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The interview in sexual abuse

The interview in sexual abuse In the early 1980s when sexual abuse began to be disclosed with increasing frequency, no guidelines for conducting interviews existed (Faller, 1996). Child protective services workers, who are required to have only a bachelor’s level education and not necessarily one in a mental health field, were also those responsible for conducting these interviews. Because this agency was not prepared for the influx of reports, these early interviews of children “were conducted by professionals with little training, few skills, and not much time” (p. 84). Law enforcement officials, the other group most likely to interview the child, had training primarily in interrogating suspects, a skill that for obvious reasons did not lend itself to evaluating child victims. Even mental health workers involved in these initial efforts had no special training in determining whether an event did or did not occur. This early environment of high-stakes interviewing—in a vacuum of guidelines—had two predictable results. First, research on issues surrounding the interviewing process became a priority, and second, a number of controversies erupted over the interviewing process. Indeed, by the mid-1980s, a backlash had begun that continues even today. Faller (1996) categorizes the controversies relating to the interview process as four separate issues: (a) the ability of the interviewer to conduct a competent interview; (b) the structure and process of the interview; (c) the process of decisionmaking regarding whether sexual abuse occurred; and (d) the competence of the child to describe actual events. Within this last category, Faller also includes issues surrounding the child’s reluctance to disclose, memory problems, vulnerability to suggestion, and whether children lie or fantasize about abuse incidents. Because this fourth category is beyond the scope of this book, it will not be discussed other than to note Gardner’s recent and incredible comments that “children normally exhibit just about any kind of sexual behavior imaginable: heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, and autosexual” (as cited in Faller, 1996, pp. 89-90). He also discusses how a fouryear- old girl may “harbor, among her collection of polymorphous perverse fantasies, thoughts of some kinds of sexual encounters with her father” (p. 90). While his comments probably represent some of the more outlandish concerns, some of the issues being discussed today are salient, and research is now addressing these issues. This next section focuses on Faller’s (1996) first two issues: the ability of the interviewer to conduct a competent interview and the structure and process of the interview. The following section, “Factors Affecting Evaluation Decisions,” then discusses Faller’s third issue: the process of decision-making regarding whether sexual abuse occurred.

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