From Nov. 1-19, the Child Advocacy Center of Rutherford and Cannon Counties is partnering with 16 agencies to increase awareness about the plight of child abuse victims and encourage adults to react responsibly and report child abuse.
Rutherford County Sheriff's Detective Andrea Knox addresses what is the role of a forensic interview during child abuse investigations.
Allegations of a child being sexually abused at a sleepover were relayed to a parent.
The parent's natural response would be to ask a closed-end question of “Did anything happen at the sleepover?” with a simple yes or no answer.
But trained forensic interviewers Amanda Pruitt, Elizabeth Benton, Anahi Castillo (who speaks Spanish), and Amanda Hammond at the Child Advocacy Center of Rutherford and Cannon Counties use their skills to seek the truth.
A forensic interviewer's communication may begin by using a narrative format and open-ended questions to gather statements, observing non-verbal communication and listening for keywords to support the allegation.
Should an allegation be disclosed, the forensic interviewer may ask the child to tell more about the party, who attended and what did the child like the most, the least and why. Other information could include the time the child left the party, how the child got home and what happened on the way home.
The focus may shift from nothing occurring at the party to an incident occurring after the party. The interviewer may gather details resulting in the belief a child may have been sexually abused.
I view the parents and guardians as vicarious victims of child abuse, and as victims, they must be handled with care. After a parent learns their child is listed as a victim, their emotions can range from void to vengeance. The parents are informed of the investigative process, but this secondary information is often forgotten.
Within the investigative process, there is a multidisciplinary team (law enforcement, social workers, forensic interviewers, legal and medical professionals and other advocates) working behind the scene. Parents eagerly follow advice from these advocates.
However, parents can be reluctant to have their child interviewed by a forensic interviewer. Parents feel that they can question their child and ascertain information needed for the investigation.
It is important for parents to understand that the information received from the forensic interview can be vital in a judicial proceeding, to include interrogatories and subject to cross examinations.
The people who hurt children don't want to be caught. Children are victimized by multiple methods: they don't know the act is wrong, the offense is presented as a method of play, coercion, and children they punish themselves for making decisions that turned out wrong and more.
These abuses are done under the cloak of darkness, embarrassing circumstances and by an individual the family knows and have an established relationship.
Will you believe your child if they disclosed abuse? There is a phrase, “The beauty is in the details” or “The devil is in the details.” Either way, the details are the key the forensic interview seeks.
The forensic interviewer allows the child to freely tell about himself/herself. This allows for observation of the child's speech, thought process, comprehension and intellect. The interviewer is having a conversation with the child and the interviewer will gather details from the supplied response.
It may seem that the question is being asked repeatedly, but the inquisition is transferring from the subject to subject, to the action, to location and more. Non-verbal communication and sensory information is also monitored and documented.
Information gathered in the interview may lead to a decision that the allegation is not true or it may lead to a need for further investigation by the team to pursue the investigation.
I am an advocate for your child and the forensic interview. Educate the parents and make them advocates too.
By Andrea Knox, Rutherford County Sheriff's Office