Mississippi State University: Robots under creation to assist Child Abuse Investigations


Child abuse or child maltreatment is physical, sexual, or psychological mistreatment or neglect of a child or children, especially by a parent or other caregiver. It may include any act or failure to act by a parent or other caregiver that results in actual or potential harm to a child. It has been reported that 40 million children are subjected to abuse each year.
Suicide is the third leading cause of death among adolescents worldwide. Approximately 20% of women and 5–10% of men report being sexually abused as children, while 25–50% of all children report being physically abused.

“Child sexual abuse is a global issue and challenging for every country to address,” First Secretary Development to Royal Norwegian Embassy Tom Jorgen said. He further emphasized that there is a need to address the entire child protection to bring some significant and meaningful change in society.

There has been many reports on child abuse all over the world which is very disturbing. Recently, a five-year-old’s body was found by firefighters: A man from Michigan stabbed his 5-year-old stepdaughter to death and set her body on fire, after he “snapped” when she asked for food. The court is still investigating the matter. Also, last year November, Thomas McClellan, 25, had knocked Luna Michelle Younger to the ground, sat on her and stabbed her in the chest. Detective Chuck Buckland of the Ingham County Sheriff’s Office testified to the incident.

Similarly in Nigeria, a young girl identified as Esther, became the victim of domestic abuse after the wife of a police officer maltreated her. Esther who was taken to the Kuje general hospital in Abuja, because of the injuries she suffered, was living with the woman who she referred to as ‘mother’. She had injuries that looked like hot water or oil was poured on her chest and hands.

Recently, Robots were suggested by a team comprising of Cindy Bethel and Zachary Henkel at Mississippi State University saying they could reduce bias and lead to more reliable outcomes. They explained that using robots to question children in investigations of child abuse could help in thorough investigation, but not everyone is convinced. They further explained that Best-practice guidelines for police interviewers in child abuse cases include asking open-ended questions and maintaining neutral body language, facial expressions and vocal tone could be hard to follow.
“The techniques are not perfect, because humans are not perfect,” says Bethel. She and Henkel suggest that an interviewer could remotely control a robot that asks questions. That way, the interviewer can focus on asking the right questions, without worrying about their delivery. More advanced future robots might be able to conduct the whole conversation. “Robots will always follow the procedure, no matter the situation,” says Bethel.

Bethel and Henkel presented their work at the Conference on Human-Robot Interaction in Vienna, Austria, this month.

Michael Lamb at the University of Cambridge isn’t convinced that robots would be better than adults at interviewing children. He believed that an interview atmosphere for children should be caring and friendly and not robotic. “I am doubtful that this will be easily achieved [with robots],” he says.

But Marilena Kyriakidou at Coventry University, UK, who trains police interviewers in Cyprus, says robots could bring huge benefits, with more research. He suggested it should be given a trial “Interviewers say that it’s difficult to talk face to face with children who have been abused. Robots won’t have that problem,” she says.

Robots could also monitor a child in ways an interviewer can’t, using sensors to record body movement to help see if they are upset or uncomfortable. Also, there is evidence that children will open up to a robot. In a recent study, children were as willing to share a secret with a robot as they were with a human interviewer. In another, children were more willing to share details about bullying with a robot which gives a clue on the project.

Only those who had experienced child abuse directly or indirectly will understand the horrible feeling that comes with it. This team has taken a bold step to find solution to the reduction of child abuse in the world. At present, the rate of child abuse is increasingly uncontrollable, this could be a right solution at the right time.

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