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

By Lawrence W. Daly, MSc

"What I'm interested in is what we remember and what we don't remember and the way memories change as we try to make sense of our experiences… What is truth? Truth doesn't really exist. Who is going to judge whether my experience of an incident is more valid than yours? No one can be trusted to be the judge of that. "
Tracey Emin

Most children, who become victims of child sexual abuse, are abused in their own home. Statistics have demonstrated that the child victim knew or was acquainted with their attacker 90% of the time. The other 10% who sexually assaulted the child victim were strangers.

The one issue which is rarely discussed is where the sexual assault took place i.e. the crime scene. The common crime scene occurs in a residence or vehicle. The residence where the sexual assault occurs is either the child victim and/or the sexual offenders. There may be other locations such as outside in a yard, park, grocery store and etc. There are many locations a sexual offender will feel comfortable in committing the sexual assault. This is why law enforcement officials advocate that when families are out in the public, make sure your child is with you at all times and is safe from being sexually abused.

When the sexual assault occurs, the child may or may not tell the non-abusing authority figure. Statistics have demonstrated that 50% of the time the child will disclose the sexual assault immediately after the incident. Then the delay reporting spreads across from there. Sometimes a child victim may never disclose and others wait until they are adults to tell what the sexual offender did to her/him.

The cognitive interview model is a model which is utilized in interviewing child victims. This interview model allows law enforcement to ask specific questions about the child victim, sexual assault(s) and information about the sexual offender. The method of how the child is interviewed is significant as the goal is to obtain a reconstruction of specifically what took place during the sexual assault.

The cognitive interview model is a multidisciplinary forensic interview technique concerned exclusively with the retrieval of information from memory. As I have discussed over the past week, the goal is to trigger the memory and obtain as much information about the incident. In reconstructing what the child victim remembers is a process which provides the law enforcement official with investigative directions and potential other witnesses who can provide information about the alleged event.

As I discussed yesterday, the law enforcement official must have the ability to have conversations with anyone who may be associated with the alleged crime. In interviewing a child victim the law enforcement official must remember that the interview is simply a conversational exchange, in which both parties play an integral role (Shepherd, 1991). 

In the interview process the quantity and quality of the witness recall can be limited and contaminated by the law enforcement official.  It is obvious that incomplete, inaccurate, erroneous, and distorted witness information can have serious ramifications. If law enforcement officials do not do the interview properly the first time, the errors may cause the information may be so distorted that the truth will never be known.

The cognitive interview model suggests that the law enforcement official attempts to have the witness use what is called his/her mental context reinstatement techniques which emanates from the principle of encoding specificity.  The witness using visual imagery has the ability to discuss and provide details about the environment where the alleged sexual abuse took place and the psychological factors which the witness felt. Some of the examples could be the smell, hearing, seeing and etc. An example of how to ask the witness several questions would be:

Try to detail what you saw in the room where you were sexually assaulted. What did you hear, what did you see, and what did you feel? When he touched you how were you feeling at the time. How did you react to him touching in your private area?

Reporting everything the child saw, heard, smelled and etc. is important for the law enforcement official to obtain from the child victim. The reason it is important to obtain any and all information from the child, is the child generally doesn’t have the capability to understand what is an important detail and what is not. If the child victim provides everything they saw and went through during the alleged sexual assault, the law enforcement official can make the determination of what information he/she needs to pursue with the child victim.

The key to obtaining everything is possible if the law enforcement official explains to the child victim that the number of interviews they may have to go through should be minimized. The report everything detail is significant when dealing with witnesses as if all of the witnesses report everything they saw, and then it is likely that the small details may help the law enforcement official put together what specifically occurred at the crime scene.  The more information obtained the better understanding the law enforcement official will have about what took place.

Moreover, the more information obtained from the witnesses the more detail and information the official should be able to obtain from the child victim. The witnesses should be interviewed first, so the law enforcement official has a general understanding of what happened between the alleged child victim and sexual offender.

Asking the witness to tell the law enforcement official what happened from the other witnesses perspective may help obtain information that would not have been available if the official would have simply asked the witness what did they see happened. Although some of the information may be conjecture, it still provides the official with a sense of what transpired between the alleged child victim and sexual offender.

Tomorrow, I will continue to examine the cognitive interview model and its usefulness in the interviewing of alleged child sexual abuse victims, witnesses and sexual offenders. Over the past week I have attempted to explain the model in many ways. It is obvious that the cognitive interview model is a model that the majority of law enforcement officials should be using as its effectiveness is compelling.

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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