What is a Forensic Interview?
What is a Forensic Interview?
A forensic interview is an interview technique by someone who has been specifically trained to question children in order to gather information from those who may have experienced child sexual or child physical abuse.
The goal of this interview process is to obtain information from a child in a sensitive, unbiased, and truth–seeking manner. This can be done by anyone who has been forensically trained on how to properly talk and question children.
RULES & REGULATIONS
Forensic interviewing requires certain rules and regulations to be followed when questioning children. The interview specialists must know how to:
- Talk to a child in a non-leading manner
- How to confirm that he or she knows the difference between telling the truth and telling a lie
- How to question him or her about the potential of misidentifying the perpetrator
- How to ask questions of a child whose touching may of occurred during routine caregiving
- How to understand a child’s language
- How to question a child about the possibility of wanting to retaliate against the accused
- How to appropriately approach a child in discussing information about sensitive private part conversations
- How to question the child’s information in order to see if they have been “coached” about what information to say
- How to find out what the child is really saying
- How to question a child about any outside influences there may be on a child
- How to look for indicators of not telling the truth by the child
- How to ask open ended questions
- How to follow up with the next question if the child decides not to talk and give up any information
- How to handle a child who only shakes their head Yes and No without using their voice to explain the information
- How to engage a reluctant child or child with mental health issues
These interviews are conducted at a Child Advocacy Center (CAC). They offer forensic services that include a child-friendly environment and interview room where children should feel comfortable and free to talk about matters in their life. Unlike a police department, with officers walking around with guns, a CAC should provide the type of environment that is soothing, and not intimidating, to children.
A young one’s state of mind is important when trying to make sure they are safe and able to provide accurate information. He or she may choose not to speak about any abuse when being questioned at a CAC. If the child may choose not to speak, due to fright or feeling uncomfortable, he or she may need some time to get comfortable being at a CAC.
The number of times a child can go to a CAC is up to each county’s CAC guidelines. Most CACs will allow an individual to return a second time.
WILL CHARGES BE FILED BASED ON WHAT IS SAID AT THE CAC?
Forensic interviews play a key role in whether or not the state/district attorney’s office is going to file charges against you. In order for the state to charge you with a crime, the children’s testimony/disclosure must be done at a CAC. What was said by the accuser to their mom, dad, aunt, grandma, etc., does not matter. If he or she does not disclose at a National Children’s Advocacy Center, the state will not be able to move forward with charging you with a crime (so long as there were no eyewitnesses). If the state does move forward with charging you with a crime, the girl or boy making the accusations will be provided a family advocate.
This type of questioning can be done by individuals other than staff members at a CAC. Forensic interviews can be performed by an attorney, a police officer, or anyone who has been properly trained in forensic interviewing techniques. The interviews are typically video recorded, but, depending on the county, some prosecutors can opt out of videotaping children.
Oftentimes, children have had a medical examination or help prior to arriving at the CAC. Medical attention, when it comes to abuse, is not unusual. The children’s medical history is a topic that can be discussed at a CAC.
SETTING UP AN APPOINTMENT
Law enforcement are the ones who conduct a police investigation. They are also the ones who can and will set up the accuser with an appointment at a CAC. Typically, the detective will call the CAC, request a time for the family to bring in the child victim(s) for the interview, confirm the time works for the family, and then schedule it. Learn what happens if you don’t talk to a detective here.
The forensic interviewers are typically chosen at random, unless the county only has one forensic interviewer due to the county not being big enough to require more than one.
WHO CAN OBSERVE?
The forensic interviewing process is observed by a number of different people who make up the “Multidisciplinary Team.” The team members consist of law enforcement, child protective services, i.e. health and human services, a lawyer from the state can be there, but is not required to be there, and staff that work at the CAC. A defense attorney is NOT allowed to be present for an interview. That being said, the defense attorney will eventually know what was said because that information must be in a police report as part of the police investigation. The children’s parents can not watch or hear the interview at all.
WHAT CRIMES TYPICALLY MAKE USE OF A CAC?
- CRIMINAL SEXUAL CONDUCT 1st DEGREE
- CRIMINAL SEXUAL CONDUCT 2nd DEGREE
- CRIMINAL SEXUAL CONDUCT 3rd DEGREE
The type of crimes that use the forensic interviewing process are typically sexual assault crimes and child abuse crimes (child maltreatment). If someone under the age of 16 claims to have been sexually abused, 9 out of 10 times they will be asked by the detective to go to a CAC to disclose their accusations.
- 1st degree criminal sexual conduct often has a person under 13 years of age that is making the allegations. Therefore, it is imperative that he or she has an opportunity to tell their story involving what is sexual penetration in a non-bias environment.
- 2nd degree criminal sexual conduct often involves a person 13 thru 15 years old making the allegations of a sexual touching (see what is offensive touching). A CAC is the best, unbiased place for a disclosure.
- 3rd degree criminal sexual conduct involves sexual penetration of a person 13 thru 15 years of age. Again, a CAC is the best place for a person of this age with allegations of sexual penetration to go and be heard.
Attorney Nicole Blank Becker has been specially trained in forensic interviewing. As the prior Chief of the Child Abuse and Sexual Abuse Unit, she has attended thousands of them. In fact, she has conducted hundreds of them herself. She knows all of the ins and outs of a National Children’s Advocacy Center, and she knows the proper way an interview should be conducted.
Do not underestimate the importance of knowing your lawyer has been trained to question people, specifically children. Nicole knows all the proper protocol that must be used at a CAC and can spot fishiness a mile away.
If a young person is involved in your case, you must have the best when it comes to interviewing children. So, if you want to know everything about the question, what is a forensic interview, you must have Nicole Blank Becker of Blank Law, PC in your corner!
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