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

: Criminal Justice Center
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By Lawrence W. Daly, MSc

"Believe you can and you're half way there"

In theory the mind works in an unconscious manner which allows the possibilities for the law enforcement official to create, apply, and solve complex investigations. The investigators original thought process is the foundation of what will later be the platform for the next investigative step. At the beginning the probabilities are endless and the investigator needs to keep their minds open to suggestions, ideas, questions, processes, and strategies.

The strategic innovation and creativity of the mental approach when investigating child sexual abuse allegations needs to be cohesive. If the mental platform is not constructed properly than it doesn’t matter what mental approach an investigator utilizes. If the mental platform has holes and gaps in it, than the investigator will find that the initial hypothesis considered will not provide positive and successful results.

The mental approach and the opportunities which are attached to it are limited by time frames. The investigator must begin the investigation in a reasonable time i.e. 24-48 hours. The time frame generally depends upon the emergent nature of the alleged crime. If a six year old female states her father sexually assaulted her, it may be necessary to take the alleged sexual offender into custody until the investigator can conduct an initial investigation.  The quality of an investigation which takes 24-48 hours is not going to be complete or thorough. After the initial 24-48 hours there will be a need to perform the investigative steps which is complete and thorough.

When the investigator receives from their supervisor an in-custody case, the prosecutor’s office generally has 72 hours to file criminal charges or the alleged sexual offender will be released. The best method and technique which should be utilized is to have the other investigators in the Special Assault Unit (SAU) assist the lead investigator with the investigation. The investigators who assist the lead investigator can work on taking witness statements, getting the biological and physical evidence to the State Crime Laboratory for analysis, obtaining the medical examination report from the hospital which is responsible for performing sexual assault examinations, and so forth.

The lead investigator will have limited time in putting all the pieces of the puzzle together. The lead investigator will have to meet with the filing prosecutor who will make the decision whether to rush file the criminal charges or not. The lead investigator will have some influence on the filing prosecutor as the role of the lead investigator is to sell his/her case. The filing of criminal charges is a serious step in the criminal justice system as it will remove the freedom away from an individual who may be innocent.

The mental approach an investigator should take when dealing with case assignments which are time sensitive is to be neutral and objective. It is difficult to remain neutral in an investigation when you have an alleged victim saying her father sexually assaulted her and a mother who is telling the investigators that she knew something was going on with her husband and her daughter, because they, the husband and daughter, were always fighting. The child victim then tells the investigator that this is true they were always fighting because he was always touching her on her privates on the outside of her clothes.

Recently, I was retained to review a case where the scenario stated above had similar facts. During the investigation it was determined that the mother had begun a relationship with another man and the mother and this man were planning on leaving the state. The mother convinced the daughter to lie and told her how physically and verbally abusive the husband/father had become. Later the daughter told authorities that she never heard her father ever to be verbally or physically abuse towards her mother. Still the mother was convincing and the daughter lied believing this was the best course of action for everyone.

The scenario to the above case is not that uncommon. The trap the non-abusing parent sets with the assistance of their sons or daughters does occur. The relationship between the father and the daughter or son will dictate if they will support the mother and lie for her. The investigator must make a decision when a case falls in their lap which is so strong. This should ring the ‘truth’ bell that something isn’t right about the allegations.

The investigator must take intelligent and competent investigative steps to identify what the spouse or children are saying about the alleged sexual offender. The old saying is “This just seems too good to be true” is definitely fitting in this situation. The mental approach by the investigator must be one of caution. The investigator must examine and evaluate the alleged facts and determine if there may be a motivation for the mother and daughter to lie and why. The motive is rarely considered in child sexual abuse cases, but if the investigator utilizes the mental approach that there is always a motive in child sexual abuse cases, this will strengthen or weaken the investigation.

It isn’t only the man that gets falsely accused; the woman in a relationship may now find themselves in custody because someone made a false allegation against them. How does a person who has no money, no legal experience, no family or friends who believe them; especially the investigator get someone to listen to them? This is the question of the century. People who are accused of committing a crime they did not commit does happen and a trained, educated and experience investigator can minimize innocent people from going to prison.

The tide turns quickly on individuals who plan what they believe is the perfect child sexual abuse allegations.  The truth is strong and will outweigh the lies individuals put forth trying to manipulate the investigator. Too often the investigator will not conduct the ‘pinch test’ i.e. this is where the investigator pinches his/her arm to wake up and smell the roses. It is necessary that all law enforcement investigators receive training in how and why false allegations occur; how to detect them; and what to do about them.

Tomorrow, the many mental approaches continue to challenge the criminal justice system which treats the innocent as if they are guilty. The tide is turning and legitimate investigations with the proper mental approach will and can make a difference. Everyone wants to see the right thing done and as we explore the mental approach theories we should keep in mind that under all of the alleged facts and evidence there may be an improper motive.

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