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Saturday, April 5, 2014

The use of art for child sexual abuse investigations

Imagine you are investigating allegations of sexual abuse. You want to gain as accurate a disclosure as possible, with as much detail while still trying to ensure that the disclosure is truthful. The gold standard is the NICHD Protocol. But gaining a full picture may be aided by the use of drawing.

Three Israeli researchers have offered some fascinating insights in an article just published online in the journal Child Abuse and Neglect. They speak of the fine line that investigators must walk - gathering reliable information while also trying to focus on the wellbeing of the child. These can appear to be opposing forces. Just being interviewed by a social worker or a police officer can be traumatic in itself. Consider that many victims have been told that the activity must be kept a secret - and now these virtual strangers want you to tell. What an incredible conundrum for the child!

Drawing has been found to aid in recall and to offer richer descriptions of what occurs, particularly for younger children. But as these researchers note, non directed drawing is the way to go. Free recall yields better results as opposed to those that might be in some coached or guided.

These researchers sought to gain an understanding of of the consequences of the forensic interviewing for the child. They looked at before, during and after periods as well as comparing the experience of children who were asked to draw from those who were not. One finding that seemed particularly important is "Apparently during the investigate, drawing gave the children control and strengthened then during the process…" (p.8). The authors go on to say that "Following the interview, in response to free recall invitations, the children used three main words indicating their experiences following the investigation - relief, hope and success." (p.8).  However, children in both groups (whether they had drawn or not) also felt relief from the investigation. Age did not seem to matter suggesting that drawing was also useful for older children.

Succes was found to be more prevalent with children who had drawn.

What this research helps us to see is how important it is to not forget the various ways that children have to tell us their stories but also that their stories matter. We can get caught up in the forensic need to gather information while not giving the child's wellbeing the highlight that it needs.

Reference: Katz, C., Barnetz, Z., & Hershkowitz, I. (2014). The effect of drawing on children's experiences of investigations following alleged child abuse. Child Abuse & Neglect (In Press) 

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