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When she was abused as a child, Cindy Bethel felt like she didn't trust anyone enough to share her experience. Instead she confided in Barbie and her stuffed animals. Years later, she discovered that this is a common response in children who have been abused.

Bethel, now a forensic interviewer and an associate professor at Mississippi State University, wants to give children an alternative to talking with adult investigators. As director of the university's Social, Therapeutic, and Robotic Systems Lab, she's developing software for a robot that she hopes will be able to conduct interviews more effectively than humans.

"I was not sure if they would talk with the robot," she said, "but I felt it was worth investigating."

Roughly 700,000 children were abused in 2014, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and nearly 1,600 died from abuse or neglect.

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