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Child Forensic Interviewer Bias

I recently visited an elementary school and hung out with a group of second grade kids.  While building rapport, I inquired about their household make-up by saying, “Raise your hand if you own a dog.”  Every child quickly raised their hand.  Later, the teacher informed me that only a third of the class own a dog. 

Children lie.  Children lie when they don’t need to lie.  Young children make up stories, get facts twisted around or elaborate on things that they may want to have or happen but is not the reality of their current situation.  Research indicates that parents are the worst at detecting their children’s lies[1].  Studies conclude that parents have a bias when it comes to believing their children.  They want to believe that little Johnny is good and would never cheat or steal.  That same bias can become evident in forensic interviewers.  Our investigators are highly trained in conducting and reviewing child forensic interviews and examining if best practices by the interviewer were followed. 

The most common fault of the interviewer is rushing the interview and not allowing for silence.  Forensic interviewers should be trained in several interview technicians and should determine the best fit for each scenario.  Our investigators determine the training level of the interviewer, technique used (there are several) and whether the phases of interviewing were followed (rapport phase, substantive phase and closure phase).  Like the parent, a forensic interviewer, who assists the state in assessing a child sexual assault allegation, naturally forms a bias to want to believe the child.  By using open-ended questions and allowing for silence or hesitation “without moving to more focused prompts too quickly, the interviewer may also elicit potentially erroneous responses because the child feels compelled to reach beyond his or her stored memory.”[2]  The same can be true when the interviewer repeats the same questions.  But the forensic interviewer is not looking for erroneous facts or trying to “catch little Johnny in a lie.”  Why not?  Because the bias they form is that no child would make up a story about being sexually abused.  Studies show that children today are exposed to more sexually explicit content then in any other lifetime.[3]  They are not making it up, it just may not have happened to them.  Like parents, the forensic interviewer is more inclined to want to believe the child than not believe the child and therefore exhibits bias. 

Let our expert investigators examine and review your child forensic interviews and receive the expert opinion necessary to defend your child sexual assault cases.

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[1] Brock University research, April 2016 and Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, “Can parents detect 8- to 16 year olds’ lies?” 2016.

[2] U.S. Department of Justice, Juvenile Justice Bulletin: Child Forensic Interviewing: Best Practices, Sept. 2015.

[3] The Impact of Pornography on Children. American College of Pediatrics. June 2016.

john pannell