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

By Lawrence W. Daly, MSc

“Another way to lose control is to ignore something when you should address it” 

When you think about a law enforcement official there are many things that should go through your mind. One of the first questions should be why is the official present at your location, are they investigating a crime and where is the person who committed it? There are various thoughts an individual may consider, some may be reasonable and the other may be of little value. This would assume people sometimes place a value on their thoughts.

SEATTLE - NOVEMBER 30:  A Seattle Police Depar...
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Law enforcement officials can’t lose control of any situation. Recently, Seattle Police Department had several police officers who lost control of their situations and struck the perpetrators. The officers were disciplined for their actions. Law enforcement officials will tell you that not losing control is a great idea, but get a life. The mental approach the officers were dealing with at the time may have created the error in judgment. Have you ever lost control and if the answer is yes, what was your punishment? Of course there will be some of you who say well a law enforcement official is trained to maintain control. This theory would be great, however, everyone is human and mistakes will be made. Excusing their behavior would be unacceptable, but there needs to be reasonable and logical considerations.

When a law enforcement investigator is assigned to a case, the alleged sexual offender may not be the best individual in the world. In fact, if you had a discussion with this individual most likely you would want to hurt him. In a case I investigated thirty years ago I asked one of the patrol officers to contact an alleged sexual offender who had allegedly molested an eight year old female. The alleged sexual offender was arrested and brought downtown to my office where I would set to interview him. Upon arrival he was placed into an interview room where the interrogation would take place.

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After advising the alleged sexual offender of his Miranda Warnings, he immediately began detailing how this eight year old female came onto him, by walking the way she did. The patrol officer became irate and went after the alleged sexual offender. He had to be physically restrained. It was later determined that the officers young daughter was sexually assaulted by a neighbor and the comments made him lose control. After receiving the alleged sexual offender’s confession, he was booked into the King County Jail by me, not the patrol officer. The patrol officer was asked to take a walk. Besides losing his temper, he committed no violations or laws, he was just responding to a very mentally ill individual.

Losing control is not the mental approach society wants to observe when dealing with law enforcement officials. In the above scenario these types of responses occur when the official doesn’t understand the world according to a sexual offender. Sexual offenders perceive children as sex objects and their social skills consist of being the same age as the alleged child victim.

It is easy to place blame on a law enforcement official, but child sexual abuse is rampant and the official like the majority of most officials do not receive the proper training and education about how to deal with a sexual offender. If the official is capable of receiving the proper training and education this should minimize the response of the patrol officer as seen in the above scenario.

The more you talk about your feelings about sexual offenders with other people, your attitude generally does not point in the direction of being positive. When possibly confronted with a situation as the above patrol officer, how would you respond? Was the patrol officer’s action unreasonable? Should I have let him assault the sexual offender? Of course not, but the thought crossed my mind. However, the job I was responsible to do was to receive a confession from the alleged sexual offender. That is what I did. Even though sexual offender’s made me physically frustrated, the most important aspect of my job was to put together a solid case with the hope that the child victim would not have to relive the sexual assault by testifying in a trial.
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So who teaches law enforcement officials to management their emotions? If you were to contact your local police academy would you find one of their required courses a class on managing emotions reference child sexual abuse cases? Remember, when a law enforcement official responds to a child sexual abuse incident, the official will immediately be thinking of dealing with a child that they have no idea on how to handle or more importantly how to talk to.

Generally, the child victim interview is performed by either the assigned investigator or a child interviewer. If you have read my previous articles you will clearly understand that I am against anyone else except the assigned investigator interviewing the child victim. If the investigator doesn’t have the training and education on how to interview children than they need to be sent to the proper schools and learn how to. There is too many details and evidence that needs to be discussed with the child victim. A child interviewer simply doesn’t understand the relevance or significance of a complete investigation; how to combine all of the facts together to place foundations on questions; how the witnesses play a major role in the sexual assault allegations; how there may be biological and physical evidence available for collection; and so many other factors which a child interviewer needs to ask the child victim.

Child interviewers who now have titled themselves Forensic Interviewers would say that the present system appears to be working so why change the child interview system. The answers are what are detailed above. In a future article, I will detail the specific issues of why the child interview system can make a difference if changes were made to it.

Depending on the mental approach of the law enforcement administration the interview approach by their child sexual abuse investigators can be, “It is alright for the investigator to interview everyone but the child victim” or “my investigator will handle all of the interviews including the child victim.” There will be conflict with the other child sexual abuse professionals if the law enforcement official takes the position that their investigator will conduct the child interview. In some of the States in the United States, Canada, Israel, United Kingdom and many other countries law enforcement investigators are trained and educated and perform any and all interviews when investigating a child sexual abuse allegations; this includes the child victim.

Tomorrow, the decision of who will conduct the child victim interview is something that will need additional consideration. The subject has been a controversial issue for decades and will continue to be an issue until the prosecution realizes the value of using the law enforcement investigator. The mental approach by the law enforcement investigator generally determines the outcome of the child sexual abuse investigation.

Being constructive, positive and having the right attitude generally brings about a successful result. These characteristics will assist the investigator in fact-finding the allegations and determining what the ‘truth’ is.  Tomorrow and as I continue detailing this series I will document and research the many mental approaches a law enforcement official needs to have in any given situation.

Law enforcement officials have to rely on outside agencies to provide them the proper training when it comes to interviewing child sexual abuse victims; the proper methods and techniques to utilize when interviewing collateral witnesses; how to interrogate sexual offenders; how to strategize the case, using case analysis’ and alternative hypotheses; and how to understand the medical, biological and physical evidence. The reason I have raised these final issues is without professionals like myself, law enforcement officials would have no way of understanding the “possibilities” of what an intelligent and competent investigation looks like.

Law enforcement officials learn from one another, but there must be a direct and structured child sexual abuse course(s) which properly instructs law enforcement officials in child sexual abuse investigations. I will continue to examine and evaluate these areas of concern over the next couple weeks and it is my hope that you are enjoying learning about the proper investigative methods, techniques and skills when it comes to child sexual abuse investigations.

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