The Truth About Interviewing Victims of Child Abuse (Part 4)

A forensic interviewer has to be careful not to coach a child, even unconsciously.


This is a series aimed at taking an in-depth look at the many challenges a forensic interviewer faces when interviewing a child.  In the previous article we talked about the issue of confirmatory bias, and why it’s so important to keep all of the collected data free from preconceived ideas. In this segment we’re going to look at some of the strategies employed by forensic interviewers, and some of the concerns and possible problems they may face while interviewing possible victims of child abuse.


One of the areas where an interviewer has to be particularly careful is with regard to the issue of coaching. It is critically important for an interviewer to take the time to determine whether or not a child has been “coached” to provide certain answers to certain questions. Sometimes this is obvious because a child will blurt out certain answers because they want to say what they were told to say before they forget, or they’ll only have a fixed set of answers to a certain question but not know how to answer other questions.


But the flip side of this coin is the other, less easily noted type of coaching – the kind done by the interviewer themselves. Whether they are aware of it or not, a child often responds to authority by wanting to please, and so will pay attention to the type of answers that appear to make the interviewer pleased or satisfied.


In this way, an interviewer can unwittingly skew the results of an interview by allowing the child to detect their disappointment at answers that don’t match the preconceived notion of what happened. It is critically important for an interviewer to remain as neutral as possible, both in the way they respond to their subject during the interview, and with regard to what they hope to discover – which should only be the truth, and nothing more.


Another obstacle that may affect the outcome of an interview is the use of fear tactics.


Children tend to believe what they are told, and if they have been told that someone they care for might go to jail because of what they say, or that tattling to the police could mean that they never see a loved one again, they will naturally be reluctant to share details.


These kind of fear tactics can greatly affect what a child is willing to share. This is why a forensic interviewer needs to spend some time determining whether or not fear has been used to manipulate a child’s answers. Sometimes the person threatening the child is the accused, and sometimes it is someone else entirely, who is hoping to support a false allegation or to transfer blame. This will need to be thoroughly investigated.


One last thing to consider is that fear tactics may be used unwittingly by the interviewer as well. The interviewer may tell the child that someone they love may go to jail, or that they may never see a loved one again.  This could very well damage their trust in the interviewer and cause them to clam up, for fear of getting someone into trouble and then having to bear the burden of guilt.  That’s no way to get at the truth either.


In the final segment we’ll be discussing some of the strategies employed by forensic interviewers.  Also, we’ll look at some of the issues they need to be aware of, like “coaching” and fear tactics when conducting interviews. Until then, if you or a loved one have been accused of abusing or neglecting a child in Michigan, or have been contacted by CPS, call The Kronzek Firm immediately at 866 766 5245. Contact us now and discuss your case with an experienced child abuse defense attorney. We are available to help 24 hours a day, 7 days a week .


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