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

By Lawrence W. Daly, MSc

"Thinking is skilled work. It is not true that we are naturally endowed with the ability to think clearly and logically - without learning how, or without practicing"

                                                               Alfred Mander, Author Logic For The Millions, 1947
Law enforcement encounters complex allegations in the field of child sexual abuse investigations. The child victim discloses to a non-abusive parent that he/she was sexually assaulted by their father. This disclosure sets off a chain of events which can identify and incarcerate the sexual offender. However, disclosures are not evidence. Their reliability and credibility are attached to their ability to discuss openly what specifically happened to them.

The law enforcement investigator will pursue any and all leads using the correct and proper mental approach. The investigator needs to utilize any and all tools which will assist them in a continual support process which reveals information of sexual assault patterns and themes. It isn’t enough anymore to accuse an individual with sexually assaulting a child. The information which comes from multiple resources is benchmarks which put the criminal justice system in motion.

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The investigator should map out the allegations i.e. creating a Case Action Plan, which allows the investigator to check mark the milestones of the investigation. The investigator can analyze each investigative step. This refining of milestones makes sense. Taking each milestone and moving forward in the investigation either supports the Case Action Plan or doesn’t. The prioritization of the facts, evidence and testimony is important at this phase of the investigation so the investigator gets a sense that the scales of justice have value and reason.

Supervisors of the Special Assault Units need their investigators to communicate the status of each of the investigations which have been assigned to them. The investigator will self-assess the investigation to date, prior to relaying the information to his/her supervisor. The supervisor will have the opportunity to listen to the investigators hypothesis; either supports the direction of the investigation and/or provides a different direction for the investigator to pursue.

Time controls some of the investigative steps the investigator comes up against during an investigation. It isn’t that time is an enemy, but the greater the time between the crime and the time it is investigated; there is a sense of losing facts, evidence and testimony. It isn’t enough to deal with the circumstances the crime creates. The mental approach should be a strong and encouraging thoughtful and insightful investigation where the investigator can grab hold of and define which direction the investigation is taking him/her.

Too often an inexperienced investigator will find their mental approach to be stagnant and delayed because of the inability to think the facts, evidence and testimony through. It is difficult when the investigator is first assigned to the Special Assault Unit (SAU) to understand how the pieces of the puzzle come together. The stress of trying to figure out why the child victim said this, the witness said that and the sexual offender denied committing the act, can be frustrating. The frustration can grow when the investigator has multiple investigations occurring at the same time and all of them are in limbo because the next step is to present the case to the supervisor for a review. These reviews can take up to a week to perform and this amount of time could be time where the investigator could be investigating the allegations. The review by the supervisor is not final; it is just a pit stop to determine if the investigator is on the right investigative path.

The anxiety which comes from having someone review your work can be highly intimidating to the inexperienced investigator. The necessary mental approach is for the investigator to believe in the work completed to date. The investigator should have confidence in the investigative steps he/she took to reach the conclusion i.e. final hypothesis.

The role of being an investigator for the most part may be challenging, but the feeling of accomplishment can be extraordinary. The mental approach the investigator can benefit from is having a wealth of knowledge about each of their investigations. To apply specific investigative techniques when interrogating the sexual offender can be productive and the answer to many questions should be explored. Too often the investigator is too hard on him/herself. Just because the facts of the case are difficult doesn’t mean that the investigator should throw in the towel.

A defeated mental approach will bring about nothing in the investigative arena. Being negative and empty about an investigation is not a brilliant idea. Instead the investigator needs to gather up what he/she has step back a few steps and lay out the case on their desk and begin the process all over. Investigators who have a reasonable and logical approach to their investigations will be successful in the end.

The evaluation of the investigation to date can be performed by keeping a continual check list of the tasks that need to be performed. These tasks can range from reviewing the evidence with a crime technician or reviewing the written statement with one of the stronger witnesses. The ability to regenerate progress comes about by the investigator having a creative and innovative mental approach which keeps the investigator from a rush to judgment.

Tomorrow, the needs of the law enforcement investigator are demanding at times, but exciting to be a part of solving crimes that occurred in their community. Sometimes the mental approach an investigator takes during an investigation will either support the investigator’s ability to perceive the intrinsic details. Taking a second or third look at the facts, events and testimony may adjust what the investigator was thinking when he/she took specific investigative steps. Most investigators although not trained and educated do their best to perform their jobs with the correct and proper mental approach. With this series winding down I will continue to discuss the attributes the investigators must have when working in a specialized unit, such as SAU.

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