Drawing pictures can be key tool in investigations of child abuse

April 3, 2014
Drawing pictures can be key tool in investigations of child abuse

Is a picture worth only a thousand words? According to Dr. Carmit Katz of Tel Aviv University's Bob Shapell School of Social Work, illustrations by children can be a critical tool in forensic investigations of child abuse.

Dr. Katz's study, published in Child Abuse and Neglect, compared the results when child abuse victims were offered the opportunity to draw during questioning with victims not offered this opportunity. Her findings saw a significant difference, suggesting a therapeutic value and indicating that empowered to draw pictures about their abuse provided much fuller and more detailed descriptions.

"The act of was not only an empowering experience for these children," said Dr. Katz. "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."

A chance to express themselves

Some 125 alleged child victims of sexual abuse were randomly selected for the field study. The children, aged 5-14, were questioned by nine well-trained forensic interviewers about a single occurrence of alleged sexual abuse. The children were divided into two sets – a control group, questioned and allowed to rest during the session; and a variable group, offered the opportunity to draw pictures about their experiences for 7-10 minutes instead of resting.

The interviews in the study were conducted according to standard NICHD (National Institute of Child Health and Human Development International Evidence-Based Investigative Interviewing of Children) protocol, which dictates using open-ended questions to elicit 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 Dr. 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."

In the study, Dr. Katz worked with professional practitioners from Israel's Investigative Interview Service, which is considering incorporating her strategy into the standing NICHD protocol.

Empowering the victim

"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."

Dr. Katz has focused her research on turning the typically traumatic forensic interview into a first step toward recovery for child abuse victims, who reported feeling understood, successful and in control after drawing during the questioning. "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."

Dr. Katz is currently at work on a study of younger child , aged 3-6, who experienced multiple incidents of abuse. She hopes to see her research fully integrated into the international NICHD protocol, the prevailing approach to investigating in most countries today.

Explore further: Making sad sense of child abuse

Related Stories

Making sad sense of child abuse

December 23, 2013
When a man in Israel was accused of sexually abusing his young daughter, it was hard for many people to believe—a neighbor reported seeing the girl sitting and drinking hot chocolate with her father every morning, laughing, ...

Forensic experts compile guide on how to ID child abuse, starvation

January 31, 2014
Forensic science experts from North Carolina State University have just published a comprehensive overview of forensic research that can be used to identify child abuse and starvation.

Emotional children's testimonies are judged as more credible

March 31, 2014
A new study from the University of Gothenburg shows that aspiring lawyers assess child complainants as more credible and truthful if they communicate their statement in an emotional manner. Thus, there is a risk that children ...

Investigating child abuse: How interview training really matters

April 5, 2013
(Medical Xpress)—Gathering evidence from children about alleged sex abuse is problematic. Research shows that when interviewers are trained in a protocol that favours open-ended questions more cases lead to charges and ...

AAP updates evaluation of child fractures for physical abuse

January 29, 2014
(HealthDay)—A child's age, medical history, presence of other injuries, location and type of fracture, and possible fracture mechanism must be evaluated fully to determine if injuries are caused by abuse, according to a ...

Recommended for you

Depression changes structure of the brain, study suggests

July 21, 2017
Changes in the brain's structure that could be the result of depression have been identified in a major scanning study.

Many kinds of happiness promote better health, study finds

July 21, 2017
A new study links the capacity to feel a variety of upbeat emotions to better health.

Study examines effects of stopping psychiatric medication

July 20, 2017
Despite numerous obstacles and severe withdrawal effects, long-term users of psychiatric drugs can stop taking them if they choose, and mental health care professionals could be more helpful to such individuals, according ...

Study finds gene variant increases risk for depression

July 20, 2017
A University of Central Florida study has found that a gene variant, thought to be carried by nearly 25 percent of the population, increases the odds of developing depression.

In making decisions, are you an ant or a grasshopper?

July 20, 2017
In one of Aesop's famous fables, we are introduced to the grasshopper and the ant, whose decisions about how to spend their time affect their lives and future. The jovial grasshopper has a blast all summer singing and playing, ...

Perceiving oneself as less physically active than peers is linked to a shorter lifespan

July 20, 2017
Would you say that you are physically more active, less active, or about equally active as other people your age?

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.