Date of this Version
Published in Journal of Child Sexual Abuse 27:3 (2018), pp 305–320.
Disclosure of child sexual abuse can be a stressful experience for the child. Gaining a better understanding of how best to serve the child, while preserving the quality of their disclosure, is an ever-evolving process. The data to answer this question come from 51 children aged 4–16 (M = 9.1, SD = 3.5), who were referred to a child advocacy center in Virginia for a forensic interview (FI) following allegations of sexual abuse. A repeated measures design was conducted to examine how the presence of a service-trained facility dog (e.g. animal-assisted intervention (AAI) may serve as a mode of lowering stress levels in children during their FIs. Children were randomized to one of the two FI conditions: experimental condition (service-trained facility dog present-AAI) or control condition (service-trained facility dog not present- standard forensic interview). Stress biomarkers salivary cortisol, alpha-amylase, immunoglobulin A (IgA), heart rate, and blood pressure, and Immunoglobulin A were collected before and after the FI. Self-report data were also collected. Results supported a significant decrease in heart rate for those in the experimental condition (p = .0086) vs the control condition (p = .4986). Regression models revealed a significant decrease in systolic and diastolic blood pressure in the experimental condition (p = .03285) and (p = .04381), respectively. Statistically significant changes in alpha-amylase and IgA were also found in relation to disclosure and type of offense. The results of this study support the stress reducing effects of a service-trained facility dog for children undergoing FI for allegations of child sexual abuse.