Potential for police investigator bias: the impact of child sexual abuse victims’ background characteristics on perceived statement credibility, case outcome and quality of interview questions

Nathanael E.J. Sumampouw*, Corine de Ruiter, Henry Otgaar

*Corresponding author for this work

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This preregistered experiment aimed to investigate the impact of background
information regarding an alleged victim of child sexual abuse on
police investigators’ perception of the credibility of the victim’s statement,
expected case outcome, and the type of questions police investigators
plan to ask the victim in an investigative interview. We expected that the
age and the description of the alleged victim’s character would affect
perceived credibility, prediction of case prosecution and the use of biased
questions in the interview plan. Indonesian police investigators (N = 369)
read a case vignette of either a 5- or a 15-year-old female victim of child
sexual abuse, including either a good character, bad character, or no
character information. Participants receiving the story of the 15-year-old
alleged victim perceived the victim as having contributed more to the
crime, predicted the case as more likely to be withdrawn and included
more biased questions in their interview plans than those who received
the story of a 5-year-old alleged victim. Moreover, participants being told
that the alleged victim had a bad character perceived her statement as
less reliable, having contributed more to the crime, predicted the case as
more likely to be withdrawn or dropped-out than those who received
information about the alleged victim with a good character. We did not
find any effect of our background information manipulation on the perception
of suspect guilt, and on the estimated likelihood of the allegation
being confirmed by corroborative evidence or being prosecuted. The
current findings suggest that background information can negatively
affect police investigators’ judgment and decision-making when working
on a child sexual abuse case.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)370-387
Number of pages18
JournalPolice Practice and Research
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 4 May 2022


  • Confirmation bias
  • child sexual abuse
  • investigative interviewing
  • perceived credibility
  • police investigators

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