The Interviewer – Are Those Being Interviewed Telling The Truth Or Are They Lying? Part I

By Lawrence W. Daly, MSc

How does a law enforcement official tell an alleged child victim that they will search for the truth, arrest the alleged sexual offender, put this individual in jail and make them understand that the legal process will probably last between six months to two years? The alleged child victim will have a difficult time understanding the legal process, but as time comes and goes, he/she will learn just how slow, but effective the legal process is. It will be an experience the alleged child victim will never forget and one which will make them a stronger individual, spiritually and emotionally.

Every minute of the day there is a child sexual abuse allegation that some child was sexually and physically abused and/or neglected. This is a sad statistic and one that everyone needs to be aware of and one which everyone needs to do something about.

The prevention of child abuse has had some effect on those who abuse children and those who are victimized.  The educational process of what child abuse was fifty years ago had little meaning. In fact, those in the law enforcement community turned their heads to the number one mental disease facing America, child abuse. During the past fifty years this attitude has changed for the safety, health and welfare of children.

When child sexual abuse professionals examine and evaluate just what has been the change in the statistics of how many children are being abused and neglected, one can point to the prevention programs which are being instituted by organizations, schools, churches and other groups to teach everyone how to keep children safe.

So when evaluating the manner in which children are being protected, reported abuse investigated and the awareness that child abuse is the number one mental disorder in America, why is it that there is still a significant problem? There are many reasons which this author will deal with at a later time. Today, I want to explore the beginning of a new series of “Why those who are being interviewed by law enforcement officials telling the truth or are they lying?” Can law enforcement tell the difference and if so what are the characteristics of a witness?

Some witnesses can provide information to the law enforcement official just because they are more observant than others. They may provide more detail to the law enforcement officials because of the time of day. Certain individuals have better perception during their peak times. Most of you have probably noticed that during the day, you can see the details of the mountain from far away. At night the moon will only assist you as far as you can see and in your sight, the mountain is nowhere to be found.

There is a performance behind remembering specific objects and because of one’s memory may fluctuate and/or vary. Some people remember better in the morning, afternoon and evening. Depending on what you characterize as morning, afternoon and evening. Your morning is probably different than someone else’s morning, afternoon and/or evening.  

These types of memories generally fall into several categories such as delayed memory, prose memory, semantic or deep processing. Delayed memory is the active mental process of keeping out and ejecting, banishing from consciousness, ideas of impulses that are unacceptable to it. Prose memory deals with ordinary speech or writing, without metrical structure; to write or speak in a dull and tiresome style.

Semantic or deep processing memory allows humans to communicate with language. The brain stores information about words, what they look like and represent, and how they are used in an organized way.

All of these memory categories provide the witness the ability to provide information to the law enforcement official. As they say in the field of investigations, sometimes if all of the memory engines are working, the witness may turn out to be valuable to a point of no return. I believe you understand that if the witness is mentally healthy so will the facts and information you obtain from them.

There is another aspect of observations which a witness utilizes is “reflection”, another personal characteristic that appears to be related to eyewitness accuracy. Some witnesses vary in the extent to which their everyday lives are characterized by grouping. This process of grouping is also known as affiliation. Affiliation refers to forming associations involving cooperation, friendship and love reported that persons high in need for affiliation demonstrated greater perceptual sensitivity to face-related stimuli than those low on similarly, persons high in need, for approval performed better in a memory task for faces than lose low (Kagan, 1964; Sporer, 1989; Stern and Dunning; Davenport, 1992; Schill, 1996; Atkinson and Walker, 1955).

As a law enforcement official, it is important that each official finds an effective way to interview the alleged child victim and any witnesses. Testimony needs to be viewed as evidence, evidence which will either support the child sexual abuse allegations and/or refute the allegations.

At the police academy there are minimal educational units which teach interview style, technique and methods. This phase of the education and training is valuable to the law enforcement official as it is the foundation of how in the future the official will conduct and perform an interview of a child victim and witness.

In the law enforcement field, learning methods and techniques of how to interview an alleged child victim and witnesses, is only the foundational aspect of interviewing to obtain evidence. The determination about if the information is valid, credible and reliable takes the law enforcement official to the next level of interviewing. There are many valuable methods and techniques which will be explored to ascertain if the alleged child victim and witnesses are telling the truth or lying.

Until recently law enforcement officials were expected to learn interviewing skills ‘on the job’.  When the official is not interviewing witnesses, they are talking to people. If the law enforcement official is a good police officer, they will expend numerous hours talking with the public. There are several methods and techniques used to interview alleged child victims and witnesses; one of these interview methods and techniques is called the “Cognitive Interview.”

Tomorrow, I will continue detailing just what a “Cognitive Interview” is; the value for the law enforcement official who understands and employs the cognitive interview. The cognitive interview is definitely a powerful interviewing tool, which used properly will bring positive and solid results. More importantly, the “Cognitive Interviewing” method and technique will assist the law enforcement official in learning to detect when an alleged child victim and witness is lying and/or telling the truth.

This is


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