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

Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing”
English: Abraham Lincoln, the sixteenth Presid...
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     Abraham Lincoln                                                 

By Lawrence W. Daly, MSc 

The power of leadership in a well-organized law enforcement agency may make the difference if the agency is viewed by the community as credible and reliable. The integrity seen in the men and women who wear the uniform will make a difference for the agency either positively or negatively. The mental approach of each law enforcement official must be one where they hold close the protocols, procedures, processes, rules and regulations of the agency.

The reason this is important is because if the law enforcement agency in your community is operating with integrity, than most likely the officials who are a part of the agency will meet the needs of the community’s expectations. Too often there is this unreal expectation that the agency and the officials who deal with the public will resolve the problems they are confronted with. The average citizen generally will meet law enforcement for the first time in their lives when they come home and find their home has been burglarized.

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Since the community has limited contact with law enforcement their expectations sometimes become unrealistic. If their child has been sexually assault by a peer, they will have little to no experience in what to do. Do they call the school; do they call Child Protective Services; and/or do they call law enforcement. The answer is they need to call law enforcement. Moreover, they will need to take their child to the hospital for a rape examination.

When law enforcement arrives at the complainant’s residence, their mental approach will be to gather the information; ascertain if the child victim needs immediate medical assistance; how long ago was she sexually assaulted; is she wearing the clothes she was wearing during the assault; and so forth. These questions have to be asked of the child victim in order to preserve evidence. During the initial interview of the child victim, the first responder has to ascertain where the sexual assault occurred.

The continual mental approach by the first responder in reference to the sexual assault is to ascertain what generally happened; where it happened; is child victim hurt; does the child victim need medical assistance; where did the sexual assault occur; and any other questions which would assist the future follow-up investigator in the investigation of the sexual assault. The dual mental approach the first-responder must have is his responsibilities and that of the follow-up investigator. The questions above need to be initially addressed upon contact with the child victim.

The role of the first-responder is not to conduct a full interview of the child victim. This is not his/her role. The complete and thorough interview needs to be conducted by the follow-up investigator. The collection of evidence needs to be conducted either by the first-responder and/or a crime technician. The determination of who will conduct a crime scene search for evidence will depend upon the location of the crime scene, when the crime occurred, is it plausible that evidence would be located, and so forth.

The mental approach of the first-responder should be one of identifying the sexual offender. The child victim will know the sexual offender in 90% of the sexual assaults. Therefore, identify the sexual offender is not an issue. It is the 10% of the sexual assaults where the child victim has no idea who the sexual offender was, is where the first-responder has to be cautious and detailed oriented about locating evidence.

If there is evidence of the crime the first-responder must have the mental approach that they will locate, identify, collect and preserve the evidence for the follow-up investigator. The first-responder can’t create evidence which is not there; however, the first-responder can utilize their training to process a crime scene. If the crime scene is overlooked the follow-up investigator may have the opportunity to go to the crime scene with the proper mental approach and crime scene tools and process the crime scene.

In child sexual assault cases the problem between the child victim and sexual offender could turn into the he said, she said. This is a possible scenario, but it is the responsibility of the investigator to take what he/she has been handed and do something with it. The mental approach must be one where the investigator takes the investigation outside the norm and level and creates a case where there is more than he said, she said.

The mental approach the investigator should consider and develop is one where if evidence exists either way, one where there is evidence to prove the sexual offender committed the crime and/or two, where the evidence proves the sexual offender didn’t commit the crime.

The investigator in order to locate additional information about the alleged crime will come from the witnesses who are a part of the allegations. There is always another person the investigator can interview who may have information about the alleged crime.

It is understandable that the investigator is busy and has other cases to investigate. However, if the investigator will have to present the investigation to the prosecutor for the filing of charges, the investigator needs to put in an effort which is obviously more than the norm. This effort demonstrates that the investigator is willing to do more, and then some.

Tomorrow, the many mental approaches a first-responder has to consider and utilizes during the initial investigation come from experience of other first-responder. The need for future protocols and procedures is something which needs to be continually addressed. The integrity of the law enforcement agency must be a positive perception which others understand and appreciate. There are many mental approaches yet unexplored and need further discussion.

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