Investigation and prosecution of child sexual abuse is a multifaceted realm that demands a personalized approach to each case and every victim. Investigation of cases of sexual exploitation can be regarded as problematic primarily because victims may have positive feelings and attitudes toward their offenders. These feelings complement and complicate the overall traumatic experience. As a result, a child may provide distorted answers during an interview or refuse to cooperate. Thus, the law enforcement effort should be multidisciplinary, coordinated, and carefully planned not to harm the victim while, at the same time, bringing offenders to justice. The law enforcement should shift its focus from the child’s emotional beliefs on what exactly happened; from the attempts to extract a suppressed memory to accuracy; from subjective to objective reality; from child advocacy to neutrality and facts. “The investigator should always be an objective fact-finder considering all possibilities and attempting to determine what happened with an open mind” (Lanning, 2010, p. 138).
Investigators and/or interviewers of child abuse cases should possess certain qualities, abilities, and mindsets such as speaking the same language with a child. It presumes the use and understanding of the child’s slang words, etc while being able to discuss sexual activities with the child and avoid a prejudged attitude. Some interviewers fail to do it because they are unable to suppress their inner unwillingness or non-readiness to hear what the child says, especially the intimate details. One more issue is the interviewers’ inability to suppress anger and judgmental attitudes toward the offender. Thus, investigators should never show the aforementioned emotional side when interviewing either offenders or children. A child may misinterpret anger and perceive it as directed toward her/him. In contrast, if an interviewer has sympathetic feelings for the offender, they may become vivid during the process of interviewing the victim and result in a prejudged attitude toward the child. The child will feel the interviewer lacks goodwill and will refuse to cooperate. Excessive emotional involvement of investigators is a precondition of making mistakes and erroneous judgments that are highly undesirable and may undermine the investigation process, especially its credibility in the community and courtroom. If a law enforcement agent does not possess a required set of qualities and characteristics, it is reasonable to remove him/her from the case or at least its interviewing phase (Lanning, 2010).
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As for the interviewing techniques and methods, law enforcement agencies should not neglect to incorporate those from adjacent disciplines. The only considerable addition to the general model of child interviewing is the necessity of the law enforcement to carefully control the process and carry out the interviews themselves (whereas in other disciplines, psychologists do it). The investigation must not involve the third party such as child psychology professionals. Instead, an extensive training of law enforcement professionals should be provided. On the pre-interviewing stage, they need to establish whether a child has entered the so-called “disclosure/reporting continuum” because the latter is a precondition of an effective interview (Lanning, 2010, p. 141). When a child is open for cooperation, the interviewer needs to establish rapport by asking open-ended questions that would encourage “narrative responses” from him/her. After that, the interviewer may proceed to ask direct but age-appropriate and non-leading questions related to the case. The most essential part of any interview is making a child know that no one puts the blame on him/her. If children feel the pressure or judgmental attitudes, they tend to either deny the fact of victimization or exaggerate it in order to avoid punishment. The interviews must be short and attention that children get has to be unconditional. Among the ways to document the interview, one may find a video recording option. However, despite the advocacy of judges and scholars for its use as evidence and its seemingly beneficiary impact on the investigation, video interviews are considered to be controversial phenomena. There is a high risk of creating an unnatural setting where the child would play on camera instead of focusing on the interviewing process. Moreover, a video camera may traumatize a child who was exposed to victimization involving the production of child pornography. Thus, videotaping the interviews should be done with minimal effect on the interviewee. The collateral beneficiary function of videotaping is in recording mock or training interviews, so that the interviewer can make a self-analysis in order to determine the flaws he/she needs to overcome to become a better professional and avoid mistakes in real cases (Lanning, 2010; McBride, 1996; “The National Strategy,” 2010).
2. Munchausen syndrome by proxy (MSbP or MSB) is a psychological disorder when a person wants and seeks a secondary gain such as attention via something done to/by another person, who is often a family member. In some countries, MSbP has been recently re-categorized as Fabricated or Induced Illness by Carers (FIIC). The syndrome can be manifested at any age and social role. The most controversial cases are those where a child displays MSP by claiming about victimization that, in reality, did not take place. In such a way, children try to get attention they seek or forgiveness they need. The reversed MSP roles can be seen in cases when parents demonstrate the so-called “pathological health seeking behavior” and/or harm their children to fake or induce their illness or prove the crime that did not occur (“Michigan Child Injury,” n.d., p. 14). The harmful impact of MBP on the child victims may be physical, psychological, and/or emotional. The cases with child victims are the most frequent and disturbing category of MSbP victimization (Lanning, 2010; “Michigan Child Injury,” n.d.; Fish, Bromfield & Higgins, 2005).