Interrogations of children and people with intellectual disabilities

Interviews with children or individuals with intellectual disabilities typically fall into three categories: when the interviewee is a suspect, an alleged victim, or a witness to a crime. These interviews often arise from reports of sexual abuse or mistreatment. While many claims are valid, investigators must be aware of the possibility of false allegations in these cases.

Interviewers must always consider the linguistic development and resources of the individuals, regardless of their role as victims, suspects, or witnesses. This can affect their ability to give testimony and recall experiences. Children and individuals with intellectual disabilities may struggle to make spontaneous and detailed statements.

Diagnosing intellectual disability involves assessing the intellectual quotient (IQ) and adaptive abilities. Standard IQ tests, such as the Wechsler Intelligence Scale or the Stanford-Binet IQ test, are used to determine intellectual functioning. It’s important to note that scores below 70 indicate an intellectual disability. In addition to intellectual functioning, adaptive behavior is also assessed, which includes daily living, communication, and social skills.

When interviewing individuals with intellectual disabilities, it’s crucial to understand their developmental stage and use appropriate question formulation to gather accurate information, especially from alleged victims. It’s important to approach these individuals with empathy and understanding to ensure they feel comfortable and heard.

However, it’s important to note that behavioral manifestations alone are not conclusive evidence of sexual abuse. Although nightmares, bedwetting, changes in school performance, aggressiveness, or sexual behavior may be behavioral symptoms, they are not specific to sexual abuse.

Did you know it’s recommended to avoid the use of props and drawings during forensic interviews until the initial statement is completed to prevent the creation of false information? Research shows that props can lead to more elaborate statements but with greater inaccuracies.

Children can provide information based on recall memory or recognition memory. Recall memory, derived from open-ended questions, tends to be more accurate. On the other hand, recognition memory questions can lead to adulterated information, influenced by the interviewer’s expectations.

The NICHD Investigative Interview Protocol, originally designed for children, can also be useful for interviewees with intellectual disabilities. The process emphasizes the importance of proper introduction, building rapport, clarifying the interview’s purpose, ensuring the interviewee is willing to talk, and using investigatory questions that avoid influencing the information obtained. Video recording is recommended to detect any influence from suggestive questions.

The protocol ensures that the interviewer follows appropriate steps to obtain optimal information:

  1. Proper introduction.
  2. Building a good rapport with the child.
  3. Establishing the purpose of the interview.
  4. Checking that the child is willing to talk to the interviewer.
  5. Ensuring the child understands they do not have to know the answer to every question.
  6. Checking that the child knows the difference between telling the truth and lying.
  7. Ensuring they understand they can correct the interviewer if they believe something said is not true.
  8. Using investigatory questions that do not influence the quality and accuracy of the information obtained.

In conclusion, it’s important to use a nuanced approach when interviewing children or individuals with mental disabilities, taking into account their developmental stage. It’s also crucial to avoid leading questions and use specialized protocols to ensure the collection of accurate and unbiased information.

Gordon, N. J., & Fleisher, W. L. (2010). Effective Interviewing and Interrogation Techniques. Elsevier Science & Technology.