Law Enforcement’s Mental Approach To Child Sexual Abuse Investigations – Part IV

Martin Luther King, Jr.
Cover of Martin Luther King, Jr.

By Lawrence W. Daly, MSc

We must combine the toughness of the serpent with the softness of the dove, a tough mind and a tender heart.                                                                                               Martin Luther King, Jr

On television the law enforcement officials are seen as tough minded and physically ready for anyone who doesn’t obey their orders. There is this image that law enforcement officials must present when dealing with the public. This mental approach can be seen in the body posture which the official will demonstrate to the individual(s) the official is dealing with and those people who are near the situation.

It isn’t always easy being the person wearing the police shield and carrying a gun which most likely the official will never use. Still upon arriving at a crime scene the official must demonstrate courage and present an attitude that all is fine in Denmark. In child sexual abuse cases the law enforcement official will find emotions to be running high, especially those of the alleged child victim and his/her parents.

In this situation the law enforcement official needs to request for assistance from a neighboring police car so the officials can separate those individuals who are feeding off of each other’s emotions. Still, bringing the tears to a halt and the possible acting out by a parent who just found out her husband has been sexually abusing their daughter since she was a child, may take hours if not days.

A police car in Washington, D.C.
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The mental approach a law enforcement official must establish to the child victim and witnesses that the official knows what they are doing and will quickly resolve the situation. In child sexual abuse cases, resolving criminal child sexual assault allegations isn’t something that can be resolved in a matter of minutes. Sometimes the law enforcement investigator who is assigned to the case may take two to three weeks, before they can meet with the child victim and the family.

When the initial telephone call is made to law enforcement and the law enforcement official arrives on the scene, ascertains a child is involved, and depending on the circumstances Child Protective Services (CPS) should be called and requested to come to the alleged crime scene. CPS will not respond to third party complaints i.e. a stranger raped a nine year old male on his way walking from school to home. There are no family issues to be dealt with and although CPS serves a purpose this is not one of them. If the situation was as is described above where the mother just found out that her husband is the sexual offender, CPS would than become involved and assist in making sure the child victim is safe and if the family needs any family services i.e. taking the child victim to the hospital, then they would assist.

: Criminal Justice Center
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It is important that law enforcement and CPS work hand in hand in order to provide the child victim with the best protection available. If the report is ‘true’ than the child will need a supportive social network of professionals which will provide her all the criminal justice system personnel she will need to get her through and up to the trial.

Once the law enforcement investigator has received the case assignment it is imperative that the investigator contact the assigned CPS caseworker and work out the same mental approach which will be used during the investigation. Most of the time the investigators and CPS have worked numerous case assignments before, and understand what each of them bring to the table.

Each of them will understand their strengths and weaknesses. They will feed off each other and as the CPS caseworker takes care of the child victim and the family the investigator will begin the investigation and begin contacting witnesses and collecting evidence. Sometimes it is not unusual for the CPS caseworker to ride along with the investigator, but the investigator has to be cautious and careful as the CPS caseworker is not a law enforcement official and has no authority to conduct any investigation.

Sometimes because of individual special circumstances there are some law enforcement officials who want to be the CPS caseworker and the CPS caseworker wants to be a law enforcement official. Communication between the official and caseworker must detail each other’s expectations; therefore there is no confusion about who is going to be doing what. The most important point that needs to be made here is law enforcement officials must stand by facts, not the child victim. It is appropriate to protect the child victim until the investigation is conducted, but the law enforcement official must remember they are the investigator, not the child advocator.

Most jurisdictions have victim advocates who can attend all meetings the child victim has to attend. The victim’s advocate can be a blessing as long as they perform their job appropriately and legally. There have been cases where the victim’s advocate has been placed in a position where they had to testify against one of the State’s witnesses because the State’s witness lied. This is not the role of the victim’s advocate, but things just happen.

As the child sexual assault investigation proceeds there should be meetings between the professionals in the child victim’s social network. The law enforcement investigator will have the opportunity at this time to compare notes and ascertain the information these professionals have obtained during their time with the child victim. The investigator needs to understand that some of the professionals are child advocates and their information will be bias and prejudicial. An experienced investigator will be able to ferret out what is ‘true’ and what are personal feelings; never disregarding what each of the professionals present.

Tomorrow, the mental approaches which are available to the law enforcement official are important as if negative, then there may be barriers and walls erected which could have been avoided if the correct and proper attitude would have been presented from the beginning. The mental approach needs to be one of an ‘intellectual system’ which does not put the investigation into jeopardy in any way. Ethically, the law enforcement investigator must abide by rules, policies and laws. Failure to do so only diminishes the findings of the investigation.

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