August 29, 2016 – Race and Forensic Interviewing

Teresa HuizarGood morning and happy Monday.  I hope this finds everyone well.  This morning, I’d like to direct your attention to a fascinating new study that explores the issue of race in the context of forensic interviews and whether race has an effect on the outcome of the interview. 

The issue of race is a particularly sensitive one, but one that bears scrutiny.  And although there have been a few studies in the past to examine role of race as a factor that may influence disclosures of child sexual abuse, they are both limited in scope and conflicting in conclusions.  A 1999 study using artificial interview scenarios concluded that rates of disclosure increased when the child’s race matched the interviewers.  Conversely, a 2001 study found that race matching had no effect on rates of disclosure by adults, and a 2006 study found that race mixing actually increased the likelihood of disclosure. 

The authors of the current study, “Child and Interviewer Race in Forensic Interviewing,”[1] set out “to examine the potential effects of the race of the child and the interviewer on forensic interview outcomes, specifically concerning child sexual abuse.”  Id., p. 5.  They note that “[a]lthough addressing the implications of racial issues as they relate to forensic interviews encompasses far more than just African Americans and Caucasians, this study is limited to these two groups as the population of the state in which the CAC is located is 37% African American and 60% Caucasian.”  Id

Using a retrospective analysis of interviews conducted at a rural, southern CAC between 2000 and 2009 in which the child’s race was identified as African American or Caucasian, the researchers examined 522 cases of suspected sexual abuse.  What sets this study apart from its predecessors is the fact that the interviews were all conducted by six forensic interviewers, three African American and three Caucasian, all of whom were trained in the same protocol and all of whom were supervised by the same clinical director, thereby ensuring consistency from interview to interview.  Five of the interviewers were female, one was male.  The authors note that “[t]here was no deliberate racial or gender matching as available interviewers alternated interviews as referrals were received.”  Id., p. 6.

The researchers hypothesized that “interviews conducted by interviewers of the same race as the child would lead to more interview findings consistent with sexual abuse than cross-racial dyads.”  Id., p. 5.

The findings of the study, however, told a very different story.  Indeed, the analysis indicated that “findings consistent with sexual abuse were more likely in cross-racial dyads than in same-racial dyads.  African American children interviewed by a Caucasian interviewer had 2.31 increased odds of having a finding consistent with sexual abuse compared to a Caucasian child interviewed by a Caucasian interviewer.  Caucasian children had 1.90 increased odds of findings consistent with sexual abuse when interviewed by an African American interviewer compared to a Caucasian interviewer.”  Id., p. 10. 

What does this mean for us as CACs and MDTs?  The authors note that a conclusion “from this study that cross-racial dyads are the best way to promote disclosure of child sexual abuse would be incorrect.”  Id., p. 12.  At most, they state that the findings support the notion that “race-mixing is not a barrier to disclosure.”  Id.  And in digging deeper into the findings, they note that the interviewers in the current study, as well as those in the studies conducted in 2001 and 2006, had the benefit of being trained in a protocol that emphasized the importance of both cultural competence and rapport-building—which would not have been true for the interviewers in the 1999 study.

As you are all aware, NCA’s Standards for Accredited Members require cultural competency and diversity, and define competency as “the capacity to function in more than one culture, requiring the ability to appreciate, understand, and interact with members of diverse populations within the local community.”  NCA Standards, p. 17.  Competency is required throughout the duration of the case, and it goes without saying that it is a critical factor in being able to effectively build a rapport with a child during the interview. 

If this study proves anything, it is that cultural competence is about far more than simply the recognition that differences exist—it is, in fact, critical to our understanding of how and why children disclose abuse and how we ensure that we are providing services in the most effective way possible.  I strongly urge you to download this article and read it in full, and to share it widely with your colleagues and team members.

As always, I thank you for all your hard work and dedication and for all that you do on behalf of children and families.

Warm regards,  
[1] Full text of this publication may be found in the National Children's Advocacy Center's Child Abuse Library Online (CALiO ™) or by contacting the NCAC Research Digital Information Librarian. CALiO ™ is a service of the National Children's Advocacy Center (NCAC).  Please note that, because this is an article in press, to access the article in CALiO ™, you must go directly to the journal and then put in the title to have the article come up in full text. | 516 C Street, NE, Washington, DC 20002 US

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