Recent Research: Child Victim Interviews

By Drinnan, Lora | Canadian Journal of Police and Security Services, June 2003 | Go to article overview

Recent Research: Child Victim Interviews


Drinnan, Lora, Canadian Journal of Police and Security Services


Lamb, M.E., & Garretson, M.E. (2003). The effects of interviewer and child gender on the informativeness of alleged child sexual victims in forensic interviews. Law and Human Behavior, 27, 157-171.

It has been suggested that Hugo Munsterberg was one of the first social scientists to promote the empirical exploration of eyewitness memory accuracy (Wrightsman, 2001). Munsterberg (1908) argued that it was important for the courts and other legal entities to know whether a witness's recollections are objective reconstructions of past events, or reconstructions studded with associations and suggestions. Since the early work of Munsterberg, significant research has been conducted in eyewitness memory, creating a rich tapestry of areas of concentration within the field itself. One area that has received a significant amount of attention involves the processes surrounding the interviewing of witnesses, especially in regard to the differences between children and adult witnesses. Included among the findings to date in this area, is the fact that children and adults differ in terms of their level of vulnerability during the interview process, with children tending to be more susceptible to misleading questions than adults (Roebers and Schneider, 2000).

In their article entitled, "The Effects of Interviewer and Child Gender on the Informativeness of Alleged Child Sexual Victims in Forensic Interviews", Lamb and Garretson suggest that age and communicative abilities are important considerations when questioning a child victim in cases involving alleged sexual abuse. Specifically, the authors argue that the gender of the interviewer and the child can significantly impact the effectiveness of the interaction with regard to the accuracy of information. As evidence for this claim, the authors cite previous research indicating that male interviewers tend to be more verbally aggressive and argumentative (i.e., they tend to ignore, challenge, dispute, and interrupt) than female interviewers. Lamb and Garretson argue that this more aggressive approach may cause children to become more susceptible to suggestion and result in a less accurate account of events when compared to female interviewers who tend to be perceived as less authoritative and more supportive.

Based on the above research, Lamb and Garretson argue that supportiveness appears to be a key factor in a child victim's perception of authority and that this can significantly decrease the level of suggestiveness and subsequently improve the accuracy of responses to misleading questions. In short, the authors suggest that forensic interviewers who are perceived as more supportive tend to elicit more information from a child. In addition, this information tends to be more accurate because the supportive interaction encourages the child to respond with their perception of the event rather than to suggestive remarks that may be made by the interviewer.

In addition to the above, Lamb and Garretson also suggest that the gender of the interviewer and interviewee is especially important in situations where best practice guidelines and protocols are not employed. For the most part, best practice guidelines maintain that the interviewer should build a rapport with the child in order to facilitate disclosure and informativeness. In addition, guidelines suggest that interviewers should utilize open-ended utterances that allow the child to provide details without interference or suggestion from the interviewer. As an example, the authors refer to the NICHD (National Institute of Child and Human Development) protocol (Orbach, Hershkowits, Esplin, & Horowitz, 2000) which encourages building a rapport with the child at the initiation of the interview in order to create a more relaxed atmosphere. The protocol also encourages the interviewer to explain the 'ground rules' to ensure that the child understands the importance of telling the truth, including asking for clarification if a question is confusing and saying "I don't know" when appropriate. …

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