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the process and structure of the interview in sexual abuse

the process and structure of the interview in sexual abuse Properly conducted interviews with children are challenging and thus the interviewer requires extensive training. Because of these challenges, is not surprising that the few studies conducted have found that even with training, difficulties in the interviewing process occur. For example, one study examined 42 interview transcripts of child protective services workers in multiple counties from a single state (Warren, Woodall, Hunt, & Perry, 1996). Overall, the researchers found large discrepancies between interview guidelines and actual interviews within all phases of the interview. Another study by Boat and Everson (1996) examined how child protective services workers used anatomical dolls in 96 videotaped interviews. The results of this study were more encouraging, as few concerning practices were noted when workers used the anatomical doll as a comforter, an icebreaker, or as an anatomical model. The number of concerning practices increased, however, when workers used the dolls as a method for allowing children to demonstrate what happened to them. Overall, concerning practices were evident in most of the interviews, although those with the greatest potential for shaping the outcome of the case were observed rarely. Even so, these studies suggest that training of child protective services workers can be improved. With structural problems such as high turnover rates and limited time for interviews, however, problematic interviewing techniques may continue even with better skills training. Concerns have also been expressed about interviewers other than child protective services workers, many of whom are professional mental health workers with specialized training in interviewing techniques. Again the concern has been that poor practices might lead to false disclosures or partially confabulated responses. Some of the more outlandish allegations about these interviewers are again voiced by Gardner, who is summarized by Faller (1996): He calls interviewers “validators,” a pejorative term, and says they are poorly educated, poorly trained, and involved in sexual abuse assessments for a variety of inappropriate motives. For example, Gardner suggests that they may be survivors of sexual abuse working out their own issues, sexually inhibited individuals ill at ease with their own pedophilia, sadists, paranoids, overzealous feminists, and hypocrites.. . .Further, Gardner states that validators may experience sexual gratification when they imagine an act of sexual abuse and that this sexual problem apparently plays a key role in their need to foster false allegations. (p. 86) It is worth mentioning that Gardner never provides support for these comments. Even ignoring Gardner’s outlandish comments, there are some concerns about interviewing practices. In an early study, Boat and Everson (1988) found that 67% of professionals responded that parents were sometimes present during the interview in which anatomical dolls were used, whereas the alleged perpetrator was present in about 6% of interviews. More recently, Lamb, Sternberg, and Esplin (1998) investigated 10 different types of utterances used by interviewers. The more focused of these utterances could potentially have some degree of suggestive influence, whereas the more open-ended utterances typically elicit better information. In their own studies as well as those of other researchers, they found that focused utterances were more common than open-ended utterances. Because of these findings, they designed a study in which one group of interviewers had a script that included many open-ended utterances during the rapport-building phase of the interview, whereas another group had a script that included more focused items. Children who had been “trained” through the use of open-ended utterances in the rapport-building phase gave more details throughout the remainder of the interview. The inclusion of openended questions in the rapport-building phase had no effect on interviewers, however, who quickly fell back into their pattern of asking more focused questions throughout the remainder of the interview. In a more recent study, interviewers were trained in a NICHD “flexibly structured protocol incorporating a wide range of strategies believed to enhance retrieval” (Orbach et al., 2000, p. 734). Investigators trained in this procedure were able to establish superior retrieval conditions that led to elicited information from children of higher quality than before the interviewer was trained. The amount of information gathered, however, was similar. While this method requires extensive training, these findings suggest that interviewers can establish superior retrieval conditions that then elicit information from children that is of higher quality. While few in number, these studies suggest that some problems in interviewing continue to occur. Because guidelines such as the American Professional Society for Abused Children’s (APSAC) 1997 Psychosocial Evaluation of Suspected Sexual Abuse in Children and the NICHD protocol (Orbach et al., 2000) exist for how to conduct competent interviews, one important issue is the continued intensive education and training in skills for professionals conducting forensic interviews, while continuing research on how to improve techniques. Another important issue, however, is who should conduct the interviews. While child protective services workers are currently mandated to conduct these difficult interviews (Faller, 1996), they may not have a degree in a social services discipline nor a postgraduate degree. Their enormous time constraints and high turnover rates are other barriers to sufficient training. Given the time necessary to conduct multiple interviews (since disclosures often occur over multiple sessions with the child) (Sorenson & Snow, 199 1), the extensive training required to conduct competent interviews, and the high stakes involved for both actual and false disclosures, it would appear that our most experienced, best-trained mental health professionals should instead have this difficult responsibility.

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