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Pictures Help In Child Abuse Cases

Media Statement 17 September, 1999


Children can be helped to tell their accounts of child abuse by various means, including drawing, University of Otago researchers have found.

"Childhood sexual abuse has become a leading mental health concern in New Zealand and around the world," say University of Otago researchers Margaret-Ellen Pipe and Harlene Hayne, who have been doing research into children's eye-witness memory during the past decade. The child is usually the only witness, and his or her account of the event is crucial.

"Our goal is to establish the conditions that enable children to provide the most complete and accurate accounts of their experiences," Professor Pipe says.

Researchers examined the use of dolls, photographs and drawing as interview techniques to improve children's accounts. Professor Hayne says they found that some interview techniques, such as drawing during the interview, increased the amount of information that children reported without decreasing their accuracy.

Past findings have shown that children are "notoriously poor" at recounting their experiences in standard oral interviews.

"The brevity of children's accounts is especially evident under tests of free recall, in which the child is asked open-ended questions such as 'what happened?'" She says that a child's reply might be so brief as to make the information clinically and legally useless. New ways had to be found.

Professors Pipe and Hayne say that historically, New Zealand has been a pioneer in children's evidence. "The results of the present programme will contribute information necessary for developing policies and law in this area," they say.
Already several researchers on the project have been invited to present their work at international conferences and universities around the world and throughout New Zealand.

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"Some of the techniques that we have developed have already been adopted by clinicians working with children and have influenced how interviews are conducted in legal contexts."

Further information:
Associate Professors Margaret-Ellen Pipe & Harlene Hayne, Department of Psychology, University of Otago, Dunedin. Ph: (03) 479 7621 or (03) 479 7636.
Patricia Donovan, Ph: (04) 498 7809 Mobile 025 226 4136


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