Effects of introductory style on children's abilities to describe experiences of sexual abuse

Kathleen J. Sternberg, Michael E. Lamb, Irit Hershkowitz, Liora Yudilevitch, Yael Orbach, Philip W. Esplin, Meir Hovav

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective: The goal of this study was to evaluate the relative effectiveness of two rapport-building techniques for eliciting information from children who made allegation of sexual abuse. Methodd: Fourteen interviewers conducted 51 investigations of child sexual abuse with children ranging 4.5 to 12.9 years of age. In 25 of the investigations, interviewers used a script including many open-ended utterances to establish rapport, whereas in 26 of the investigations the same interviewers used a rapport- building script involving many direct questions. Both rapport-building scripts took about 7 minutes to complete. All children were asked the same open-ended question to indicate the substantive phase of the interview. Results: Children who had been trained in the open-ended condition provided 2 1/2 times as many details and words in response to the first substantive utterance as did children in the direct introduction condition. Children in the open-ended condition continued to respond more informatively to open- ended utterances in the later (unscripted) portion of the interview. Two- thirds of the children mentioned the core details of the incident in their responses to the first substantive utterance and a further 20% mentioned core details more vaguely. Conclusions: These results demonstrate that children respond more informatively to an open-ended invitation when they have previously been trained to answer such questions rather than more focused questions. These results demonstrate the sensitivity of children to the goals and expectation of forensic interviewers. Structured interview protocols also increase the amount of information by young interviewees.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1133-1146
Number of pages14
JournalChild Abuse and Neglect
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 1997


  • Disclosure
  • Forensic interviews
  • Open-ended invitations
  • Sexual abuse

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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