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Getting the story in forensic interviews with child witnesses : applying a story grammar framework

Abstract

Increased rates of child abuse reporting over recent years have resulted in closer attention being paid to the interviewing techniques employed by police and human services staff to elicit the child's account of alleged abuse incident(s). Such accounts are commonly elicited under Video and Audiotaped Evidence conditions and form a crucial component of a prosecution case against an alleged offender. Serious and pervasive problems with such accounts have, however been identified in the literature on investigative interviewing with child witnesses. Key amongst these is the fact that interviewers seem to rely too heavily on specific questioning, in spite of the fact that best-practice guidelines from around the globe emphasise the importance of using open-ended questions that promote free narrative on the part of the child. The aim of this research was to evaluate a representative sample of child abuse interviews from the field using a narrative framework derived from the field of linguistics. The authors examine the concept of 'free narrative' from a linguistic, rather than an eye-witness memory perspective. They review relevant literature on the composition of a linguistically intact narrative, and examine the extent to which current police interviewing practices are successful at eliciting a narrative account that is linguistically coherent. Fifty-one de-identified transcripts of police interviews with children formed the basis of the analysis.

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