Dynamics of forensic interviews with suspected abuse victims who do not disclose abuse

Irit Hershkowitz, Yael Orbach, Michael E. Lamb, Kathleen J. Sternberg, Dvora Horowitz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objectives: The present study was designed to explore structural differences between forensic interviews in which children made allegations and those in which children did not make allegations. Methodology: Fifty forensic interviews of 4- to 13-year-old suspected victims of abuse who did not disclose abuse during the interview were compared with the same number of forensic interviews of alleged victims who made allegations of sexual or physical abuse. Only cases in which there was substantial reason to believe that abuse had taken place were included in the study. Audiotapes of the interviews were examined with a focus on interviewer utterances and children's responses during the pre-substantive rapport-building, episodic memory training, and 'getting the allegation' phases of the interviews, which all employed the NICHD Investigative Interview Guide. Findings: Forensic interviews which yielded allegations of child abuse were characterized by quite different dynamics than interviews with children who did not make allegations. When interviewing non-disclosers, interviewers made less frequent use of free recall prompts and offered fewer supportive comments than when interviewing children who made allegations of abuse. Children who did not disclose abuse were somewhat uncooperative, offered fewer details, and gave more uninformative responses, even at the very beginning of the interview, before the interviewers focused on substantive issues and before the interviewers themselves began to behave differently. Conclusions: A premature focus on substantive issues may prevent children who are not responsive in the episodic memory training phase from disclosing abuse. Identifying reluctant disclosers and making more extensive efforts to build rapport before substantive issues are broached, or interviewing such children in more than one session, may help suspected victims disclose their experiences.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)753-769
Number of pages17
JournalChild Abuse and Neglect
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2006


  • Child abuse
  • Disclosure
  • Forensic interviews
  • Non-disclosure
  • Reluctance
  • Supportiveness

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health


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