"Where were your clothes?" Eliciting Descriptions of Clothing Placement from Children Alleging Sexual Abuse in Criminal Trials and Forensic Interviews
The present study examined how attorneys in trial (n = 142), and forensic interviewers in investigative interviews (n = 155) questioned 5- 12-year-olds about the location of clothing during alleged sexual abuse. Discussions about clothing placement were commonplace in both settings, particularly in court. Fewer than one in five question-answer pairs about clothing placement were spontaneous mentions by children; most discussions were elicited by the questioner. When interviewers asked wh- questions rather than yes/no and forced-choice questions, children provided more elaboration, more detailed clothing information, and were several times more likely to describe clothing placement in a fashion that could not be captured by a single preposition (e.g., neither on nor off). The findings suggest that children’s descriptions of sexual abuse are subject to serious misinterpretation if interviewers ask closed-ended questions.