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Interviews with Victims vs. Suspects: Start by Believing and the Question of Bias

Sexual assault victims have long faced unwarranted skepticism from friends and family members, as well as responding professionals. In this Training Bulletin, we document examples of this historical bias and examine a few measures that have been taken to help ameliorate it. In particular, we focus on the Start by Believing philosophy and examine its relevance for victim and suspect interviews. Our goal is to inform criminal justice professionals and others about what this philosophy does – and does not – say about how to approach sexual assault cases, including interviews with victims, suspects, and witnesses. Ultimately, we emphasize that Start by Believing is an approach to conducting thorough, professional, and unbiased investigations.

Victim Statements

One of the fundamental challenges to the credibility of sexual assault victims is that many – if not most – make statements to the law enforcement investigator or others that are incomplete, inconsistent, or just plain untrue. In this article, we explore the many causes of such problems and identify ways to overcome the challenges that they pose for a sexual assault investigation.

Grounding Techniques

It can be beneficial for investigators to familiarize themselves with grounding techniques that can be used to assist victims who have a flashback during the interview. A flashback can occur as the result of the victim “re-living” the assault.

Interviewing the Victim: Techniques Based on the Realistic Dynamics of Sexual Assault

This training module provides detailed guidance for how to conduct a successful interview with a victim of sexual assault, with particular emphasis on sexual assaults committed by someone known to the victim (i.e., a non-stranger).

Effective Victim Interviewing

This webinar provided by Joanne Archambault and Roger Canaff provides training content drawn from the OLTI module on Interviewing the Victim, which walks participants through the stages and techniques for successfully interviewing sexual assault victims.

The Forensic Experiential Trauma Interview (FETI): A Trauma Informed Experience

The Forensic Experiential Trauma Interview (FETI) draws on the best practices of child forensic interviews, critical incident stress management, and neuroscience - combining them into a simple three-pronged approach that unlocks the trauma experience in a way that we can better understand. In this webinar, Mr. Strand discusses the history of victim interviews and the criminal justice system, the need for change, and an overview of the FETI methodology.

Recording Victim Interviews

This training bulletin explores the critical decision of whether or not to tape the victim interview (either audio or video). This can be a controversial issue in some communities, and both police and prosecutors must weigh the advantages and disadvantages before implementing any policy. However, it is worth noting that interviews with child victims have been taped for years, and law enforcement professionals and others typically recognize the important advantages of this practice. Many of the same advantages exist for adult and adolescent victims.

Training Bulletin on Neurobiology of Trauma

EVAWI offers a training bulletin entitled: Understanding the Neurobiology of Trauma and Implications for Victim Interviewing, written by Dr. Chris Wilson, Dr. Kim Lonsway, and Sgt. Joanne Archambault (Ret.), with contributions by Dr. Jim Hopper. This training bulletin provides basic information about the brain and explores the impact of trauma on behavior and memory. It then highlights the implications for law enforcement interviews conducted with victims of sexual assault and other traumatic crimes.

Successfully Investigating Sexual Assault Against People with Disabilities

This training module is written from a law enforcement perspective, providing information and guidance for first responders as well as investigators and even prosecutors. However, it is intended to be equally helpful for others whose work intersects with the criminal justice system, to ensure that people with disabilities who are victimized have equal access to information, programs, and services – and that they are treated with fairness, compassion, and respect.

Gender Bias in Sexual Assault Response and Investigation

EVAWI offers a Training Bulletin series designed to explore the phenomenon of gender bias, both explicit (conscious) and implicit (unconscious), and the resulting stereotypes and attitudes that can influence the professional response to, and investigation of, sexual assault. We explore strategies that can be used to identify the presence of implicit gender bias and mitigate its influence, and address key questions about how implicit gender bias can disadvantage (or advantage) either the victim and/or suspect.

Sworn Statements

This training bulletin was developed to answer a question that is commonly asked by law enforcement investigators: Do I need to get a sworn statement from the victim at the conclusion of the interview? We argue that a sworn statement is not needed from a victim of sexual assault, because there is no clear advantage of the practice yet there are a number of very critical disadvantages.

Documenting Prior Victimization

This training bulletin discusses the importance of documenting experiences of prior victimization when they are revealed by a sexual assault victim during a law enforcement interview or medical forensic exam. Professionals often question whether the investigator or health care provider should document this disclosure of prior victimization, and if so, how the information should be recorded.

The Trauma-Informed Response to Sexual Violence Victims - An Introductory Video

The Florida Council Against Sexual Violence created this introductory video for patrol officers on trauma-informed responses to sexual violence. This video reviews the importance of this type of response, with a basic overview of the effects of trauma and the key aspects of a trauma-informed response.

Release Waivers

In 2019, the IACP released a resolution stating that victims should not be asked to sign non-investigate or non-prosecution statements or waivers, acknowledging that these forms may deter them from reporting future crimes or seeking victim services.

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