Witness recall across repeated interviews in a case of repeated abuse

Sonja P Brubacher, David la Rooy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In this illustrative case study we examine the three forensic interviews of a girl who experienced repeated sexual abuse from ages 7 - 11. She disclosed the abuse after watching a serialised television show that contained a storyline similar to her own experience. This triggered an investigation that ended in successful prosecution of the offender. Methods: Because this case involved abuse that was repeated on a weekly basis for 4 years we thus investigated the degree to which the child’s narrative reflected specific episodes or generic accounts, and both the interviewer’s and child’s attempts to elicit and provide, respectively, specific details across the 3 interviews collected in a 1 month period. Results: Across the 3 interviews, the child’s account was largely generic, yet on a number of occasions she provided details specific to individual incidents (‘episodic leads’) that could have been probed further. As predicted: earlier interviews were characterized more by episodic than generic prompts and the reverse was true for the third interview; the child often responded using the same style of language (episodic or generic) as the interviewer; and open questions yielded narrative information. Conclusions: We discuss the importance of adopting children’s words to specify occurrences, and the potential benefits of permitting generic recall in investigative interviews on children’s ability to provide ‘episodic leads.’ Despite the fact that the testimony was characterized by generic information about what usually happened, rather than specific episodic details about individual occurrences, this case resulted in successful prosecution.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)202-211
Number of pages10
JournalChild Abuse & Neglect
Issue number2
Early online date29 Jul 2013
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2014


  • : repeated events; child sexual abuse; forensic interviews; case study; particularisation; scripts

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