5.31.2011

Behind The Door – The Secrets Of Child Sexual Abuse – Can Law Enforcement Prove That A Crime Occurred?



By Lawrence W. Daly
Every two minutes of every day a child is molested or raped. The statistics are compelling and demonstrate that child sexual abuse is the number one mental health problem in America.
communityhealingcenter.org
            Law enforcement is faced with the responsibility of investigating each allegation which comes into the Special Assault Unit for investigation. The majority of sexual assaults occurs behind doors and are committed in such a secretive way that law enforcement doesn’t learn of the abuse until evidence is lost or destroyed. So what is law enforcement to do, when there is a delay in learning about sexual assaults which occurred months or years ago? Some of the investigative steps that law enforcement can conduct are to have investigative methods and techniques which enhance their ability to prove or disprove that a crime occurred. These method and techniques must be of a quality nature that the credibility, validity, and reliability make the investigation unquestionably sound. Let us examine some of these methods and techniques.
Creation of a Case Analysis – This method and technique dissects the facts of the case into categories e.g. victims, witnesses, perpetrators, physical evidence, search warrants, details of disclosures, alternative hypotheses and so forth. This allows the law enforcement child sexual abuse investigator to clearly understand the sexual assault allegations.
Creation of a Case Action Plan – This method and technique provides an investigative plan of attack. A Case Action Plan determines who the investigator will interview and in what order; go to the evidence room and examine and evaluate any evidence which may have been obtained during the crime scene search; and makes a determination of when the child victim interview should take place. Generally, the child victim interview is the first or the last interview. The decision when to interview the child victim will be determined by the individual investigator and how they have evaluated the case to date.
Who Will Conduct The Victim Interview – Law enforcement child sexual abuse investigators have been delegated to being the observer and not the interviewer. Each jurisdiction has their own protocols, procedures and policies on who will conduct the child interview. This author advocates and takes the position that all child victim interviews should be conducted by the law enforcement child sexual abuse investigator who has been assigned to the child sexual assault investigation. This professional opinion is based on 30 years of experience, as a police detective assigned to the Special Assault Unit and the conducting of child victim interviews for those 30 years.
Civilians do not have the necessary investigative training in how to properly conduct investigative interviews e.g. they do not attend a basic law enforcement training academy, nor are they exposed to conducting general witness interviews, which is the foundation of conducting child interviews. Of course they receive training in how to conduct child interviews, but this is only half of the experience and education necessary to perform child interviews.
The investigator knows the intimate details of the case and has the knowledge of what he/she needs to prove and/or disprove in a case. Most civilian child interviewers have limited knowledge about evidence, the facts of the case and what other witnesses have said about the alleged sexual assaults. Although this authors opinion is not of the political correctness in the child sexual abuse industry, my experience, training and education is based on solid ground.
Further, law enforcement officials need to bring back this responsibility to their responsibilities in the investigation of child sexual abuse allegations. Instead of observing they need to become a participant in one of the most vital aspects of the investigation. If the alleged crime was a homicide would the law enforcement investigator choose to turn over the child witness to a civilian child interviewer?
Historically, law enforcement officials have conducted child interviews. The days of the appearance of the law enforcement official standing in front of a child in uniform and being intimidating is over. Law enforcement officials understand what is necessary to have a relationship between the child victim and themselves. There is no longer any merit to law enforcement officials being insensitive, coercive, and scary to the child victim. Law enforcement officials receive the same training as the civil child interviewers, including the extensive training and experience they receive on the job as a reactive patrol person and as a detective.
Alternative Hypotheses – When the investigator begins examining, evaluating and analyzing the sexual assault allegations, there will be a need on the part of the investigator to create alternative hypotheses. These hypotheses may explain why the child disclosed they were sexually assaulted. In order to understand the sexual assault allegation the investigator must identify the rational and logic behind the allegations. There are numerous reasons why a child victim may disclose the sexual assault allegations at a specific time. The simple explanation is the child victim is simply tired of being assaulted. Whatever the reasons are, the investigator must pursue his/her investigation in the direction where the evidence leads them. In the interim, the investigator may identify and pursue multiple directions until one of the hypotheses stands alone amongst many. The final hypothesis needs to be based on facts, evidence, reason and logic and cross the bridge that supports that a crime did or didn’t occur.
Witness Interviews – The investigator must learn to ask the right and proper questions. Since the investigator knows the case in chief intimately, the investigator should prepare all of their questions prior to the interview so there is no question, which will not be asked. It is important the investigator identifies any ulterior motives on the part of the witness. These motives may identify why the child is making the sexual assault allegations, to an understanding of what the allegations are not about. Each witness may be able to give the investigator a piece of the puzzle, which the investigator had not considered in the investigation to that point. One piece of information provided by the witness may change the entire concept of what is happening in the child victim’s life. The witness may identify other witnesses and/or evidence which was unknown to the investigator and may lead to concluding the investigation.
Conclusion
            In the search to finding the truth, sexual assaults upon children needs to be made a priority in the investigative field by law enforcement officials. How law enforcement officials are able to move the doors and the secretive nature of child sexual assaults is something which needs to be given a priority and significance in the investigative world. There needs to be preventive methods which are innovative and created in such a way as to make reporting of child sexual assaults easier for the child victim. Too many sexual assaults occur because of the lack of education of children of how child victims come about. Child sexual assaults are a major problem and there needs to be an educational program which promotes health and welfare of children.
            Law enforcement officials must strive to educate the child sexual abuse investigators in new methods and techniques which will enhance the credibility, reliability and validity of their investigations. They need to take back the responsibility of interviewing the child victim’s involved in their case. They need to continue training and educating themselves in new techniques and methods which make their investigations successful. Until such time society and law enforcement have to step forward and make a difference, children will continue to be sexual assaulted in secret and behind closed doors.
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