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 a child about an event the child has experienced. A properly conducted forensic interview is directed by questions that permit children 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 help determine whether steps are needed to protect the child’s physical safety and emotional well-being. In most cases of alleged child sexual abuse, the forensic interview is a central piece of evidence. Due to the importance of this evidence, child forensic interviews should be conducted following best practice guidelines that increase the likelihood of eliciting the most reliable and accurate information.
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 narrative, introducing the substantive topic, eliciting a free narrative, asking follow-up questions, and ending the interview.
Children’s Memory and Suggestibility
Allegations 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.
Disclosure and Recantation
In addition to misconceptions about children’s memory and suggestibility, allegations of physical or sexual abuse can involve complicated problems that may arise from repeating questions within an interview or repeating interviews. These dilemmas may be compounded by delayed disclosure or recantation of the allegation. Both situations present challenges to forensic interviewers, attorneys, judges, and jurors who must evaluate the reliability and trustworthiness of children’s abuse allegations. Why do some children wait before disclosing physical and sexual abuse? What causes a child 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.
Anatomically correct dolls are sometimes used during child forensic interviews as part of the investigation of child sexual abuse allegations. It is thought that anatomically correct dolls facilitate disclosure of sexual abuse by enabling children to demonstrate acts that may be difficult to verbalize or by promoting memory retrieval. Despite some assumed benefits, anatomical doll usage has not been standardized, and research shows that their use can be accompanied by an increase in false information. In view of these considerations and the lack of scientific consensus on the use of anatomically correct dolls, caution is necessary when interpreting information obtained through this method.
Meet Dr. Daniel Swerdlow-Freed
Dr. Daniel Swerdlow-Freed has extensive training, knowledge and experience in forensic interviewing of children and children’s memory and suggestibility. Attorneys consult him to review child forensic interviews, for pretrial consultation, and when expert testimony is needed.
Dr. Swerdlow-Freed’s expertise includes knowledge of children’s language and cognitive development, memory abilities, and interviewing practices that elicit the most accurate reports. He is skilled at explaining what constitutes best practices for forensic interviewing, and research concerning disclosure and recantation, and use of anatomically correct dolls and body diagrams.
Dr. Swerdlow-Freed’s expert witness testimony is designed to be highly informative and to provide judges and jurors with the research-based information needed to accurately weigh witness testimony and supplementary evidence. Attorneys value his ability to explain interview methods and communicate scientific findings in easy-to-understand language. Hundreds of attorneys have consulted with Dr. Swerdlow-Freed when deciding whether to proceed to trial or to when planning trial strategy.
Dr. Daniel Swerdlow Freed has been providing case consultation, work product review, expert witness testimony, and evaluations of criminal responsibility and competencies to stand trial and waive Miranda rights for over 25 years. All services are available to prosecution, plaintiff, and defense counsel. Forensic evaluations are available throughout Michigan only. Case consultation, work product review and expert witness testimony is available throughout the United States. If you would like to speak with Dr. Swerdlow-Freed about the unique needs of your case, call 248.539.7777 to schedule a consultation.