The Many Roles Of The Private Investigator In Investigating Child Sexual Abuse Allegations - Part XXI

Maya Angelou
Image by Rusty Darbonne via Flickr

By Lawrence W. Daly, MSc
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said and what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel”                                                                                   Maya Angelou

The secret to a successful child sexual abuse investigation has to do with a private investigator that has the ability to establish a dialogue with anyone who is involved in the case in chief.  This dialogue must be based on an established protocol and procedure which produces information and can be utilized to describe a crime which has or hasn’t taken place.

Dialogue is defined by Merriam Dictionary as, “a conversation between two or more persons; also: a similar exchange between a person and something else (as a computer).” It is relevant that the private investigator learns how to create a dialogue when interviewing child victims and witnesses. If the investigator can’t or will not interview a child abuse victim, then the client should be advised of this an alternative approach should be considered.
It isn’t uncommon for law enforcement officials and private investigators to refrain from performing the child victim interview for several reasons:
    1.      The investigator has difficulty in creating a dialogue with a child under most circumstances. If faced with the situation where part of the assignment is interviewing the child the investigator should make the supervisor or client aware of their hesitation and reluctance.
    2.      The investigator is not trained in the art of interviewing child sexual abuse victims.
    3.      The investigator is not educated in the art of interviewing child sexual abuse victims.
    4.      The investigator has no experience in interviewing child sexual abuse victims.
   5.      The investigator has never observed a child victim interviewed and has no idea of how to begin the interview; has no concept of the structure of the interview; and how to conclude the interview.
   6.      The investigator has no knowledge or understanding of what types of questions should be asked during a child interview.
   7.      The investigator does not understand what age appropriate questions are; nor would the investigator know what level of competency the child may present during the interview and the relevance of such observation.
    8.      The investigator does not understand how to ask relevant questions when zeroing in on the use of an alternative hypothesis during the child interview.
    9.      The investigator does not know when the child is exhausted and the interview should come to a conclusion.
   10.  The investigator does not know the difference between a specific and clarification question and how to pose each of these types of questions to the child victim.

There is so much preparation which should be part of conducting a child interview.  The problems which are distinct in the above detailed reasons some investigators yield to not conducting a child interview is they don’t know how to properly prepare for it. Most investigators can conduct a general interview without any problems. These types of interviews for the most part are easily performed and conducted without much thought. However, the investigator should never have the attitude that any interview will be a push-over and not properly prepare for it.

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The determination of was the general interview performance up to standard comes about when the investigator works with other experienced investigators who will take the time and review the interview for the investigator. Creating an evaluation interview policy will bring integrity to the interviews performed by the agencies investigators.

If the investigator is called to testify in a court of law about the interview they conducted, the question of the quality of the interview may become an issue. If the investigative agency has a strong policy that all interviews are reviewed and evaluated, this will bring integrity to the interview and the testimony of the investigator.

Collateral interviews conducted in a child sexual abuse investigation are different than a general interview conducted during a routine accident, domestic violence, robbery and so forth. The reason the interviews are different is that each witness unknowingly to the witness plays a specific role in the case. It is possible that the alleged child victim may have told the witness something which is relevant and material to the investigation such as she is afraid of the alleged sexual offender. These types of comments to a witness may prove to be a valuable piece of evidence.

Another type of question that needs to be addressed during the child interview is what the alleged child victim’s behavior was like when she became involved with the alleged sexual offender or how she acted around the alleged sexual offender. Further, did her behavior change in any way which would have drawn some concerns by those who know the alleged child victim and sexual offender. Behavioral changes could be numerous changes such as wetting the bed, anxiety issues, school grades declined and so much more.

These two types of questions are relevant to a child sexual abuse allegation because they give strength to the veracity of the child sexual abuse victim which is always questioned by the defense.

Tomorrow, many avenues have to be traveled by the private investigator to become an intelligent and competent investigator.  These avenues provide opportunities for the investigator to learn how to perform an investigation involving a child sexual abuse allegation. Learning the nuances and subtleties of each allegation will make the investigator a valuable tool to the clientele, who was retained to conduct a prudent and logical investigation.
Pursuing avenues where the possibilities are endless make special assignments such as conducting an investigation into a child sexual abuse allegations makes the effort and time worth it.

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