Child Interviews and the Prosecution of Child Abuse

Prosecution and conviction rates for child abuse perpetrators vary across jurisdictions and studies have found that charging rates range from 28 percent up to 94 percent. [1] Because criminal proceeding decisions — whether to prosecute and what charges to file — depend heavily on a child's testimony, interviews with suspected child victims must elicit accurate and informative disclosures.

Researchers have studied several approaches to investigative interviews. One approach, the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development's (NICHD) investigative interview protocol, has been used since 1997 and research shows that its use significantly improved the quality of the interviews and the information elicited from children.

An NIJ-funded study of the NICHD protocol found that:

  • Charges were one and a half times more likely to be filed for cases that involved NICHD protocol interviews than pre-protocol interviews.
  • Although only a small number of cases from either group proceeded to trial, of those cases convictions rates were higher for cases in which the NICHD protocol was used — 94 percent (16 of 17) — than before its introduction — 54 percent (seven out of 13).

Researchers examined 1,280 cases that involved children between two and 14 years of age. The cases included 729 in which police detectives, extensively trained in the use of the NICHD protocol, conducted the interviews and 551 cases where interviews were conducted by the same detectives prior to their training. [2]

Learn more from the NIJ Journal article Toward a Better Way to Interview Child Victims of Sexual Abuse.


[note 1] Cross, Theodore P., Wendy A. Walsh, Monique Simone, Lisa M. Jones, "Prosecution of Child Abuse: A Meta-Analysis of Rates of Criminal Justice Decisions," Trauma, Violence, & Abuse: A Review Journal volume 4 (October 2003): pages 323-340.

[note 2] Pipe, Margaret-Ellen, Yael Orbach, Michael Lamb, Craig B. Abbott, Heather Stewart,
Do Best Practice Interviews with Child Abuse Victims Influence Case Processing? (pdf, 123 pages),
Washington, D.C., National Institute of Justice, U.S. Department of Justice, NCJ 224524, November 2008.

Date Created: March 11, 2011