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Drawing May Help Reveal Abused Children

Update Date: Apr 03, 2014 06:04 PM EDT

Drawing pictures may help adults identify abused children, according to a new study.

Researchers said new research reveals that illustrations drawn by kids can be an important tool in forensic investigations of child abuse.

After comparing the results of child abuse victims offered the opportunity to draw during questioning to victims not offered this opportunity, researchers found children allowed to draw about their abuse provided fuller and more detailed descriptions compared to those who weren't allowed to.

"The act of drawing was not only an empowering experience for these children," lead researcher Dr. Carmit Katz of Tel Aviv University's Bob Shapell School of Social Work said in a news release. "We also found it to be forensically more effective in eliciting richer testimonies in child abuse cases. We had no idea the gap would be so great between those who drew and those who weren't given this option."

The study involved 125 children between the ages of 5 and 14 who were allegedly sexually abused. The children were interviewed by nine trained forensic interviewers about a single occurrence of alleged sexual abuse. Researchers noted that the interviews followed the NICHD (National Institute of Child Health and Human Development International Evidence-Based Investigative Interviewing of Children) protocol, which uses open-ended questions to draw out more comprehensive testimonies.

"For example, we asked children to 'tell me again everything that happened to you,' without using any leading terms to steer the discussion," said Katz. "And we found that if that question was followed by the comment, 'you can use the drawing if you want to,' the child's testimony was substantially more comprehensive and detailed."

"The only thing that counts is the child's narrative and his or her narrative of the respective drawing," she said. "But forensic investigators must be very careful not to attribute meaning where none exists. For example, 'I see a penis in this drawing, please tell me about it,' is a projective strategy, which usually garners false results. My strategy is to offer open-ended prompts alongside drawing, which we found to be a great facilitator of communication."

"As a social worker, I'm not only interested in obtaining accurate forensic results," said Dr. Katz. "I'm also interested in empowering the children. Through drawing, children reported regaining some sense of control - even feeling hopeful. This also has recuperative properties," Katz added.

The findings are published in the journal Child Abuse and Neglect.

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