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

Khalil Gibran (April 1913)
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By Lawrence W. Daly, MSc

“Yesterday is but today's memory, and tomorrow is today's dream”
                                                                                                                                   Khalil Gibran

When dealing with child sexual assault victims one of the keys to being successful in performing a legitimate and credible investigation begins with the child victim. The post-event information which a child may be exposed to can make the difference in the fact-finding investigation. The adults who surround the child victim are told not to discuss the facts or evidence of the case with the child victim. The mental approach by the non-abusing guardians has to be one of composure, respect of keeping their thoughts, beliefs, concerns and so forth to themselves.

It is difficult to be an adult when a child victim has been harmed by another adult. The role and responsibility of these adults needs to be supportive and caring about the child victim. The mental approach of the law enforcement investigator has to be a skillful individual who can balance and control everyone’s roles including his. The responsibility of the investigator is to obtain information from all the parties involved in the allegation, however, as he collects evidence, testimony and facts, he must explain the importance of controlling one’s tongue. There is no reason anyone should be discussing the facts of the case with the child victim. The investigator decides when, where and why the child victim should be spoken to about the sexual assault. 

The mental approaches which can be utilized in the child victim interview are plentiful. The investigator should understand the competency of the child. This competency includes if the child can tell the difference between right and wrong; if they can provide enough details to construct that a crime was committed; and so much more. In order for the investigator to walk and talk with the child through the criminal justice system, the investigator needs to be patient. Of course, there are child advocates who will assist the child victim and the child victim’s family with their needs during a very difficult time, however, they do not perform the interview, and this is the investigator’s responsibility.

Many times the mental approach i.e. the theme of the case is constructed by the investigator who has the responsibility to be creative and innovative in their approach to finding the truth. It is important the investigator does not lose control of the investigation and allow undue influence to cause the investigator to change their opinion of the facts of the case. Too often the child victim’s non-abusing parent believes they have this proprietary interest in how the investigation should turn out. The instant credibility a child victim receives by those who are related to the child victim generally rush to judgment that the crime occurred and the named sexual offender committed the crime can’t be the attitude of the investigator. He is a neutral and objective investigator.

It is difficult for the investigator to explain to those involved in the case that there is a process, systematic approach, mental approach to child sexual assault investigations. If the witness has information about the allegations then this should be given to the investigator, however, if the witness doesn’t have anything to offer, then they are wasting the time of the investigator.

Given the many mental approaches an investigator can choose from in investigating a child sexual assault allegation, the investigator should take care of which mental approach should be utilized at the beginning of the investigation and throughout the investigation.

Too often the investigator will find things going haywire in the investigation and will need to find methods and techniques to pull the investigation together. There is no time for the investigator to become unfocused or lackadaisical when the investigator is dealing with time constraints. If the investigator finds that there are obstacles in the investigation which is hampering his/her ability to conduct the investigation, then the investigator may have to enlist the assistance of his/her supervisor or another investigator. There is no reason the investigator needs to be sidetracked with individuals who don’t understand the investigative process.

The investigator has a responsibility to keep the child victim and her family notified of the progress of the investigation, but keeps them informed about the investigation and providing them details about the investigation are two different mental approaches. Moreover, the investigator needs to draw the lines and explain his/her roles and responsibilities.

The design of the investigation is to contact every individual who has information and they should be interviewed by the investigator. Asking the individual why they believe the child victim made the sexual assault allegations is a proper method of interviewing. Since the investigator didn’t know the parties involved prior to the disclosure by the child victim, the investigator needs to look to other individuals who have information about the motive behind the sexual assault allegations. The motive can be as simple as the child victim was tired of being sexually assaulted and reported it to the non-abusing parent.

When the case facts, evidence and information comes together the investigator’s mental approach should be one of wrapping the investigation to a close. The investigator should have gone through every investigative method and technique and received positive results from these investigative steps.

Tomorrow, as this series begins to come to a close, it is necessary to still discover how mental approaches play a significant role in the investigation of child sexual assault allegations.

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