An objective assessment of a forensic interview involving a child who reports sexual abuse is a prudent component of quality improvement and assuring proper procedures were followed. A poor interview does not discount the possibility of sexual abuse. However, the format and process of the forensic interview have been developed to minimize leading questions and ensure as accurate a history as possible.
The interviewer of a child or adolescent presenting with concern for sexual abuse or sexual assault should remember the following principles:
- audiotape or videotape the interview, if possible;
- use a minimum number of interviews (perhaps two or three), as multiple interviews may encourage confabulation;
- avoid repetitive questions, either/or questions, and multiple questions, and try to avoid leading and suggestive questions;
- use restatement, that is, repeat the child’s account back to the child (which allows the interviewer to see if the child is consistent and ensures that the interviewer understands the child’s report)
Child Sexual Abuse Forensic Interview Process and Protocol
- conduct the interview without the parent present (if the child is very young, consider having a family member enter the room and separate thereafter;
- if a camera or microphone is present, inform the child that people responsible for making them safe may be watching, but that no family member is observing the interaction. Only investigative team members should be observing a forensic interview;
- use an examination technique that is appropriate to the child’s age and developmental level, such as drawings and play re-enactment;
- determine the child’s terms for body parts and sexual acts; do not educate or provide new terms
Content of a Child Sexual Abuse Forensic Interview
A forensic interview should not take the form of an interrogation. Note the child’s affect while discussing these topics and be tactful in helping the child manage anxiety. Young children may not be able to report all of the relevant information and disclosures commonly emerge over time. The examiner should explore the following:
- whether the child was told to report or not report anything;
- what relationship the child has to alleged perpetrator was;
- what the alleged perpetrator did;
- where it happened;
- for multiple occurrences that are reported, when the abuse it started and when it ended;
- number of times the abuse occurred;
- if and how the child was initially engaged and how the abuse progressed over time;
- if and how the alleged perpetrator induced the child to maintain secrecy;
- whether the child is aware of specific injuries or physical symptoms associated with the abuse;
- whether any photography or videotaping took place.
The Stepwise Interview Components and Protocol
- Build Rapport
- Ask the Child to Describe Two Specific Past Events
- Establish the Need to Tell the Truth
- Reach an agreement with the child that in this interview only the truth (not “pretend” or imagination) will be discussed.
- Explain to the child that it is fine not to know the answer to a question. It is fine to correct the interviewer.
- Start with general questions such as “Do you know why you are talking with me today?” Proceed, if necessary, to more specific questions such as “Has anything happened to you?” Drawings may help initiate disclosure.
- Elicit a Free Narrative
- Pose General Questions
- Pose Specific Questions if Necessary
- Conclude the Interview
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