Interpretation of Drawings
Children's drawings, such as the House-Tree-Person (HTP) and Kinetic
Family Drawings, as well as free drawings, which are often used in assessing
possible sexual abuse, are subject to the same criticisms as the dolls (Underwager
and Wakefield, 1990; Wakefield and Underwager, 1988a, 1989, 1994c). The
assumption is that the drawings of children who have been abused will differ
from those of nonabused children. Qualitative features of the drawings,
such as the colors used, the size and detail of body parts, and the shape
of the figures may be used to support the claim of abuse.
Drawings lack validity and reliability as projective assessment devices.
In a review of the Draw-A-Person test in the Seventh Mental Measurements
Yearbook, Harris (Buros, 1972) notes that there is very little evidence
for the use of "signs" as valid indicators of personality characteristics.
There is so much variability from drawing to drawing that particular features
of any one drawing are too unreliable to say anything about them. Reviews
by Cundick and Weinberg in the Tenth Mental Measurements Yearbook, (Buros,
1989, pp. 422425), support the consistent finding that interpretations of
drawings (as are often done in forensic evaluations) are not supported by
data. Both reviewers note that there are no normative data establishing
reliability and validity of the Kinetic Drawing System.
Another type of drawing often used in interviews and evaluations of children
is an outline of the back and the front of a boy or a girl. The child is
shown the outline and instructed to put an X where he or she was touched.
There is no research on this technique. It may give the child the message:
"You were touched, now show me where." The use of booklets with
outline drawings is essentially a programmed text that teaches the child
to focus on genitalia and produce statements about sexuality.
There are serious problems with the few studies which claim to find differences
between the drawings of abused and nonabused children. For example, Hibbard
et al. (1987) concluded that, since five abused children but only one nonabused
child in their samples had genitalia in their drawings, genitalia in drawings
is an indicator of possible sexual abuse. But the drawings were obtained
by different people for the abused and the nonabused groups and no information
was given about how often the abused children had been interviewed about
abuse. In addition, the differences between the groups were not statistically
In summary, as with the anatomical dolls, there are no data establishing
that the drawings can be used diagnostically to substantiate sexual abuse.