Forensic Interviewing of Children

Forensic interviewing of children is an impartial fact-finding process that guides decision-making in criminal, family, and juvenile law cases. A forensic interview is a structured conversation that is designed to obtain information from the child about an event the child has experienced. A properly conducted forensic interview tests alternative hypotheses and is directed by questions that permit the child to report events in their own words. When there is concern that a child has been physically or sexually abused, a forensic interview can assist in evidence-gathering and determine what steps are needed to protect the child’s physical safety and emotional well-being. In many cases the forensic interview is a central piece of evidence and, therefore, it should rest on research-based interview techniques that will produce reliable and credible information and result in a fair disposition of the legal charges.

Forensic interviewing of children involves multiple steps, including:

  • Pre-interview data gathering
  • Preparing the interview room
  • Introducing the interviewer to the child and establishing rapport
  • Explaining ground rules
  • Conducting a practice interview
  • Introducing the substantive topic
  • Eliciting a free narrative
  • Asking follow-up questions
  • Ending the interview

A child forensic interviewer must consider a variety of potential issues that may impact how judges or jurors view a child’s testimony, including memory and suggestibility, disclosure, and recantation, and the use of anatomical dolls, body diagrams, and drawings.

Children’s Memory and Suggestibility

child-sitting-1816400_640Allegations of child physical abuse and child sexual abuse are serious matters requiring skillful, methodical investigation. The complex nature of these charges is often compounded by a lack of physical evidence or delay between the occurrence of the alleged abuse and its disclosure. At trial, decisions about witness credibility are made by judges or jurors who may not be familiar with issues related to children’s memory and suggestibility. Research shows that misconceptions exist about the accuracy and credibility of a child’s memory, and providing judges and jurors with accurate information can be a crucial aspect of trial strategy. Knowledgeable expert testimony can diminish both unnecessary doubt and naïve trust in children’s reports of physical abuse and sexual abuse, and can contribute to the fair administration of justice.

Dr. Swerdlow-Freed can provide research-based testimony regarding:

  • Children’s memory and suggestibility
  • Disclosure of physical abuse and sexual abuse
  • Forensic interviewing procedures and guidelines
  • Interviewer bias
  • Recantation
  • Use of anatomical dolls, body diagrams, and drawings

Disclosure and Recantation

In addition to misconceptions about a child’s memory and suggestibility, cases involving the sexual abuse of children can involve complicated dilemmas that may arise from repeating questions within an interview or repeating interviews. These dilemmas are compounded by delayed disclosure or recantation of the allegation. Both predicaments present important questions to forensic interviewers, attorneys, judges, and jurors who must evaluate the veracity of children’s sexual abuse allegations. Why do children wait to disclose sexual abuse? What causes children to recant an allegation? Honest answers to these questions are required to ensure that perpetrators of sexual abuse are held accountable and children that are sexually abused are accurately identified and protected.

Dr. Swerdlow-Freed provides research-based expertise regarding:

  • Developmental differences in disclosure of abuse
  • Factors that enhance and reduce disclosure of abuse
  • Factors that contribute to recantation of allegations of abuse
  • Patterns of disclosure of abuse

Anatomical Dolls

Anatomically correct or anatomically detailed dolls are sometimes used during child forensic interviews as part of the investigation of child sexual abuse allegations. It is thought that anatomically detailed dolls facilitate disclosure of sexual abuse by enabling children to demonstrate acts that may be difficult to verbalize or by promoting memory retrieval. Anatomically correct dolls may also serve as models for assessing children’s names for body parts or bodily functions. Despite these potential benefits, the use of anatomical dolls or anatomically detailed body diagrams has not been standardized and their use among child forensic interviewers varies. In addition, even though research indicates that the use of dolls may increase the amount of information that children provide, this is often accompanied by an increase in false information. Further, children’s behavioral enactments with the doll may be ambiguous and do not differentiate sexually abused children from non-sexually abused children. In view of the lack of empirical consensus surrounding the use of anatomically correct dolls and body diagrams, it is necessary to exercise caution when interpreting information obtained through this method.

Dr. Swerdlow-Freed can provide research-based testimony regarding:

  • Anatomically correct dolls
  • Inappropriate uses of anatomically detailed dolls
  • Interpreting children’s behavior with anatomically correct dolls
  • Training of forensic interviewers to use anatomically detailed dolls
  • Use of interview aids, including body diagrams and drawings

Meet Dr. Daniel Swerdlow-Freed

Dr. Daniel Swerdlow-Freed has broad training in the forensic interviewing of children and is well-informed about the research in this field. He is known for his ability to expertly conduct forensic interviews of children as well as to evaluate the quality of other professional’s forensic interviews. His expert witness testimony explains the importance of research-based interview techniques and how a child’s report can be enhanced or tainted by the quality of interview procedures.

His knowledge and expertise includes extensive understanding of children’s language and cognitive development, memory abilities, and interviewing practices that elicit accurate reports from child witnesses. Dr. Daniel Swerdlow-Freed’s training includes extensive knowledge of the research on child sexual abuse disclosure and recantation. His expert testimony clearly explains various factors, such as the quality of the forensic interview, that facilitate or impede disclosure. In situations where recantation has occurred, he explains the possible causes, such as parental pressure, fear, misunderstanding of the alleged behavior, or the desire to undo what the allegation set in motion. Research-based testimony about delayed disclosure and recantation assists judges and jurors in understanding and considering these occurrences along with other evidence to reach a fair disposition. As part of his training in the forensic interviewing of children, Dr. Daniel Swerdlow-Freed is also well informed about the use of anatomically correct dolls. His extensive knowledge of this subject enables him to provide research-based testimony about the potential benefits and risks associated with using anatomically detailed dolls during the interview procedure.

His explanations are highly informative and provide judges and jurors with the precise information needed to accurately weigh witness testimony and supplementary evidence. Attorneys value his ability to explain interview methods and share research-based knowledge in easy-to-understand language. Many attorneys rely on his advice when deciding whether to proceed to trial, while others depend on Dr. Swerdlow-Freed’s advice to plan trial strategy.

Dr. Daniel Swerdlow Freed has been providing expert advice and consultation on a variety of issues related to forensic interviewing of children, including memory and suggestibility, disclosure and recantation, and the use of anatomical dolls or body diagrams for over 20 years. All forensic psychological services are available to prosecution, plaintiff, and defense counsel throughout Michigan and the United States. If you need advice when planning or executing trial strategy, contact Dr. Swerdlow-Freed at 248-539-7777 to schedule a consultation.

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