Forensic Interviews With Children Victims of Sexual Abuse: The Role of the Counselling Psychologist

Olga Themeli, Maria Panagiotaki

Abstract


Although there is plenty of literature on the consequences of child sexual abuse, little research has been conducted regarding the risk of secondary victimization when a child victim testifies as a witness throughout the preliminary proceeding to the police, as well as the hearing in the court room. Even today, the credibility of the testimony of a child witness is strongly questioned. Child witnesses are often treated with greater distrust than adult witnesses as, according to traditional views, they don't have the same observing and mnemonic ability, they are more vulnerable to leading questions and they have difficulty in distinguishing reality from fantasy as well as truth from lie. The whole of literature emphasizes the responsibility of the interviewer who will determine the course of the interview and have a significant effect upon the disclosure procedure. His personal characteristics as well as his specialized knowledge and counselling skills will play a major role. Studies have demonstrated that empathy, patience, calm, sensitivity and warmth on the part of the interviewer are instrumental in rapport building and effective communication with the child. These qualities play a crucial role in obtaining a credible testimony and, at the same time, protecting the child from the risk of secondary victimization. The referred case study displays the need for the application of appropriate forensic interview techniques, as well as for the participation, specifically, of a counselling psychologist, as opposed to any mental health professional.


Keywords


child sexual abuse; disclosure; forensic interview; empathy; rapport building; secondary victimization