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Interviewing Child Witnesses and Victims of Sexual Abuse

NCJ Number
Date Published
July 2006
24 pages
This guide provides practical information for law enforcement officers, child protection workers, child abuse investigators, and others whose work involves obtaining information from children who may be victims or witnesses of child sexual abuse.
The first part of the guide addresses some basic considerations that investigators must take into account when interviewing children so as to ensure that the interview yields useful, factual information. It advises that the accuracy and completeness of children's statements are maximized when the interviewer creates an accepting, unbiased interaction with the child. This is done by posing understandable questions objectively and with expressions of empathy. Four important features of the interviewer-child interaction are sensitivity to the child's stage of development, flexibility, objectivity, and empathy. Suggestions are offered for how to simplify language so children can understand the questions being asked. Other general guidelines proposed are to provide a nonjudgmental atmosphere; begin the interview with broad, open-ended questions; avoid leading questions; help children overcome their anxieties; and understand children's emotional reactions. In providing general guidance for interviews with children, the guide also outlines and provides suggestions for phases of an interview, which include preparation, setting and context, rapport building and developmental observations, information exchange, and closure. Suggestions are offered for assessing a child's understanding. The second major section of the guide focuses on interviewing children who may have been sexually abused. The focus is on addressing challenges associated with such an interview, including countering the strategies used by the perpetrator to keep the child from disclosing the sexual abuse, leading a child to voluntary disclosure of the abuse when the child has yet to disclose the abuse to anyone, and providing an interactive environment in which the child feels comfortable discussing intimate secrets. Extensive listing of organizational and literature resources

Date Published: July 1, 2006