the abused children and saves the falsely accused perpetrators.
Television statistics: retrieved from www.csun.edu/science/health/docs/tv&health.html on July 10, 2008.
Bronson, P. .Learning to Lie. February 2008. Retrieved from: http://www.nymag.com/news/features/43893 on July 16, 2008.
Reiman, T.. The eyebrows. Body Language University. Retrieved from http://www.bodylanguageuniversity.com/members/191.cfm on July 16, 2008.