Describing individual incidents of sexual abuse: A review of research on the effects of multiple sources of information on children’s reports
Department of Psychology
Objective. For successful prosecution of child sexual abuse, children are often required to provide reports about individual, alleged incidents. Although verbally or mentally rehearsing memory of an incident can strengthen memories, children’s report of individual incidents can also be contaminated when they experience other events related to the individual incidents (e.g., informal interviews, dreams of the incident) and/or when they have similar, repeated experiences of an incident as in cases of multiple abuse.
Method. Research is reviewed on the positive and negative effects of these related experiences on the length, accuracy, and structure of children’s reports of a particular incident.
Results. Children’s memories of a particular incident can be strengthened when exposed to information that does not contradict what they have experienced, thus, promoting accurate recall and resistance to false, suggestive influences. When the encountered information differs from children’s experiences of the target incident, however, children can become confused between their experiences – they may remember the content but not the source of their experiences.
Conclusions. We discuss the implications of this research for interviewing children in sexual abuse investigations and provide a set of research-based recommendations for investigative interviewers.
Roberts, K.P., & Powell, M.B. (2001). Describing individual incidents of sexual abuse: A review of research on the effects of multiple sources of information on children’s reports. Child Abuse & Neglect, 25, 1643-1659. DOI: 10.1016/S0145-2134(01)00290-3