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

By Lawrence W. Daly, MSc

Research is something law enforcement officials have historically neglected when it comes to creating protocols, procedures and processes of how to conduct a child sexual abuse investigation.  The reason for the lack of research is that law enforcement officials do not understand the relevance of why research is so important to accomplishing a positive and successful outcome.

In the United States, in most counties, the protocol for how the child sexual abuse allegations will be handled from beginning until the end are set by a board of professionals from each sector of the child sexual abuse industry. The board of professionals generally consists of law enforcement officials, child protective services, prosecuting attorneys, child advocates, child interviewers, therapists, medical personnel and etc. 

This professional board has a variety of attitudes and beliefs which should be based on scientific research. Unfortunately, there are many ‘camps’ nationally and internationally who believe their scientific research produces the proper protocols and procedures which should be utilized from the beginning of the child sexual abuse allegations to the end, either guilty or not guilty and etc.

Law enforcement officials generally concede to the prosecuting attorney for direction, which is based on a historical relationship of decades of cooperation. However, the prosecuting attorneys receive limited training and education into scientific child interviewing protocols and procedures. Their attitude is if it works don’t change it or try to fix it.

It is important to understand that a study by Sanders, 1986, found that only 2 percent of his sample of U.S. police officers had undergone any witness interview training. George, 1991, surveyed several United Kingdom police forces and found that some provided no witness interview training at all and others provided just one day of training.

For this reason law enforcement officials do not feel comfortable in their abilities to advocate they are experts in the field of interviewing children who may have been sexually abused. If law enforcement had a historical foundation that they could and should interview children; and have the training and education to perform such duties, it seems they would not be so quick to give away the child interview responsibilities.

The problem with the prosecuting attorneys attitude is that they refer to the local child advocates and child interviewers for direction. This is an unintelligent and incompetent decision making process as guilty verdicts should not be the basis for deciding what protocol and procedures are utilized.

In the Northwest, specifically the State of Washington, the interview protocol and procedure was developed in 2001 by Lucy Berliner and Roxy Lieb. Both of these women are child sexual abuse advocates. They don’t interview children during the day; they treat children who have been sexually abused.

So the child interview process and protocol that Ms. Berliner and Ms. Lieb advocated for had no scientific foundation. Although they attempted to qualify their protocol and procedure by comparing it to the National Institute of Child Health & Human Development (NICHD). The NICHD advocates using the Structured Interview Model in interviewing child sexual assault victims. It is considered the most sophisticated child interview process and protocol to use. Nationally and internationally it is utilized by numerous law enforcement agencies, child protective services, child interviewers and etc.

If Ms. Berliner and Ms. Lieb would have identified their protocol and procedure as a facsimile of the NICHD Structured Interview Model, this author would not have any complaint of what took place. Since 2001 Ms. Berliner has continued to advocate the use of the “Washington State Child Sexual Abuse Investigations: Testing Documentation Methods.” It is unknown if there has been any publications advocating for the Berliner Model. This needs further investigation.

In using the cognitive interview model the ability to obtain the majority of the facts of the incident is the most important aspect of the interview process. The cognitive interview model makes simple the interview process where interviewing is sometimes acknowledged as a complex skill. The law enforcement officials, child victims, witnesses and sexual offenders all play a vital role in obtaining what the truth is.

The cognitive interview model requests that the parties involved in retrieving the information search their memories for experiencing the event. For the child victim who may range from 3-10 years in age, the search for the memory of the sexual assault can be and at times is so difficult that the child cannot disclose what happened to them.

The cognitive interview is a constructive process and asking a 3 year old child to reproduce what happened to them may be unrealistic.  Therefore, the types of questions which are asked, the manner in which they are asked by the child interviewer and the ability to retrieve the event and then explain it, have been found to be a potential contaminating aspect of the quality and quantity of the information obtained from the witnesses.

As you have seen over the past week, the interview models utilized throughout the world have demonstrated that they all have pros and cons and should thoroughly be considered by law enforcement officials and child interviewers of which interview model matches the needs of their organization. Tomorrow, we will continue examining the cognitive interview model and ascertain why the model is the one that everyone should or should not be using.

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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