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

By Lawrence W. Daly, MSc

In light of the place law enforcement officials were and have come in reference to interviewing children and witnesses in child sexual abuse allegations, over the past forty years has been phenomenal.  In the early 1980’s the forensic interview models being used when interviewing child sexual abuse victims were non-existent.

It was difficult at that time to understand and have sophisticated knowledge that there is something greater than what you have; that in the future there would be interview tools that would begin making a difference when interviewing alleged child sexual abuse victims, witnesses, and sexual offenders.

Law enforcement officials needed something they could actually reach out and touch.  Something that would make a difference in interviewing alleged child sexual abuse victims. Then came along the child advocates, who had their sights on controlling how the child sexual abuse system would work.  Who would conduct the child interviews, medical examinations and etc. of alleged child abuse victims?

The lines were drawn and the child advocates stated that alleged child victims should not be interviewed by police officers as they wore uniforms, were male, were big, bad, and ugly.  The law enforcement officials who knew little about interviewing child victims acquiesced and turned the child victim interviewing over to civil organizations, consisting mostly of women.  Women who historically had an agenda against men which, was another issue.

The problem for the child advocates just like law enforcement is they had no idea what they were doing in interviewing children as well.  They advocated that law enforcement officials not interview alleged child victims, but their resolutions were hit and miss in the making of an industry, which flourishes today.

As this author has advocated for the past 30 years, child interviewers, who now call themselves Forensic Interviewers, had no experience then, nor do they have any experience now in understanding the evidence obtained at a crime scene, medical evidence obtained during an exam of an alleged child victim, and how to conduct witness interviews.  Moreover, they do not attend a six-month police academy to learn and understand how a child sexual abuse investigation is to be conducted and ultimately put together for the filing of criminal charges; if that is to be the correct decision.

Instead child interviewers receive limited training and education from seminars and workshops, which advocate to believe that all children who raise the issue that they were sexually abused.  For the most part, child interviewers are not incompetent, incomplete, inaccurate, and clumsy in their interviewing styles.  Generally, the majority of the child interviewers utilize 8 x 11 cheat sheets, which help them remember the types of questions they need to ask during the child interview.

Recently, I received a DVD of an alleged child victim who the police and prosecution alleged had been sexually abused by her father.  After 10 minutes the 4 year old child was bouncing all over the room and not being coherent. This is not uncommon as the attention span of a 4 year old is about 10-15 minutes.  The child interviewer became increasingly frustrated because the child would not answer the questions she was asking.  At one point in the interview the child stated, “Daddy’s private stick got stuck in my throat, so he had to pry it out.”

The child interviewer didn’t know how to handle this inconsistent statement and/or bizarre rendition of what may have happened.  Out of nowhere, the child interviewer asked the child to explain what she said stating, “Tell me how daddy’s private stick got stuck in your throat” and as he asked this question she took her fingers and put them in her throat.  Realizing what she had done, she jerked her fingers out of her mouth.

The child saw what the child interviewer had done and the interview went downhill from there.  The child had now learned from the child interviewer how to say and demonstrate what daddy allegedly had done.  An accidental mistake; could have happened to anyone, but unfortunately this child interviewer with no police training made an enormous mistake.  The question has to be why?  In my evaluation of the child interviewer, the mistake over shadowed what the alleged child victim had said, prior to the bizarre and fantasy type statement.

The cognitive interview model would most likely have prevented the child interviewer from making the mistakes seen by the above child interviewer, because the model requires patience and when a child no longer wants to answer child sexual abuse questions, the model details how to conclude the interview at that time.

In this interview the child interviewer told the child 12 times that she only had one more question to ask.  So what happened, did she think the child quit understanding what one more question meant?  This demonstrates that the child interviewer lost control of the interview.  The child clearly understood her 12 times, because every time she answered the question the child began heading towards the door. At this point the child interviewer asked her to come and sit down by her, so she could ask that one more question.

These types of mistakes are too common in the child sexual abuse interviewing industry.  Child interviewers who attempt to utilize their own protocols and procedures, which are not scientifically based, potentially will make mistakes over and over.  The cognitive interviewing model has been scientifically researched for thirty years and has been revised numerous times to make the model credible, reliable, and valid.  Consideration by these agencies should consider at least using something similar to the cognitive interview model.

The journey that an alleged child victim has to go through should not cause a child to be possibly re-victimized.  Forty years these mistakes were common place and now they should not be happening. The child interviewer should be following guidelines of an interview model like the cognitive interview model, which provides a scientific step by step protocol and procedures.

Most sexual offenders know that the criminal justice system in the area of child sexual abuse cases has its problems. The rate of incompetence and unintelligent protocols and procedures, which are not based on scientific research, but on individual agency processes and policies, continues to perpetuate itself in a cyclical downward and negative manner.

The problem of which agency should conduct the child interviews i.e. civil agencies versus the law enforcement officials continues to be a major controversy.  The majority of researchers believe this conflict is an obvious problem. Most sexual offenders have access to this information.  The protocols and procedures, which are public are accessible to the sexual offender.

Law enforcement officials need to take aggressive steps to eliminate these current problems, which are apparent when using civilian child interviewers.  Moreover, law enforcement officials need to get their personnel trained and educated in exactly how to interview child sexual abuse victims properly, along with witnesses, and sexual offenders so their investigations are generally more reliable, credible, and valid.  Performing the child interview would no doubt enhance the fact-finding investigation by law enforcement officials.

Tomorrow, I will continue identifying how the cognitive interview model can make a difference in the interviewing of child victims, witnesses, and sexual offenders.  The bottom line is to get to the truth and with an industry which consistently has problems; forty years of problems without change, will continue to exist if something is not done. The first step to making a difference should be law enforcement officials campaigning to taking back, what use to be theirs.

Forensic Child Sexual Abuse Investigations Part 1 
   By: Lawrence W. Daly                                                             
  Webinar Time- September 22, 2011 1:00 pm -2:00pm
   Registration Fee - $99.00

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