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How OPDV Can Help
Review Checklist: Further On-Scene Investigation: Interviewing Children
- The interview must occur away from the victim and accused.
- Children need not be physically present to have witnessed the assault. Even if the other parties state that the children are upstairs asleep, chances are high that they were awakened by the incident and can give very helpful information about present and past abuse.
- Children may have negative stereotypes of law enforcement officers; speak in a soft and calm tone.
- Physically get down to the child’s level before talking. If the children are in a room or closet with a closed door, first tell them you will count to five and then open the door.
- Explain what you are doing. School-age children should be told: “Some of my questions will be easy to understand and some will be hard”. Just say, “What do you mean?” or “I don’t get it,” if you need to.
- Ask open-ended questions to start. In the midst of the crisis, it is hard for children to spontaneously provide a lot of information. By asking open-ended questions the child can explain circumstances which may not have occurred to you and give more accurate information.
- Progress to specific questions. If a child under seven is asked, “Was there a weapon?” he may answer “No.” But he may answer “Yes” if asked “Was there a gun?”
- Never bribe, threaten, coerce or bully children into answering you.
- Use concrete examples. Young children do not usually understand abstract concepts about time, height, weight or measurements. Instead of here, there, yesterday or tomorrow, use stable terms such as in front of the room, as tall as the sink, etc.
- Avoid the use of police jargon like suspect, victim, assault or witness.
- Avoid passive voice “Was Mommy hit by Daddy?” Instead use the active voice “Did Daddy hit Mommy?”
- Avoid making physical contact with the children unless it is within the guidelines of performing your duty to secure the scene and/or remove a person from physical/immediate danger.