A new study by Dr. Carmit Katz of Tel Aviv University’s Bob Shapell School of Social Work compared the results when child abuse victims were offered the opportunity to draw during questioning with victims not given this opportunity.
Her findings discovered a significant difference, she reported in the study, which was published in Child Abuse and Neglect.
“The act of drawing was not only an empowering experience for these children,” said 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.”
For the study, about 125 alleged child victims of sexual abuse were randomly selected. The children, between the ages of five and 14, were questioned by nine forensic interviewers about a single occurrence of alleged sexual abuse.
The children were divided into two sets. The control group was questioned and allowed to rest during the session; the other group was given the opportunity to draw pictures about their experiences for seven to 10 minutes instead of resting.
The interviews were conducted according to standard National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) International Evidence-Based Investigative Interviewing of Children protocol, which dictates using open-ended questions, the researcher reported.
“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. “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.”
“As a social worker, I’m not only interested in obtaining accurate forensic results, I’m also interested in empowering the children,” she continued.
“Through drawing, children reported regaining some sense of control — even feeling hopeful. This also has recuperative properties.”
Katz noted she focused her research on turning the 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 that usually garners false results. My strategy is to offer open-ended prompts alongside drawing, which we found to be a great facilitator of communication.”