Academic journal article Canadian Psychology

Challenges Facing East Asian Immigrant Children in Sexual Abuse Cases

Academic journal article Canadian Psychology

Challenges Facing East Asian Immigrant Children in Sexual Abuse Cases

Article excerpt

A substantial portion of immigrants to Canada comes from East Asia (e.g., Mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Korea). In this article, we discuss how culture shapes the way that children recall autobiographical events, how language differences can affect prosecutions of child sexual abuse, and why cultural differences (between East Asia and North America) may affect the likelihood that children disclose abuse. These three factors closely interplay with each other, which can lead child abuse victims who are from East Asian cultures to be underrepresented and disadvantaged in the Canadian legal system.

In this article, we discuss the severe consequences that may face East Asian immigrant families when their children try to disclose alleged sexual abuse. In particular, we refer to Mandarin Chinese speakers. We first discuss the role of children in investigations of abuse in Canada and then outline some cultural differences between Euro-Canadian and Asian cultures. We then present our argument about how cultural and language differences may impact the investigation and prosecution of abuse.

Child sexual abuse investigations can take place in two ways: Children could directly voice the allegations (known as disclosure) or a concerned adult might suspect abuse and report it to authorities. In both Canada and the United States, there is mandatory reporting of abuse (i.e., adults must report suspected abuse to the authorities or risk being "accessories" to the abuse). A common sequence of events after a disclosure/suspicion of abuse is for the relevant child welfare and legal authorities to proceed with an investigation to determine, first, if the child is in imminent danger and, second, whether there is information of sufficient quality to proceed with an investigation (Brubacher, Bala, Roberts, & Price, 2016). Although there are sometimes witnesses who can give first-hand accounts, sexual abuse often takes place in private and so the only testimony can come from the child and/or the perpetrator. Suspected perpetrators commonly deny the abuse unless there is a credible, quality statement from the alleged victim (Pipe, Orbach, Lamb, Abbott, & Stewart, 2013). Thus, what children say in investigative (forensic) interviews is critical to decisions about whether to prosecute or not.

It is our argument that East Asian immigrant children are particularly disadvantaged and, potentially, at-risk, compared to Westernized children. As illustrated in Figure 1, we focus specifically on three areas of concern: (1) cultural differences that can shape children's memory recall, (2) cultural differences that can impact the path of disclosure of sexual abuse, and (3) language differences which reduce the chances that perpetrators will be prosecuted for sexual abuse. Before discussing these cultural differences, we outline the role of memory in a forensic interview given the importance of children's role as victim witnesses. This provides the reader with a clear idea of what is involved in Canadian investigations of child abuse.

Children's Memory and the Forensic Interview

Good forensic interviewers allow children to freely recall what happened to them. This means that children are free to choose what information they report. There are no hints or suggestions at this stage as to what sort of details are needed. When we recall, one memory reminds us of another memory and so on. In more visual terms, picture a web of neuronal pathways each connected to another. Each pathway produces a memory and links to the next piece of information. Thus, we can recall many details about an experienced event.

Recalling memories requires a larger cognitive load than recognizing pieces of information. An interviewer who asks, "Was your mum there?" is asking the child to recognize whether mum was present. Although recognition is easier than recall, it is not a forensically valid technique in child sexual abuse interviews. By describing a piece of information, the interviewer is suggesting information that may or may not be true. …

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