Academic journal article The European Journal of Counselling Psychology

Forensic Interviews with Children Victims of Sexual Abuse: The Role of the Counselling Psychologist

Academic journal article The European Journal of Counselling Psychology

Forensic Interviews with Children Victims of Sexual Abuse: The Role of the Counselling Psychologist

Article excerpt


In the last decades, international literature has highlighted the risk of secondary victimization of children abuse victims following disclosure of their violation and their inevitable involvement in procedures that significantly aggravate their condition (Bruck, Melnyk, & Ceci, 2000; Saywitz & Nathanson, 1993; Tedesco & Schnell, 1987). Unfortunately, even today - despite the findings of the scientific community - children are frequently considered to be "second class" witnesses (Davies & Noon, 1991), as their credibility and their mnemonic ability are considerably questioned. These are, obviously, out-dated views that worsen the condition of the children and obstruct the detection of the truth.

Research on an international level seems to focus on the cognitive function of children's memory and the way in which it may be biased, despite the "suffering" inferred by their participation in the Criminal Justice System (Tedesco & Schnell, 1987). It is estimated that, only during the preliminary proceedings, a child victim of sexual abuse will present for questioning an average of 12 times (Ceci & Bruck, 1995). It is an extremely difficult and, at the same time, painful procedure throughout which children are encouraged to talk about the most traumatic experience of their lives to people they are not familiar with (Bruck, Melnyk, & Ceci, 2000).

On an international level, the majority of abused children interview protocols provide for the presence of a psychologist in all stages of the criminal procedure. Professionals, depending on their approach, may influence, mislead, undermine, lead or hurt the children.

By-passing an initial preparation stage, which is important in establishing an atmosphere of trust and safety, misuse of techniques and methodological tools, multiple interviews by different people and their multiple repetitions, the use of leading questions, the adoption of unreliable techniques by professionals without appropriate training, the non-observance of a basic code of ethics, lead to the development of excessive stress, distortion of memory, decrease of the credibility of the child's testimony, and, consequently, diminished possibilities of conviction of the perpetrator (Krähenbühl & Blades, 2006; Wood & Garven, 2000).

The psychologist who will examine the allegations of abused children must demonstrate empathy and flexibility in using, often, different types of approaches, and act always in the best interest of the child, with a view to the protection of its rights. To that effect, the maturity of the minor, the age, the particularities, the nature of the violation, the cultural framework, the characteristics of the case etc. must be taken into consideration. The role of the counselling psychologist seems to be of utmost importance for ascertaining the truth as well as for the protection of the child victim from possible re-traumatisation.

The Sexual Abuse Accommodation Syndrome

Outcomes of studies demonstrate the devastating consequences of violence in childhood, especially when it occurs within the family. More than half of the children victims suffer from intense emotional distress and behavioural disorders throughout their lives (Graham-Bermann, 2001). Depression (Silvern et al., 1995), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), cognitive dysfunctions (Rossman, 1998) and decreased development of social skills (Edleson, 1999) are reported, among other conditions. Especially when the abuse is sexual, the consequences are dramatic (Banyard, Williams, & Siegel, 2001).

Until recently, there were various myths and stereotypes about the delay in the disclosure of abuse. Even specialists, believed that sexually abused children should be behaving in particular ways during disclosure, otherwise they could not be considered credible. In particular, it was believed that abused children ought to experience intense negative emotions such as fear, anger, sadness, etc. …

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