Interviewing techniques in sexual abuse cases – a comparison of a day-care abuse case with normal abuse cases1

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In sexual abuse cases children's testimony plays an important role. To evaluate the quality of a witness' statement, the interviewing techniques and the context of the investigative interview have to be considered. The interviewing techniques from the highly publicized day care abuse cases during the 1980s have been repeatedly found to be directive and suggestive. Many of these interviewing techniques, such as positive and negative reinforcement, inducing stereotypes and repeated questioning within and between interviews, have been shown empirically to elicit false statements from young children. Many different interview guidelines point to this problem and suggest alternative interviewing techniques. Overall, there are few quantitative studies of interviewer behavior in sexual abuse cases. None of these has compared the interviewer behavior in a day care abuse case with interviewer behavior in “normal” sexual abuse cases by the Child Protective Service (CPS) in the USA. A first study compared behavior in these two contexts and confirmed the notion that the amount of suggestive interviewing techniques is significantly higher in a sample of day care abuse interviews than in a sample of CPS interviews. These results support the former statements of Ceci & Bruck (1995) that interviews with child witnesses in sexual abuse cases, especially in day care ritual abuse cases, include suggestive interviewing techniques. These have to be discussed considering their impact on statements of child witnesses.

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