Child abuse cases can be difficult to solve.
The reason? “Usually there’s little or no evidence,” said Dave Buckley, instructor with John E. Reid and Associates, Inc. and author of “How to Identify, Interview and Interrogate Child Abuse Offenders.”
Even when there may be physical evidence such as in the case of physical abuse, Buckley noted there often isn’t any evidence as to who did the abusing. With sexual abuse, he said there is “almost no evidence at all,” not even physical evidence.
Buckley also said the victims of child abuse often aren’t able to provide much evidence either.
“Many of the children are unable to communicate,” he said, noting that unfortunately there are many toddlers and infants that are victims of abuse.
But even those victims who are verbal are “not the most credible witnesses,” Buckley said, noting that their stories may be inconsistent or incomplete.
“Because they’ve been so manipulated and are afraid to tell the whole truth,” he said.
Therefore the key to solving and prosecuting child abuse cases is often extracting a confession from the abuser, Buckley said.
“If you don’t have a confession from the offender,” he said, “it does make it very difficult to solve the case.”
“If we can get the offender to tell the truth, it goes a long way to protecting the child,” he said, noting that not only does a confession help in prosecuting the case and hopefully ending the abuse, but it also helps keep children “from having to testify, which is only additional trauma for them.”
Since obtaining a confession from the offender is so crucial to resolving child abuse cases, Buckley was brought in last week to present a three-day child abuse investigation seminar for area law enforcement officers.
The focus of the seminar, Buckley said, is the “Reid technique” of investigation which “separate(s) the interview from the interrogation.”
During the interview, he said officers speak with the suspected offender in a “non-challenging manner and allow the offenders an opportunity to tell their side of the story in a non-threatening, non-confrontational environment.” The purpose of the interview is to develop information such as the suspect’s relationship with the child and attitude toward the child, he said.
The interview is also intended to help officers evaluate whether the suspect is being truthful or not, Buckley said.
“If we determine that the person we’re interviewing is not telling the truth, then we have to determine if we need to move on to the next phase which is the interrogation,” he said.
Hopefully during the interview portion, the officer would have determined some possible motives for the abuse, which Buckley said the officer can then use during the interrogation as part of “a monologue offering psychological rationalizations for why they did what they did.”
“The reason you do that, is because it makes it easier for the person to admit what they’ve done,” he said, noting that it helps establish some understanding between the officer and the suspect.
“It certainly doesn’t justify what they did, just provides for a level of understanding,” Buckley said.
Having that understanding is important, he said, because “we’re all human . . . and almost anyone is capable of almost anything if put under certain circumstances.”
Participants in the seminar watched videos of actual interviews and interrogations using the Reid technique to help them learn more about this approach to child abuse investigations, Buckley said.
In addition, he said that in the course he “show(ed) video tapes of convicted offenders who tell what they did, how they did, and why they did.”
“It’s important to the process to tell how the offender thinks,” Buckley said, noting that offenders often have “a very distorted perception.”
Being aware of this distorted perception and how an offender might be thinking can help officers establish that important level of understanding with the offender, which often proves helpful in eliciting that essential confession, he said.
Buckley’s child abuse investigation seminar was sponsored by the District 26 Multi-disciplinary Child Abuse Team (MCAT) which uses grant money to provide such training in an effort to help battle child abuse throughout the district.
Thirty-five participants from a variety of area law enforcement agencies partook in the seminar. Agencies that were represented included the Woodward, Mooreland, Alva, Fairview and Guymon police departments.
There were also representatives from several county sheriff’s offices, including Dewey, Ellis, Harper, Major and Woodward counties. Furthermore agents from the District 26 District Attorney’s Office, Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics, and Federal Bureau of Investigation also participated.
Woodward Det. Lt. Chuck Wheeler appreciated the additional child abuse investigation training.
“I’m pretty impressed with it,” he said. “I think it’s a good class and I’m glad to have the opportunity to participate in it.”
Furthermore, Wheeler noted the training is timely as the Woodward Police Department has been dealing with a number of child molestation cases recently.
“The public is becoming more aware and we’re getting more reporting,” he said, noting that as the department strives to address this increased need, the Reid training should prove to be “a good tool to help increase our skills.”
Child abuse cases can be difficult to solve.
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