Hershkowitz, I., Melkman, E. P., & Zur, R. (2018). When Is a Child’s Forensic Statement Deemed Credible? A Comparison of Physical and Sexual Abuse Cases. Child Maltreatment, 23(2), 196-206.
Credibility assessments in child sexual abuse and physical abuse cases have direct impact on the reporting child, their family, and the alleged perpetrator. The purpose of this study was to examine whether credibility judgements would differ based on abuse type, and whether there are child and case characteristics would be related to the case being deemed credible or not in Israel in 2014.
This study used the national administrative data files involving investigations of 3- to 14-year-old alleged victims of sexual or physical abuse cases in Israel in 2014. A total of 4775 cases (70.7% of physical abuse cases) were included for the analysis of this study. The exclusion criteria included cases involving children 1) who were younger than 3-year-old, 2) who did not disclose, 3) whose assessments of credibility were missing, 4) had missing information on any child characteristics. Different interviews with the same child were treated as separate cases.
Path analysis showed that the child (i.e., age, gender, parents’ marital status and cognitive delay) and case characteristics (i.e., severity of the case, frequency and suspect-child relationship) associated with credibility judgements were the same for physical and sexual abuse cases. Logistic regression was conducted using a subset of the child characteristics, event characteristics and abuse type to predict the probability of credibility judgements. Significant predictors associated with higher likelihood of the report being assessed as credible include being older, did not experience cognitive delay, parents were married, single occurrence of abuse (vs. multiple occurrences), with moderate abuse severity (vs. severe abuse), the identity of the suspect involving one or both parents (vs. unknown), and with suspected sexual abuse (vs. physical abuse).
The study data was from Israel in 2014, which is specific to the Israeli’s system of conducting interviews with child physical and sexual abuse investigations, using the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Investigative protocol. Even though the investigators were 96 trained workers with a BSW degree, the authors pointed out that there were substantial variations among the investigators, which may also contribute to the credible assessments over and above the child and event characteristics. Furthermore, the results of this one single study should be taken with extra caution due to the significant differences in terms of child characteristics, event characteristics and credible assessments while comparing cases that were included in the analysis to the ones that were excluded.