Investigating Sexual Assault (Repost)

I found this post about how to interview a victim of sexual assault and I thought it was thoughtful and worth sharing.
The link to the reddit thread can be found at the bottom.

“The following is an excerpt from “Practical Aspects of Rape Investigation, A Multidisciplinary Approach, Third Edition”, with thanks to /u/Classic_Todd who originally posted this information as a comment and gave me permission to repost. It is an excellent summary of how sexual assault should be investigated, although unfortunately in reality this approach does not seem to be utilised. Sending love and support to those who need it.

“The initial interaction with the victim, the introduction, is the most critical phase of the interview process. Depending upon the victim’s perception of the interview, she will or will not feel comfortable with and confident in the ability of the police to assist her. The officer should introduce himself or herself in a professional, confident, and sincere manner, using the victim’s last name preceded by Ms., Mrs., Mr., or Miss. The interviewer(s) should accomplish three important tasks during this phase: express regret that the victim was assaulted (do not use the term rape), and assure her that she is the victim of a crime that was not her fault; assure her of her safety and that everything possible and reasonable will be done to maintain that safety; and convince her of the competence and experience of the interviewers.

An example scenario might proceed as follows:

Good evening, Ms. Roberts. I am Bob Jackson of the Sexual Assault Unit, and I would like to discuss the crime which occurred, if you are feeling up to it at this time. I want you to know how deeply I regret your being the victim of such an assault and that I and the other members of the department will do our best on your behalf. Other officers have completely checked your residence (where the assault occurred) and have secured it. I’ve arranged for our patrols to increase their travel through your neighborhood, and I will also provide you with an emergency police number before I leave. I’ve been an investigating officer for nine years and am experienced in such matters, so please don’t hesitate to ask questions during our time together.

The officer(s) should explain that the length of the interview will be as brief as possible and that, while the questions will necessarily be personal, their importance cannot be overemphasized and their answers will aid greatly in identifying the offender.

The officer(s) would be well advised to remember that the process involved is an interview and not an interrogation. The victim has agreed to be interviewed, and this is strongly suggestive that she wants to cooperate and has faith in the abilities of law enforcement. Consequently, it is recommended that the following factors be adhered to during the interview phase:

l. Involve the victim in the interview process. Explain the procedures that have taken place and those that will follow. Provide her with a phone number which she can call to obtain information about the progress of the investigation, or advise her that you will periodically call to keep her informed. Ask for her opinions throughout the interview.

  1. Allow the victim as much control as possible. Ask how she would like to be addressed, e.g., as Ms. Jones. Do not use her first name without her permission — do not presume the right. Inquire if the interview environment is agreeable to her or if she would be more comfortable elsewhere. Ask if she would prefer to describe the crime in her own words or if she would rather you ask questions. Determine if she wants anyone called.
  2. Listen and respond to her wishes and requests if at all possible.
  3. Pay attention to what she is saying and be alert to expressions of:

a. guilt (I shouldn’t have gone to the market so late),

b. fear (He said he would know if I called the police),

c. humiliation (I didn’t want to do that),

and d. unnecessary attempts to convince (I know this sounds strange, but it really did happen, or I tried/wanted to stop him).

Upon hearing such phrases, the officer should reassure the victim:

a. You have a right to travel as you wish without becoming a victim,

b.* You’re safe now inside your home,*

c. You had no choice in the matter,

and d. It doesn’t sound strange and I’m sure it happened, or You’re not expected or required to become injured or killed.

  1. Balance questions having to do with humiliating acts or sexual aspects with ones relating to the victim’s feelings. For example, if the victim had been asked about the occurrence of ejaculation (never ask if she “climaxed”), it should be balanced by a question such as Do you feel safe now? or May I get you something to drink? or Would you like to stop for a while?
  2. Begin by utilizing professional terminology. One can always lower the level of terms, but it is very difficult, if not impossible, to raise the level of terminology. An example would be questions pertaining to forced oral sexual acts. The professional interviewer will begin by using the term fellatio. It is quite probable that the victim might not be familiar with the term, and the officer would then use the term oral sex. Should the victim fail to understand at this level, the officer could ask, Did he make you put your mouth on his penis? To appreciate the value of such an approach, simply reverse the sequence.
  3. Use language that is nonjudgmental or threatening to the victim. Instead of Tell me about your rape, use Please describe the assault. Instead of stating a bias (What were you doing out so late?), provide the opportunity for the victim to tell what happened (Please describe what was happening leading up to the assault). Rather than saying, Why didn’t you fight him? ask, Did you have any opportunity to resist? The phrasing of the question can reveal the interviewer’s personal bias and feelings to the victim and may impede the investigation.
  4. Throughout the interview, it should become clear to the victim that the issues of power, control, anger, and aggression — not sexuality — are central to the crime. Sexuality is not the salient feature of the assault. A crime of violence has occurred and the victim should understand that it is this aspect on which the investigation will focus.
  5. Obtain the facts of the crime in as factual a manner as possible. The interviewer should take precautions to ensure that the victim does not perceive the process as voyeuristic in nature. It must be remembered that the victim is most likely the only witness to the crime; and should she perceive the officer as invasive, she may withhold vital information. The victim has been, and is in, a stressful situation. The officer must attempt to decrease stress, not increase it. Dwelling on sexual activities or rushing through discussion of them may precipitate flashbacks to the rape experience. In other words, a very narrow periphery exists for the interviewer to operate within, and common sense must prevail. In general, the best information is gathered by allowing the victim to tell her story in her own words. This method will help relieve some of her emotional tensions as well as to allow the officer to listen carefully to what she is saying and to evaluate her mood, general reactions, and choice of words. When asking direct questions, the officer should be sure the victim understands what is being asked. It is important to talk on her level. Always give the reason for asking the question.

Following the interview, the investigator should continue to include the victim in the process of the investigation. This approach is used to prevent the victim from feeling used by the system. The rapist has already conveyed such a feeling, and she must not perceive that she will be victimized by the system designed to prosecute her attacker. Therefore, it is suggested that the following information be provided to the victim:

  1. Advise her of the next step in the investigative process. At this point, the victim needs to have stability in her life and to be reassured that she will not become only a statistic in some file. She is important and should be made to feel that her importance is recognized and that everything possible will be done to ensure justice is served.
  2. As previously mentioned, she should be given a number to call or be told that she will be kept apprised of investigative progress.
  3. The victim should be referred to, or preferably introduced to, supportive services that have advocacy systems designed to assist her through this emotionally traumatic time.
  4. Ask whether the victim has any questions, and ensure that she fully understands what will happen in the future as well as her role in those events.
  5. Thank the victim! Express your appreciation for the time she has taken to help in the investigation. The victim should leave feeling safe, guiltless, and confident about what will be accomplished as a result of her cooperation.””

Reddit link 

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