Video recording of evidential interviews with child sexual abuse victims and witnesses
Background to the Project
The Child Protection Development Trust started working in the Province of Tucumán in 2010 in collaboration with the Asociación por los Derechos Civiles (ADC), a human rights NGO based in Buenos Aires. The ADC was working on a project funded by UNICEF to reduce the trauma experienced by child sexual abuse victims during the investigation and criminal prosecution. One of the first steps in this process was to develop a Good Practice Guide to support and interagency approach to reporting investigation and prosecution of child sexual abuse cases. Dr Tony Butler from the CPDT was a member of the team that wrote the Good Practice Guide. This document has been recently published in a second updated version.
In 2010, the project was initiated in the provinces of Tucumán, Jujuy and Formosa. The initial stage was to establish a working group in each of the provinces with representation from a range of agencies involved in child sexual abuse investigation, such as police, forensic doctors, social workers, fiscal (prosecutors), judges and the psychologist who have responsibility for interviewing child sexual abuse victims. During his visit to support this process, Dr Tony Butler was able to review and analyse the existing systems and procedures for receiving the report of child sex abuse, initial investigation and the process leading to the prosecution of cases in court. This analysis of these procedures identified some, problems in all three provinces:
- The absence of clear guidance for the agencies recording initial disclosure of abuse led to a significant variation in what happens to the child and of particular concern, were the occasions when the child was “interrogated” by the person receiving the initial report.
- There were significant delays between the time when the initial disclosure was made and the child’s testimony was recording in the evidential interview. This delay was typically weeks and in worse cases, more than a year.
- The video interview rooms were not child friendly and the design caused significant problems for the acoustic quality of the recording and in some cases, making it almost impossible to hear what the child was saying.
- The quality of the video recording equipment varied between the provinces but in all cases, the equipment had not been designed specifically to record evidential video interviews. In one province, there were occasions when it was discovered after the interview that the audio track have not been recorded and therefore the interview had to be repeated.
- In all provinces, the observation room used by the judges, fiscals and others during the interview was separated from the interview room by a mirror. This created a number of problems, for example the sound volume would be increased in the observation room and as a result, the child being interviewed was able to hear their voice coming back from the observation room. The close proximity of the two rooms led to the victim meeting the alleged offender on occasions. Furthermore, the mirror did not create a comfortable and relaxed atmosphere for the child in the interview room.
Improving the effectiveness of the investigation and prosecution process
During the process of developing the protocol and reviewing existing systems and procedures, the Provincial Court in Tucumán approved a development plan to improve the effectiveness of the evidential interview with the child victim. In addition the province wanted to ensure that the child would only need to describe what happened to him or her on one occasion when they gave the evidential interview. In February 2012, Dr Tony Butler from CPDT and Sgt Nick Quine from the Avon and Somerset Constabulary delivered a video recorded interview training course for 12 psychologists from the provinces of Tucumán, Jujuy and Formosa. To support this training, the CPDT donated an evidential video interview recorder manufactured by David Horn Communications Ltd to the province.
Following the training in February 2012, Dr Tony Butler continued to support the Province, including delivering additional training to judges, fiscals and other members of the court. In March 2014, Dr Butler recorded a discussion with Psic. Mariela Garvich, a psychologist in the Gabinete Psicosocial del Poder Judicial de Tucumán talking about the developments in the province of Tucumán:
In 2008, the province introduce video recording of interviews with child sexual abuse victims. Mariela describes how the psychologist did not receive any training for this new responsibility and therefore they had to look for guidance from other provinces and the Internet. She then talked about the impact the training she and her colleagues received in February 2012.
The training for the psychologist was only one part of the process to improve the effectiveness of the video recorded evidential interviews with child victims. In the next video, she talked about the benefits they have achieved by the introduction of the dedicated evidential video interview recorder donated by the CPDT.
In the third video, Mariela describes how the advice given by Dr Butler to modify the video interview room had led to some significant improvements. The room has now become more child friendly because the mirror has been completely covered by a curtain which has also improved the audio quality. Of equal importance, had been the move of the observation room to another part of the building. This ensured that there is a possibility that the child would never have contact with the alleged offender.
In addition to being trained in the four phase interview approach, the psychologists were also trained to prepare written interview plans before starting the interview. However, it became clear after the video interview training course in February 2012 that it was essential to train the prosecutors (fiscals) and the judges to understand the new interview system and also to have the skills to participate in the planning of the interview. In this video, Mariela describes what happened before judges were trained in planning techniques.
In the final video, Mariela describes the improved system of interview planning that has been introduced following the training by Dr Tony Butler of prosecutors and judges participating in the interview.
The CPDT is continuing to support the developments in Tucumán. The members of the Provincial Court have shown through there commitment how the lives of children can be improved as they are supported through the trauma of disclosing the abuse they have suffered.
In the North West Region, the psychologist from Tucumán are leading there way by sharing their experiences with colleagues in the adjoining provinces. This has already led to a commitment by the Provinces of Santiago del Estero, Catamarca and La Rioja to develop their own protocols based on the Good Practice Guide.
In October 2015, Tucumán will be hosting the National Forensic Psychologists Conference and Dr Tony Butler will be making a presentation on the work in Tucumán.