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Interviewing Child Witnesses and Victims of Sexual Abuse

NCJ Number
K J Saywitz; K C Faller
Date Published
December 2002
28 pages
This guide provides practical information for law enforcement officers, child protection workers, child abuse investigators, and others faced with the need to obtain information from children who may be victims or witnesses of child sexual abuse.
The approaches and techniques described are designed to be legally defensible while minimizing further trauma to the child. The techniques emphasize the maintenance of an objective perspective by the interviewer by avoiding leading questions, especially with young children, who may be susceptible to the suggestions of adults. Some suggestions for an interviewer's approach are to be sensitive to the child's level of development, to be flexible, to be objective, and to be empathetic. In talking to children, some guidelines are to phrase the question so the child understands; talk about what children understand; help children deal with questions they do not understand; be objective and avoid suggesting answers; 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. The phases of an interview discussed are preparation, setting and context, rapport-building and developmental observations, information exchange, and closure. Specific guidelines for interviewing children who may have been sexually abused focus on level of likelihood of the abuse, preparation for the interview, questioning, and the use of anatomical dolls and other media. 19 suggested supplemental readings, 5 organizations, and 15 additional resources.