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Thesis

Assessing child sexual abuse: The reliability and validity of commonly used methods

27 July 1993

Abstract

It is well known that child sexual abuse is a serious and widespread problem. Because of the severity of the symptoms involved, the substantial number of children affected, and recent concern over the decrease in substantiated reports, there is a need for reliable and valid assessment methods in child sexual abuse cases. The development of reliable and valid measures for assessing child sexual abuse is problematic because of the incidence of false allegations, reliability of children's memory, children's suggestibility, and misdiagnosis. However, despite the lack of reliable and valid child sexual abuse assessment methods, many methods which have little empirical support are now widely used. Among these methods are the physical exam, anatomically correct dolls, projective methods, objective measures, and various clinical interviews. The reliability and validity of these methods are discussed, with an emphasis on the clinical interview which is critical to the assessment process. While preliminary studies utilizing the semi-structured interview approach and observational coding systems have provided evidence that supports their reliability and validity in assessing child sexual abuse, suggestions are made for the refinement of these tools. Potential applications of the clinical interview are suggested and future research directions for the field of child sexual abuse assessment are discussed.


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