“I Only Want to Know What You Know”: The Use of Orienting Messages During Forensic Interviews and Their Effects On Child Behavior
Methods: This study evaluated the increased use of orienting messages through content analysis of 88 videotaped forensic interviews and case files where children were interviewed regarding sexual abuse allegations. Coded data included demographic information, relationship of child to the alleged perpetrator, type of abuse allegation, interview orienting messages, and the outcome variable of children’s responses including the number of times a child indicated they didn’t know, didn’t understand the question, if they corrected the interviewer, or asked a question of the interviewer. Data analysis included descriptive statistics and multiple linear regression.
Results: Controlling for the forensic interviewer, the use of an interpreter, and child demographics, multiple regression showed that the more orienting messages used by forensic interviewers, both at the beginning of the interview and throughout, resulted in significantly more responses or questions from children (t=8.08, df=78, p<0.001) with an overall variance of 43% (adjusted R2=0.431). Boys were significantly less likely to indicate they didn’t know, provide corrective responses, or ask questions (t=-1.99, df=78, p=0.05).
Implications: Our results show that the increased use of orienting messages significantly predicted more autonomous responses from children that they don’t know, had a question, didn’t understand, or by correcting the interviewer. This study supports the idea that children may feel more empowered in the forensic interview setting if provided with specific messages grounded in examples at the interview onset rather than merely as the situation presented. Interestingly, our results also indicate that boys are less likely to use these responses or ask questions signifying that they may need additional support.