Investigative Procedures in Allegations of Child Sexual Abuse
Part I: The Initial Criminal Investigation
John C. Wideman*
ABSTRACT: This is the first of a series of articles
on investigative procedures in child sexual abuse. The object of this
series is to suggest how an investigation should be done correctly.
is important that no assumptions be made prior to the investigation as
to whether an actual incident has occurred. Suggestions are given as to
how to ensure an objective and accurate investigation.
General Investigative Procedures
If an investigation is done correctly, ideally there
should only be indictments of provable cases of child sexual abuse.
Unfortunately, we live in a real world where real investigators conduct
real investigations and make real errors in judgment, either through
blind zeal or ignorance of proper procedures. Not all investigators are
trained. In many places, persons assigned criminal investigative duties
usually are taken from uniformed patrol positions and moved into
conducting criminal investigations. Some larger departments or agencies
have internal schooling, but most investigators have to learn on the
job. The reason is that most of the 40,000 police agencies in the United
States have less than 10 members. Only about 40 state, county and
municipal agencies have more than 1,000 personnel.(1)
Thus, most agencies cannot afford to pay for adequate
training. Further, child sexual abuse has unique qualities which lessen
the probability that investigators will be trained. Child sexual abuse
cases are difficult, subject to error, time consuming, considered by
many to be traumatic to children and sometimes embarrassing to the
Also, child sexual abuse cases are seen in an
uncompromising light by society, and the police, once abuse is assumed
to be true, are expected to bring the hated offender to
Our American society is just as uncompromising about individual rights and understands that an
allegation of child sexual abuse will ruin that person's future whether
the allegations are factual or not. The police therefore are expected to
be accurate when they finish the investigation and announce the results.
But, this does not always happen. In one case, the police investigator
made a news release naming the suspect before the completion of the
investigation, before the indictment, and before any warrant was
requested.(3) The reason given by the investigating officer at trial was
that the press was hounding him and that following the release, the
press left him alone.
Some agencies consider child sexual abuse
investigations simply another type of investigation to be handled by a
generalist investigator. Because of the number of extremely small
agencies in the United States these investigations may be handled by a
patrol officer simply because no investigator exists on the force. Some
state agencies expect their officers to move blithely from traffic
patrol to burglaries to child sexual abuse cases without missing a beat.(4)
This attitude is hardly fair to the officers, but may even be
less fair to the children and to persons falsely accused of such abuse.
The vast majority of the investigative literature
available today invariably assumes that sexual abuse has occurred.(5)
Again, this is unfair to the field investigator who is placed in the
position of determining whether an allegation is true. Somehow, there is
the implicit, but incorrect, understanding that a good investigator will
be able to make that determination. Few investigators have any
understanding of basic psychology, abnormal psychology or the mechanics
of interviewing child witnesses. The usual literature on investigating
child abuse cases is ominously silent about how to proceed after receipt
of the initial allegation.
Responsible investigators can find local colleges
which offer classes in psychology to help fill the void in their knowledge.
Law enforcement courses
specifically oriented to child interview techniques are extremely rare,
although there are several courses generally concerned with child sexual
abuse investigations. Many courses, however, degenerate into
courses for accomplishing the investigation as opposed to fine-tuning
specific techniques required in the investigation process.
The investigator must always, however, keep in mind
the following quote:
An alleged offender is sometimes considered guilty
until proven innocent, in fact, and a number of men have served time in
penal institutions because children or their parents interpreted simple
affection as attempted intimacy or rape (Coleman, Butcher, & Carson,
The Initial Phase of the Investigation
The investigator hears the initial allegation of
child sexual abuse from a variety of sources. These include parents,
relatives, neighbors, patrol officers, medical personnel, social
workers, teachers or others who have been in contact with the child.
Make NO assumptions as to whether or not an actual incident has occurred.
The greatest problem in criminal investigations today is that
investigators assume something happened and then set out to prove
themselves right. DO NOT BECOME A PRISONER OF YOUR
INVESTIGATION! First collect
all the facts possible and then determine whether or not a crime has
occurred and who may have committed it, if it did occur. There is not
an investigator alive today who has not had someone make a false
complaint to him at some time in his career.
In child sexual abuse cases, however, there is
reluctance on the part of criminal investigators to disbelieve a child.
Part of this is because of the inaccuracies in investigative literature
of the last 5 years when child sexual abuse became a hot topic. Some of
these inaccuracies continue since literature in the field builds on the
previous literature, and investigative literature is not submitted to
the same rigorous examination as that of other professional literature
(e.g. psychology, medicine, science). Among those inaccuracies are
beliefs that faulty descriptions, delayed, conflicting or unconvincing
disclosure, knowledge of explicit sexual detail and denial somehow only
indicate that the abuse actually did happen. Yet, if these same problems
existed in adult-related information, the information would be summarily
dismissed as unreliable. This dichotomy exists primarily because the
average investigator has no idea how human memory functions, how
children grow and learn, the inherent limitations in children's thought processes at
various ages, and the
limitations on children's verbal skills.
The investigator is forced to cope with a child on
adult terms in an adult world. What finally happens is that the
investigator tries to conduct the investigation and interviews by
adapting adult methods to the child. This usually results in an
unsuitable product and may ultimately so confuse the child as to
jeopardize the case.
Following receipt of the initial allegation, the
investigator makes an investigative plan. This plan is simply a flexible
method whereby the investigator makes a determination as to what he will
have to do, how long will it take, what equipment and other resources
will be needed, and how he will generally proceed. The need for
flexibility is obvious. As the investigation proceeds and the data base
enlarges, other interviews and investigation may become necessary.
Physical Evidence and Exigent Circumstances
In child sexual abuse cases, there is an impulse to
rush directly to the child to get confirming evidence of the acts
alleged. But there are other steps you must take. First, determine the
type of act alleged and the time since the alleged act. Obviously, in
cases of forcible rape, sodomy, homicide or other violent crimes of
recent origin, you need to preserve physical evidence. The preservation
of this evidence is often crucial to the identification of the actual
offender. Within the last couple of years, the use of deoxyribonucleic
acid (DNA) identifiers has offered investigators a guarantee that if
they can provide biological material of the offender and a suspect that
science will identify the guilty and free the innocent. While this looks
promising, it is expensive and many jurisdictions are not willing to
submit all their physical evidence for such evaluation. The Federal
Bureau of Investigation (FBI) lab will do such tests, but has limited
the types of submissions it will handle.(6)
Also understand that child sexual abuse cases rarely
involve sexual intercourse or attempted sexual inter-course.(7)
sexual abuse usually involves manipulation of the child's genitals, with
occasional manipulation of the offender's genitals or oral-genital
contact. Obviously, the type of act alleged and the time elapsed since
the alleged act will determine the immediate steps to be taken. Therefore, the allegation must be fully understood before beginning the
If these exigent circumstances exist and there is the
possibility of critical physical evidence being destroyed, you must act
promptly. The usual steps must be taken to protect the crime scene.
over 22 years experience, the author has never seen a ''virgin''
crime scene. Probably one of the best conducted crime scenes involved
the April 1986 FBI Dade County shootout in which two agents were killed
and several wounded. But, here again, the resources were available and
the circumstances permitted such response. In most child abuse cases,
you will be lucky to have much more available to you than a uniformed
unit and possibly another investigator.
Look for the usual trace evidence at the scene of the
alleged crime (e.g. body fluids, hair, fiber evidence, fingerprints,
clothing, bedding). Give special consideration to items which might have
been used in the alleged assault (e.g. lubricants, condoms, dildos,
Photograph these in situ, store in accordance with
laboratory recommendations and departmental policy, properly marked for
identification, and secure in the usual evidentiary chain. Promptly take
those items requiring further forensic laboratory examination to the
laboratory. Age is detrimental to certain types of fragile evidence such
as body fluids. Observe the usual precautions, cited in extensive
literature and available from the FBI and elsewhere, regarding body
fluids and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS).
Medical Examination of Alleged Victims
In cases of violent assault and sexual abuse, the
child will probably require medical intervention of some type. This will
take place when the child is taken to a medical facility upon initial
complaint or as a result of parental intervention, assuming that one or
the other of the parents is not the offender. Where the child suffers
physical trauma sufficient to warrant medical intervention, insure that
the attending physician understands that a sexual assault may have
occurred and that rape kit evidence is necessary. Most hospitals have
rape kits for the preservation of evidence related to allegations of
sexual assault. If not, you should provide such a kit to the medical
facility. Kits are available commercially from several sources at
In those cases where physical trauma may not be
present, such as in cases of manipulation of the genitals, make a value
judgment as to the need for a physical examination by a physician.
instance, if the allegation is that the child was "touched" on
the genitals through clothing there is little likelihood that there will
be physical evidence on the child's body. However, if the allegation is
that a finger or other object was inserted in the vagina or rectum of
the child or that the offender ejaculated in the child's mouth, then there
may be evidence. You may be asked by a concerned parent if such an
examination is necessary both from the standpoint of confirming the
parent's worst fears, and from concern for subjecting a young child to
such an examination. Proceed in accordance with departmental policy, or
in its absence, confer with the prosecuting attorney for guidance.
prosecutors will want an examination simply to rule in or rule out
specific elements of the allegation.
Most importantly, begin by instructing persons
associated with the case not to discuss the matter with the child.
is particularly true of the child's family members (e.g. parents,
siblings, stepparents). They do not need to talk to the child about the
incident pending the completion of the investigation. It may be very
hard for them to avoid this, however, and you must stress that they may
jeopardize any prosecution of the case by talking to the child. Medical
professionals are another story. They will insist on taking a history
from the child. This history usually includes a recitation of the
alleged event(s) in addition to the standard information sought. For
this reason, if possible, interview the child before the child is seen
by a medical professional. Also, chose a physician who is experienced in
child sexual abuse matters. In the alternative, a pediatrician should be
consulted. The last choice is a general practitioner.
Consult with the practitioner before you have contact
with the child. Explain the circumstances of the case, the allegations,
and the story related by the child to you if this interview has already
taken place. If no interview of the child has taken place, then give the
available facts to the practitioner. If the practitioner insists on
taking an extensive physical history from the child, the history should
be limited to non allegation matters. If the practitioner questions the
child about the incident, the practitioner places himself in the
position of being the investigator and making a determination of whether
or not sexual abuse has occurred. In one case,(9) a physician found no
abnormalities upon physically examining the putative victim and
announced that the child's version of events of having been touched on
the vagina was probably true just because he found nothing wrong. It
simply did not occur to him that the absence of physical trauma was also
consistent with nothing having happened at all.
The practitioner should also, in cases where
penetration of the vagina or anus is alleged, inquire into the history
of the child having nonabusive penetrations (e.g. child's own fingers,
playmates fingers, objects during "sex play" with peers).
Since female children reach menarche at various ages, where menarche is
conceivably possible and tampons possibly used, that information should be collected as well.
All of this
information helps to insure a complete, comprehensive investigation and
may, at times, preclude certain specious defenses by suspects.
The examination by the practitioner should be in
accordance with the accepted local medical standards in force at that
time and consideration given to not traumatizing the child. In one case,
a physician testified that he examined an alleged sexual abuse victim by
placing his little finger in the victim's introitus and asking the
victim if that was how it felt when the alleged abuser committed the
act.(10) The victim complained of significant pain and indicated very
readily to the doctor that the incident did not feel like that. That
same physician then reinterviewed the patient, who had alleged
penetration, and the victim then changed her story to accommodate the
finding of no penetration.
if significant findings are present (e.g. lacerated
hymen, rectal scar tissue, bruises) the finding should be photographed
to preserve the evidence for later use. Many physicians and certainly
most major medical facilities have such photographic capability. Much
tissue damage is of a very transient nature and normal children heal
Investigation in the Absence of Exigent Circumstances
and Physical Evidence
The most likely case will involve no exigent
circumstances and little, or no, physical evidence. In the absence of
exigent circumstances you should next interview the persons who have had
contact with the child and to whom the child has related the allegation
of abuse. This accomplishes two critical purposes. The child is not
unnecessarily interviewed and the persons so interviewed will give you
some idea of what contact has been made with the child about the
Carefully interview these persons to determine the
exact nature of the allegations and the exact wording used by the child.
Use as neutral an approach and interview technique as possible. The
inflammatory nature of the allegation may prompt some interviewees to
insert their own biases into what they tell you. Also, depending upon
whom the child has accused, friends or opponents of the alleged offender
may again offer their biases in the process.
A possible approach is to track the accusation from
the first report until it was reported to the investigating agency.
Sometimes this will involve only one person. In other cases, it may
involve as many as five or ten persons. Investigators usually track
backward from their receipt of the report to the first reporter. To
do so usually results in a number of persons being reinterviewed to
update other information obtained from earlier reporters.
When the first reporter is interviewed, be sure to
obtain all information concerning the circumstances of the revelation as
well as the content of the revelation. If the first reporter is an
adult, the usual interview techniques, properly applied, will achieve the desired results.
However, often times, the first reporter may be
another child. This will put you in the position of having to interview
a crucial child witness about the allegations of another child. Many
times the chain will be "Mary told Jane who told Alice who told her
mother" or something equivalent.
Interviewing the First Reporter
The first reporter of an allegation is a critical
witness. It is the first reporter who first heard what was said by the
putative child victim. You are now in a position where the information
is the least affected by transmission through other parties. For this
reason, it is essential that the first reporter be carefully interviewed
so that the witness is not swayed by what you say. This requires
significant skill. You should also consider what conversations or other
information the first reporter may have had that may be incorporated by
the this reporter into the original incident.
In all interviews, first establish rapport. Many
people have never been formally interviewed by a law enforcement
officer. Reduce the awkwardness of this first conversation. Some
investigators use their badge and credentials as the establishment of
rapport, feeling that the authority of their position will somehow
magically open the information door.
The rapport conversation should be general and
noncontroversial. First ask easy questions which require no thought or
demonstration of imagination. Don't contradict the person's answer, but
indicate that you are willing to listen to what the person has to say.
This will demonstrate that you are there to listen, and not to control
the person during the interview.
Sit near the person, preferably side by side without
an intervening object but be conscious of not invading the personal
space. Ease into the subject with a carefully preplanned approach to the
questions. Let the interviewee warm up to the interview before hitting
him with the really difficult questions. During this time, evaluate the
interviewee's mental and emotional state to determine the language to
use during the interview. This evaluation will also help explain to the
prosecutor where and how the witness will fit into
the scheme of the prosecution.
It is a good idea to tape interviews. There are many
verbal nuances which may be caught by a tape recorder which would be
missed by even the most experienced interviewer intent on taking notes.
Many investigators dislike doing this for fear something will be said or
done during the interview which will make the witness unsuitable or will
give defense attorneys a chink in the armor of the case. In addition,
interviews which are tape recorded will ultimately have to be
transcribed by someone. Sometimes the secretarial power is not available
to do this.
One psychological reason for taping is that if you
take notes you indicate important areas since you will write down notes
contemporaneously with the verbal statement. This may cause the
interviewee to grade matters by the note-taking interest and influence
future answers. With a tape recorder, everything appears to be of
uniform historical interest. When a tape recorder is used, the
interviewee usually quickly forgets about it and ignores it. At the end
of the interview, rewind a few inches of tape and play it back to make
sure that the recorder operated properly during the interview.
Many jurisdictions use tape recorders improperly.
investigators interview the witnesses and then tape record a question
and answer statement which contains only some specific information.
may give rise to later questions about what the initial interview was
about and why only the information favorable to the State's case was
in the taped statement. If it is later discovered that exculpatory
information was given to the investigator and the investigator failed to
report it could compromise the case. In one case,(11) a taped statement
provided critical information from a hostile witness regarding whether
the victim had a firearm. The witness, a friend of the victim, referred
to "the gun" instead of "a gun." The defendant was
acquitted on grounds of self defense.
Adult First Reporters
After first establishing rapport with the interviewee
and obtaining necessary biographical data, broach the subject of the
first report. During the biographical data collection, also tacitly
inquire as to any nonobvious family or blood relationship between the
putative victim and the first reporter. You may, or may not, have to
define the area of inquiry to the interviewee. If this is necessary, the
definition should be as neutral as possible. For instance:
Mrs. Jones, I am here in response to information that
Amy Green told you something about an incident involving her.
The introductory question should be as general as
possible to elicit a narrative response from the interviewee without
indicating your possession of other knowledge or suggesting an outcome
for the investigation. Every situation is different, but some suggested
Mrs. Jones, what exactly was it that Amy Green told
Mrs. Jones, tell me what Amy Green told you.
If there is sufficient ambiguity as to the reason for
the investigation, you may need to provide a more detailed question
including that the information concerned someone touching her or similar
information. However, this will be the exception and not the norm.
Have the interviewee tell you what happened in free
recall narrative. If this cannot be taped, take notes during the
interview, trying, where possible, to write down the exact language used
by both the putative victim and the first reporter. Concentrate on what
and how the first reporter is telling you the information.
Following the free recall narrative, go over the
chronological sequence of events narrated by the first reporter and fill
in the obvious blanks. As all investigators are aware, witnesses rarely
give the detail required by the investigator. This is usually because
the witness assumes knowledge by the investigator which is common to the
witness' knowledge. Examples of this are local place names, street names
of local persons, distances, idiosyncratic names for items, bodily functions
or body parts, etc.
The matters to focus on are:
The exact circumstances at the time of the first
report are critical because they demonstrate what external influences,
if any, were present on the child at the time of the report of abuse.
are all aware that such conditions as malnutrition, injury, fatigue and
fright make information from sources less reliable. In addition, the
hour of the day, the particular physical location and the presence of
certain other persons may provide reasons why the statement was made by
the child or give you some general idea as to the reliability of the
The relationship between the first reporter and the
child is also important. A child who is sexually abused by a parent may
elect to tell a teacher or some other non family person. If the person
is an absolute stranger, further inquiry may be needed to determine why
the statement was made. If the first reporter is a parent, be aware of
certain parental influences, particularly in instances involving divorce
actions. In most reported cases of child sexual abuse, the offender is
known to the victim. Thus, statistically at least, this may serve as a
guide for why some person was told about an offense as opposed to some
On the other hand, the relationship may also indicate
that there is reason to view the allegation with extreme caution. Again,
this is usually, but not exclusively, in marital disputes. It is not
unheard of for one parent to accuse the other parent of child sexual
abuse to gain leverage in the domestic fight.
Next ascertain what caused the child to report an
allegation of sexual abuse? Prompts often play an important part in
reports of child sexual abuse. The prompts themselves may be the genesis
of the report as opposed to any real event. Children are socialized by
adults as well as their peers. Also, they see adults as authority
figures and persons to be honored, respected and pleased. These same
adults, through verbal and nonverbal means, tell the children what
pleases them and what does not. Thus, the importance of the relationship
and the prompt in combination become apparent. The report may have been
as a result of trust or as a result of wanting to please.
Some of the child abuse prevention programs (often
called by names like "Good Touch, Bad Touch," "Red Light,
Green Light," or "CAPP") are conducted by persons who are
not well-trained in the area of child sexual abuse. These persons often are not screened
for the job to determine their objectivity, or their psychological
fitness for such positions. Obviously, a person who was sexually abused
as a child, never reported it to anyone, and, who, today carries extreme
resentment about child sexual abuse, may not be a proper person to conduct
such training for impressionable children. The programs also make use of
unpaid volunteers, who are unskilled at this job and who could make
serious errors harmful to an investigation. First reports from these
situations must be carefully and completely screened for indicia of
prompting inaccurate or false reports.
The underlying reason for the child making the
allegation to the first reporter is important. Examine this in context
with the identity of the alleged perpetrator. If it does not make sense,
be alert to the possibility that the information is not accurate. Of
course, later information may clarify what seems like an illogical
combination of events.
The apparent emotional state of the child may give
some indication of the reason for the allegation. If the child was
obviously emotionally distraught, consider that the child might have
been mad or frustrated as opposed to being fearful or sad. If the child
was nonchalant, casual or ambivalent, then perhaps the child was telling
about a fictitious event, or the alleged activity was not unpleasant.
Not all child victims of physically painless abuse
consider what happened to them to be "bad." This may be
because the child enjoys special considerations such as a room of his
own, more toys, advantages over siblings or other children, the close
affection and attention of an adult or other situations which the child
perceives as desirable. Thus, the relating of the story may be as a
result of innocent conversation by the child or the entrustment by the
child of a peer with the child's most important secret. Obviously, no
extremes of emotion would be expected in a situation. On the other hand,
the lack of emotion may indicate that the child is relating a fictitious
Finally, develop the substance of the conversation. Most people relate their summary of a conversation when asked about what
was said at a specific time. Sometimes, investigators make the mistake
of using the following question to affirm that the exact words are being
used: "Is that what was said?" Obviously, the question is too
ambiguous and the interviewee can answer honestly, yes, even if a summary
is being given. A better question would be: "Were those her exact
words?" or "Were those your exact words to her?" This
question usually elicits an affirmative answer or some equivocation. In
the event of equivocation, inquire further to clarify the event.
The exact words used in a conversation, particularly
between a child and an adult first reporter, may be important in
determining the possibility of learned or suggested memory on the part
of the child. If the adult has misunderstood something the child has
said or the child has done, the adult unintentionally may have introduced
an assumption to the child, part or all of which the child may have
adopted. Repeated questioning by the adult, or inartfully crafted
questions by the adult, may have reinforced the assumption. If you know
this before interviewing the child, you are at an advantage and may be
able, through carefully worded questions, to ascertain the truth.
Children use words, sometimes inaccurately, to
explain concepts. If the concept is vague or unfamiliar to them, they
may choose the wrong descriptors in an effort to state what they are
trying to state. If the adult is not familiar with the individual child,
and that child's mental maturation and method of expressing concepts,
the adult may completely misunderstand what the child is trying to
relate. This can create investigative problems on several fronts ranging
from no real impropriety involved to an allegation of the wrong nature
Equally important is what were the first reporter's
physical and verbal reactions to the report. Most people will give their
honest answer when asked how they reacted. Also, if they are lay
persons, they probably will react with disgust, revulsion and horror.
Thus, they have already told the child certain things about the report.
If they then interrogated the child in depth concerning the report, they
may have thoroughly contaminated the report with their own biases.
investigator should know how contaminated or uncontaminated is the
report before attempting to interview the child.
If there were others present at the revelation by the
child, obtain their identities from the first reporter. They should all
then be interviewed to compare and contrast the information presented by
them with the information presented by the first reporter. Determine
what conversations, if any, were held between and among any of the other
persons present and the first reporter and the child. An investigator
will find sometimes that a conversation was held between the other
persons and the first reporter after the child was dismissed. If the
other persons present were children, then a decision has to be made
regarding how to progress in the investigation.
Whenever possible adults should be interviewed before
children. This is not because adults are necessarily more reliable, but
because the investigator is usually better able to interview and obtain
information from adults. The object at this stage of the
investigation is to obtain the maximum amount of reliable information
about how the allegation came about. A collateral matter is to determine
from the first reporter, if possible, exactly what was reported by the
Child First Reporters
If the first reporter is a child, proceed
appropriately. It is just as important to interview child witnesses
properly as it is to interview child victims properly. The first
reporter child may also be a witness to the reported event. Also, the
investigation may reveal that this child was also a victim of similar
abuse by the same perpetrator. For these reasons, the interview phase
involving children is critical.
Prior to any interview of a child witness, apprise
the prosecutor of the case and your intent to interview the child
witness. The prosecutor may have special requirements or considerations
based on case law or departmental policy to consider. Also, the
prosecutor may have a policy regarding the threshold for accusations of
child sexual abuse. In at least one state,(12) many intrafamily
instances of child sexual abuse are referred to the Department of Human
Services which counsels the family as opposed to trying and
incarcerating the abusive parent. Steps are taken to ensure that the
child is not further abused, but there is a theory that the disruption
of the family is more traumatic to the child than working with the
nuclear family to stop the abuse. If the case is to be referred as
opposed to being prosecuted, you may want to reconsider whether scarce
investigative resources should be used on what will ultimately be a
Consult the parents of the child witness/first
reporter to be interviewed. Parents are extremely protective of their
children. Many do not want their children involved in any action which
would bring notoriety to the child or create public interest in the
child. This is particularly true of sex offenses. If you explain the
importance of the child's information to the parents and explain that
the investigation is in its initial stage, the parents will probably go
along with having their child interviewed. Avoid threatening to have the
whole family subpoenaed before the Grand Jury. In areas of smaller
population where most people know each other, you many be able to find
someone else on the force to intercede with the parents.
There is a tendency on the part of investigators to
have witnesses come down to the station to be interviewed. This is
usually because the investigator has a large case load and any time
relief is usually welcome. However, with child witnesses it is usually preferable
to interview the child away from the police environment to avoid the
obvious influence. Also, wear civilian clothes and don't openly wear
firearms or other weapons.
The child can be interviewed at home. If the child is
interviewed at school, there is usually peer pressure to tell all the
schoolmates why the policeman was there talking to him. If it is
unavoidable then the best will have to made of the situation. Most
children can be interviewed at home after school or on the weekend.
Try to interview the child alone, without the parents
present, although if the children are young, the parents may not permit
this. Use a neutral room such as the living room or the den, as long as
there are no distractions such as televisions or radios playing, other
siblings or friends playing in the house, or distracting toys and games
Record the interview on video tape. This is not
always possible or available to many police agencies. Audio tape
recording, however, is readily available to everyone. The investigator
can record the interview with, or without, the knowledge of the witness.
This may be subject to variations in state laws or departmental policy
which should be followed. The tape recorder should be of good quality
and a good microphone should be purchased. Children being interviewed
often speak in very low, soft voices in contrast to what they do on the
playground. The equipment used should be capable of picking up such
voices with sufficient clarity that they are easily transcribed later by
the office secretary.(13)
Begin the interview by telling the child, in simple
terms, your identity and what you do. "Tommy, my name is John Doe.
I am a police officer and I do investigations." Try to establish
rapport which can be used to get biographical information about the
witness. For instance, an introductory conversation might go like this: