Interviews with girls and other child survivors or witnesses should be conducted with additional sensitivity and care. Police should use simple language and short sentences; positive questions (e.g. did you tell anyone what happened?); and engage them directly (e.g. asking if they want to take a break, if they are tired, etc.), rather than expecting them to lead during the interview. Police should use positive facial expressions to make the girl feel comfortable, have eye-level contact and keep a relaxed posture to reduce the child’s intimidation while speaking to someone who is likely physically larger than her (UNODC, 2010).
Guidelines for interviewing child victims (including those under 10):
Take some time to first build rapport with the child and make them feel comfortable before asking questions about the incident.
Assure the child that they are not in trouble because they are talking to the police.
Assure the child that police officers talk with lots of children about things like this.
Assure the child that he or she is not alone.
Be respectful, attentive, sympathetic, calm and patient.
Show your encouragement through body language, facial expression and voice.
Conduct the interview in a place where the child feels comfortable and safe.
Sit at their level—make eye contact.
Use their name frequently, and introduce yourself by name, not title or rank.
Keep questions short and simple, with age-appropriate language.
Never assume that the child understands the question and language that you use.
Remember that children may not be used to giving free-narrative accounts (telling their story all at once, without interruption) to adults, and may be more used to answering specific questions.
If a child can’t provide a free-narrative account, remember that this may be due to fear or embarrassment.
Remember that even children who are unafraid or not shy may only give a very brief free-narrative account.
Remember that children, given the development of memory and language, will often give accounts with key information missing.
Research indicates that children may remember central information well, but not peripheral information.
Don’t rush them.
Avoid repeating a question. Instead, rephrase it.
Good questions are simple, specific, clear and directly related to the purpose of the interview.
Avoid asking “why?” as this is often perceived as blaming and can lead to a defensive response.
Check if the child understands the question. If unsure, ask them to paraphrase the question to you or ask them what they think the question means.
Pay close attention to the facial expression and body language of the child for signs of confusion or tiring.
Ask “Tell me more about that”.
Stay calm, with an even and soft tone of voice.
Be relaxed and informal.
Honour the child’s loyalty to an abusive parent. Do not criticize, demean or judge a parent.
Acknowledge a child’s right not to speak. Do not make them talk if they are not comfortable doing so.
Offer the child an opportunity to say anything else that has not been asked yet.
Reassure the child that the arrested parent is safe and OK.
Close all interviews by asking if the child has any questions, and then thanking the child for their help.
Excerpt: UNODC. 2010. Handbook on Effective police responses to violence against women. UNODC. Vienna.
Women and girls with disabilities:
Police should work with organizations supporting women and girls with disabilities to identify the specific accessibility measures and training required for personnel to ensure an appropriate response to incidents of violence against them. Interviewing techniques, and a broader police response, should be developed in collaboration with expert organizations and women with disabilities themselves, and adapted to most appropriately support survivors living with a range of disabilities (from physical, communication and cognitive impairments).
General considerations for developing practices for interviewing women and girls with disabilities:
Ensure responding police have had training or expertise specifically in identifying and interviewing people with differing functional needs due to disability
Use video and audio taped evidence consistently
Coordinate between police, sexual assault support workers, intellectual disability rights services and other relevant disability support workers
Train independent third persons specifically regarding sexual assault
Monitor matters systematically which are not investigated, or where a report is made but a statement is not taken, and the reasons for this
Employ flexibility in taking the statement to accommodate the person’s impairments, such as limited concentration, memory impairments or need for communication aids
Excerpt: Murray, S. and Powell, A. 2008. “Sexual assault and adults with a disability: Enabling recognition, disclosure and a just response.” Australian Centre for the Study of Sexual Assault.
The United States Office for Victims of Crime has developed a video training and facilitation guide for training law enforcement, prosecutors and other justice actors, advocates and others on interviewing women and child survivors with cognitive and communication disabilities, which uses an 8-step process as follows:
Preparing the interview site: Determine team members/ specialist support and material aid required for the interview and set up of room/ space.
Introduction: Introductions between the interviewer and the survivor as well as any caregiver or support person that may accompany them (although the interview might be conducted without the caregiver/support person); an explanation of the interview process and time required.
Providing for the victim’s needs: Getting consent from the survivor (including for recording the interview if audio or video material will be documented), providing water, familiarizing the woman with the space, including the bathroom, and informing her of periodic breaks that will take place in the interview, and as well as giving her the option to ask for breaks at any time.
Developing rapport: Based on a standard interviewing protocol for survivors, the interviewer should explain their role, the purpose of the interview, and the steps that will follow. The interviewer should speak openly about their professional role and inquire about the survivor’s interests, being prepared to respond to an emergency (e.g. if the survivor becomes distressed or ill).
Language: The interviewer should maintain strong listening skills and keep focused on the survivor’s story, using simple and direct language, which is age-appropriate and matches their use of language and grammar. Questions should be broken into concrete pieces asked one at a time.
Personality traits of the survivor: The interview may not develop in chronological order as individuals with cognitive disability may process information differently, and should be asked if they understand throughout the process, since they may not stop the interviewer when something is unclear. Survivors may provide responses based on what they believe are the desired answers, so the interviewer should not demonstrate a preference when asking questions. Survivors should also be encouraged and positively acknowledged for their assistance and participation in the process.
Interviewer patience and demeanor: Although the interviewer will guide the process, they should be calm, patient and caring toward survivors, and use compassion, respect, empathy, dignity, and openness with regards to the woman or girl’s needs. Survivors should be given the time required to answer questions, and space given between responses and follow-up questions. When the interviewer cannot understand the survivor, they should ask for clarification, by asking for the response to be repeated, rephrased or getting assistance from a different interviewer (or independent or trusted facilitator/ interpreter) if needed. If this is necessary, the interpreter must be briefed on what is expected of him or her during and after the interview. The interpreter may require debriefing following the interview, both for the person’s psychological well-being and for issues of confidentiality that may concern the victim.
Signals and Control: Signs that the survivor is stressed (which may depend on their particular disability), may include withdrawal, looking around, fidgeting, humming, groaning, rocking, hand wringing, leg swinging, tapping, and not answering questions. These should be monitored and addressed by taking a break or changing the subject. The interview may not be completed in one session and require multiple short sessions, particularly if there is significant stress created by separating the survivor from their caregiver/support person. The interviewer should announce regular opportunities for a break and monitor the survivor’s comfort level, since she may feel pressure to continue with the interview. As with all interviews, information on referral and support services (such as legal assistance, crisis counselling, accessible shelter services, etc.) should be provided before the interview ends.
Adapted from Office for Victims of Crime. 2007. “Victims with Disabilities: The Forensic Interview Techniques for Interviewing Victims with Communication and/or Cognitive Disabilities: Trainer’s Guide.” US Department of Justice. Washington, D.C.
Child Domestic and Gender Based Violence and Related Abuses Training Manual (Rwandan National Police Criminal Investigation Department, 2008). This manual is a resource for law enforcement officers and trainers to improve police interview techniques in gender-based violence, including sexual abuse cases. The tool provides detailed guidance on the process and manner for interviewing survivors, including child victims of sexual abuse, as well as taking statements from witnesses and interviewing alleged perpetrators. Available in English.
Victims with Disabilities: Collaborative Multidisciplinary First Response, Techniques for First Responders Called to Help Crime Victims who Have Disabilities (Office for Victims of Crime, U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, 2009). This trainer’s guide for police and other first responders provides effective techniques to help crime victims living with disabilities that affect their intellectual and communication abilities. The accompanying training DVD provides a specific set of guidelines for law enforcement officers, paramedics, victim advocates, forensic interviewers, and others who have been called to respond to a crime in which the victim has a disability. Available in English.
Promising Practices in Serving Crime Victims with Disabilities Toolkit (US Department of Justice Office for Victims of Crime, 2008). This toolkit is for organizations seeking to improve their capacity to respond to crime victims with disabilities. The resources in the online toolkit help to identify and address issues and obstacles encountered by people with disabilities who have been victimized or abused. Available in English.
Crime Victims with Disabilities (Office for Victims of Crime). This website provides links to tools, studies, videos and other resources for police and other criminal justice practitioners working with victims with disabilities. Available in English.
Victims with Disabilities: The Forensic Interview—Techniques for Interviewing Victims with Communication and/or Cognitive Disabilities (Office for Victims of Crime, 2007). This DVD provides a specific set of guidelines for law enforcement officers, prosecutors, victim advocates, forensic interviewers, and others for interviewing adults and children with communication and/or cognitive disabilities. The video is accompanied by an interactive discussion guide including a transcript of the DVD and a glossary of terms and concepts used in the film. Available by order in English.
Model Protocol on Safety Planning for Domestic Violence Victims with Disabilities (Hoog, C. for the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 2003). This protocol and policy recommendations aim to improve domestic violence agency safety planning services for people with disabilities and enable people with disabilities to participate in safety planning while recognizing the various environmental and social challenges they face. Guidance is provided for safety planning in both crisis situations as well as longer-term planning, with considerations for different disabilities and specific skills to enhance safety outlined in the protocol as well. Available in English.
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