Child abuse is an alarmingly prevalent issue in the United States. According to reports from child protective service agencies and the US Department of Health and Human Services, 78,188 children were sexually abused in 2003 at the rate of 1.2 per 1000 children. These numbers represent solely confirmed abuse cases, and it is likely to assume that actual rates of sexual abuse are far greater.
Because of this, forensic interviews in child abuse cases are key in ensuring that victims and falsely accused individuals are protected and perpetrators are convicted.
Before we begin, remember that you too can make a difference in a child abuse victim’s life by donating your time or hard-earned money to a good cause.
The First Step in a Hidalgo or Starr County Forensic Interview Can Be the Most Critical and Most Difficult Step
Forensic interviews are the first step at the Children’s Advocacy Center of Hidalgo and Starr Counties (CAHSC). When there is suspected child abuse or maltreatment, it is the job of whoever is doing the forensic interview to have a conversation with the child to collect detailed information regarding the incident. It can be difficult for the child to speak up about their trauma, so this is not a step that should be taken lightly.
The term forensic interview simply means an open-ended discussion with a child that is child-centered and non-leading in a child-friendly setting. It attempts to uncover potential traumatic event(s) they may have experienced or witnessed.
It’s especially important that these interviews are developmentally sensitive, which means questions need to be phrased in a particular way and tailored to a child’s level of development and linguistic skills. Forensic interviewers are specially trained in interviewing children in a manner that is not threatening, condescending, or suggestive.
Forensic interviews are recorded and reviewed by our multidisciplinary team and provided to law enforcement. The outcome of a forensic interview with a child may help determine whether to bring criminal charges against an individual suspected of physically or sexually abusing the child or any other criminal offense. It is critical that interviews of children are conducted in a way that is unbiased and follows best-practice standards to ensure a case is held up in court.
Why the Children’s Advocacy Center of Hidalgo and Starr Counties Conducts Forensic Interviews
According to the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children (APSAC), the purpose of the forensic interview is to acquire as complete and concise a report from the alleged child or adolescent victim as possible in order to figure out whether the child has been abused (or is in serious risk of abuse) and, if that is the case, by who.
Interviews are generally conducted by law enforcement officers, child protective services personnel, or specialized forensic interviewers, although medical and mental health professionals often partake in this part of the process as well.
Improper or unskilled forensic interviewing, however, can result in dire consequences. These may include:
- Inciting false allegations
- Putting children and families through unnecessary stress
- Minimizing a child victim’s credibility in court
- Perverting facts
- Reducing likelihood of conviction
- Draining resources through failed trials and investigations
- Limiting resources available for legitimate abuse cases
When forensic interviews are conducted properly, they can help our team, the District Attorney, Law Enforcement, and Department of Family Services to gain a better understanding of the situation the child is in. It allows us to understand the best course of action in terms of care for the child and family members, how to proceed with a case, and how to start helping the child heal from such traumatic circumstances.
Help Us Heal Your Child and Your Family One Day–and One Step–at a Time
Every day is a chance to fight and protect a child from their abusers, and with our help, children and families can become resilient after the trauma they were faced with.
Every step we take brings us one step closer to justice and to a restored childhood and family.