skip navigation


Register for Latest Research

Stay Informed
Register with NCJRS to receive NCJRS's biweekly e-newsletter JUSTINFO and additional periodic emails from NCJRS and the NCJRS federal sponsors that highlight the latest research published or sponsored by the Office of Justice Programs.

NCJRS Abstract

The document referenced below is part of the NCJRS Virtual Library collection. To conduct further searches of the collection, visit the Virtual Library. See the Obtain Documents page for direction on how to access resources online, via mail, through interlibrary loans, or in a local library.


NCJ Number: 204949 Find in a Library
Title: Application of a "Story-Telling" Framework to Investigative Interviews for Suspected Child Sexual Abuse
Journal: Legal and Criminological Psychology  Volume:9  Issue:1  Dated:February 2004  Pages:37-56
Author(s): Helen L. Westcott; Sally Kynan
Date Published: February 2004
Page Count: 20
Type: Report (Study/Research)
Format: Article
Language: English
Country: United Kingdom
Annotation: This study examined the usefulness of an investigator's application of a "story-telling" framework (setting, initiating, event, alleged perpetrator's apparent purpose, alleged abuse activities, and child's reaction) in assessing the clarity of a child's account of his/her experiences and events related to suspected sexual abuse of the child.
Abstract: Bennett and Feldman (1978 and 1981) conducted an ethnographic study of criminal trials in one U.S. superior court. They concluded that "story-telling" was the "common communication bond" that enabled the various actors in a trial -- defendant, attorneys, judge, witnesses, and jurors -- to present, hear, and make sense of evidence. This "story-telling" framework is particularly relevant to cases of child sexual abuse because stories are symbolic reconstructions of events and actions. People who cannot manipulate symbols within a narrative format may be at a disadvantage in communicating credibility even when they are telling the truth. The current study developed an innovative framework for understanding children's allegations of sexual abuse from the "story-telling" literature. This framework was used to examine the degree to which essential elements of a story, as well as order or disorder of narrative, were present in accounts of alleged abuse. The key components of the "story-telling" framework used in the study were the initiating event, the internal response, attempt, consequences, and reaction. Given the nature of the stories in the research, i.e., allegations of sexual abuse, the researchers anticipated that the setting (when and where the abuse occurred) and the attempt (what the alleged perpetrator did) would be most important in indicating any criminal activity. This study used transcripts of 70 videotaped interviews with children concerning suspected sexual abuse. The transcripts were coded to indicate the degree to which essential elements of a story, as well as order or disorder of narrative, were present in the child's account of alleged abuse. Other features of the interviews, such as the presence of free narrative, reliance on specific questions to elicit an account, and bizarre or "off-topic" responses from the child, were also recorded. All of the children were 12 years old or younger and were from England or Wales. The findings indicated that although the children's accounts of relevant events and experiences adhered superficially to a story structure, they were often incomplete, ambiguous, and disordered to a degree that would confuse the listener about what had happened. Age differences in the content and structure of the narrative were found. The findings suggest the importance of careful questioning and the value of having a second interviewer to monitor the interview. The "story-telling" framework proved to be a useful tool for identifying the elements (present or absent) that may pose problems for a listener (e.g., a juror) in making sense of what happened to the child. 3 tables and 35 references
Main Term(s): Juvenile victims
Index Term(s): Child Sexual Abuse; Child victim interviews; Foreign criminal justice research; Juvenile witnesses; Testimony; Witness credibility
To cite this abstract, use the following link:

*A link to the full-text document is provided whenever possible. For documents not available online, a link to the publisher's website is provided. Tell us how you use the NCJRS Library and Abstracts Database - send us your feedback.