What happens when interviewers ask repeated questions in forensic interviews with children alleging abuse?
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This study was designed to explore 1) the ways in which interviewers refocus alleged victims of abuse on their previous responses and 2) how children responded when they were refocused on their previous responses. Transcripts of 37 forensic interviews conducted by British police officers trained using the best practices spelled out in the Memorandum of Good Practice were examined. The instances in which interviewers asked repeated questions were isolated and coded into categories with respect to the reasons why interviewers needed to ask the repeated question (i.e., there was no apparent reason, to challenge a child’s response, clarification, no answer the first time the question was asked, digression, or compound question). The children’s responses to the repeated questions were further categorised into mutually exclusive categories (i.e., elaboration, repetition, contradiction, or no answer). On average interviewers asked children 8 repeated questions per interview. Most of the time interviewers asked repeated questions to challenge a previous response (62%), but they were also sometimes asked for no apparent reason (20%). Children repeated previous responses or elaborated on a previous response 81% of the time and contradicted themselves 7% of the time when re-asked the same question. We conclude that children did not appear unduly pressured to change their answers, and, more importantly, did not contradict themselves when interviewers attempted to refocus them on particular responses.