JIS News

Imagine a seven-year old child, being raped, traumatised and robbed of his or her innocence. The physical wounds may heal overtime but, undoubtedly, the confusion, the loss of self esteem and other psychologically related wounds linger for a protracted period.
But, even more traumatic for many of these child victims is the investigation process.
Under the best of circumstances an adult victim or witness finds the prospect of testifying before a jury, and a courtroom full of unfamiliar people quite daunting. This is an even greater challenge for a child to endure the horror of having to relay the gory details over and over again to different individuals. Add to this that sometimes dreaded trip to the court room to be cross examined by prosecutors and to testify before a parent, or caretaker who has harmed them.
Thankfully, change is coming. Twelve members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF), including officers from the Centre for Investigation of Sexual Offence and Child Abuse (CISOCA) and the Major Investigation Task Force participated in a ten-day Video Interview Training Course, showing them how to effectively conduct structured investigative video interviews with children.
British Child Protection Consultant Tony Butler, who facilitated the training hopes that the April 14 to 24 training, will significantly reduce secondary victimisation and ultimately re-shape the way abused children are treated by the legal system in Jamaica.
Today, only written statements are taken by the police which, Dr. Butler says, is at times tedious for the child, or any other victim of abuse.
“You can imagine a seven-year-old child who has been raped, the last thing you want to do is to keep interrupting the child to write things down. But, because of the nature of the interview in the court, you have to write things down, because you have to use precisely the words the child used,” he says.
However, with the introduction of video interviewing, child victims will breathe more than a sigh of relief. According to Dr. Butler, video recording reduces the trauma on the child, since he or she does not have to keep repeating the same thing to everybody else.
Research shows that interviewing, or simply communicating with children, requires techniques that are sensitive to the child’s developmental abilities. A good grasp of interviewing techniques is therefore essential for all professionals who work in the field of child abuse.
Research also reveals that the responses that a child gives to long and complex questions, for example, are as unreliable as answers given to questions posed to them in a foreign language.
To address these and other shortfalls that may now form part of the Officers’ interviewing regimen, the Course included topics such as: Video Interviewing, Obtaining Best Evidence, Interview Planning and Communicating with Children.”
It is also said that knowledge of how to communicate with minors will enhance the reliability of the information gathered.
Dr. Butler, who also shares this view, notes that with the application of the right interviewing technique, the possibility of evidence contamination is minimised.
“All parties involved will be able to receive a completely accurate record of everything the child says,” he says.
Is it just the child who will benefit from video interviewing?
“Certainly not,” the British Child Protection Consultant informs.
Court officials – judge, jury, prosecutor and even the accused, is one group that will profit from video interviewing. In law, based on the presumption of innocence, the indictment or formal charge against any person is not evidence of guilt. The person is presumed by the law to be innocent until proven otherwise. The Government therefore has the burden of collecting and presenting enough compelling evidence to convince the judge and jury to prove the person guilty beyond a shadow of a doubt.
Instead of just written statements, as obtains currently, the Court will now be privy to what may be compelling evidence.
As Dr. Butler explains, they will now be able to analyse the interviews firsthand, to find out if investigations have been advertently or inadvertently contaminated by the police officer; whether through leading questions or suggested answers.
“If there is a social worker they can watch the interview. They don’t have to get the child repeating it over to them. The prosecutor can also watch the interview before the case goes to court,” he states.
Pointing to the benefit to the accused, the Child Protection Consultant notes, “This person can be confident that the evidence being put before the court has been collected in an appropriate manner, and has not been contaminated by repeated interviews with the child and the judge.”
He adds, “The jury also has a much better opportunity to judge the credibility of the witness as they can see the child’s first account of it, they can see the body language, they can hear the questions the police officer is asking.”
Corporal attached to Centre for Investigation of Sexual Offence and Child Abuse (CISOCA), Stacy Ann Powell, is very receptive and is looking forward to the upcoming changes to the interviewing process.
“It will cut down on some of the work that we do presently at CISOCA. The video interview gives the prosecution, as well as all persons concerned, a firsthand knowledge of what the victim would reveal to us as it relates to any incident reported,” she says.
“Going to court you would have a video interview, as well as a written statement. Prior, you would only be going to court with a written statement,” she adds.
The training course, Dr. Butler admits, is only the beginning, and will certainly require continued practice.
“In the UK it takes certainly a year, in some cases up to two years, for an officer to be competent with this interviewing,” he states.
In the meantime, he is hoping for the speedy passage of the Evidence Act, that is before Parliament. This, he hopes will mirror that of the United Kingdom and other jurisdictions, where only the video interview goes to the court proceedings and the child is spared the agony of going to court.
The video interview, he explains, would be played and the child would be cross examined, if necessary, by the judge or by the defence lawyer, over a live video link so the child does not have to go to court. The child, he notes, would be under far less stress, since the interview is conducted outside of a courtroom in a more informal setting.
Dr. Butler however notes, that the success of this initiative hinges on closer inter-agency collaboration, between child protection bodies, such as the Child Development Agency (CDA) and the Office of the Children’s Advocate and the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF).
“At the moment, I am seeing a lot of very good work being done, but fragmented; and it is creating problems in the system.” Dr. Butler states.
“For example a social worker interviewing a child about what happened to them and then reporting it to the police, is not very sensible. They are not investigators. So there is a very strong argument they can contaminate the evidence,” he adds.
In June 2008, Dr. Butler, at the request of Children’s Advocate Mary Clarke and Executive Director of the Family and Parenting Centre, Dr. Beverley Scott, was invited to conduct an audit of Jamaica’s Child Protection System. The use of video-recording of interviews with child victims and witnesses was one of the recommendations made by Dr. Butler, who has spearheaded similar programmes in Britain, Cuba, Costa Rica, and the Dominican Republic.
The JCF, through a grant secured from Britain’s Department of International Development (DID), has since renovated its CISOCA offices to include a video suite, complete with video recording equipment to facilitate this new system.

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