One of the greatest challenges facing law enforcement and child safety advocates today, is how to prioritize an abused child’s well being, while still successfully pursuing an investigation. Not sure what that means? Consider this…
When a child is abused by a parent or caregiver, or some other trusted adult, they are often reluctant to talk about it. And when they do share the experience with an investigator, talking about it causes them to experience the trauma all over again, which compounds the effects of the trauma. So if talking about it is traumatic, but the details of the abuse need to be rehashed over and over during an investigation, how do you protect the child while still rooting out the facts?
Recording the initial interview is the best practice.
If an interview is conducted by a well trained forensic interviewer, and all of the bases are covered, that interview should be sufficient, State Representative Pamela Hornberger. But only if it’s recorded. Recording the interview allows it to be played again and again by investigators looking to understand exactly what happened, and also in court as testimony on behalf of the child.
Not recording the interview means that the child has to be reinterviewed, sometimes several times by different investigators, during the course of the investigation. It also means that the child may have to be present in court and provide testimony for the jury, which can be terrifying for a child. Especially if their alleged abuser is also present in court.
But not all Michigan counties record interviews with abused children
According to Rep. Hornberger, all Michigan counties should be using this practice, but unfortunately that isn’t the case. Despite the fact that in 2006, the Governor’s Task Force on Child Abuse and Neglect noted that recordings of interviews with abused children resulted in more pleas entered, than cases going to trial, the trend hasn’t caught on everywhere in the Great Lakes State.
For that reason, Hornberger has teamed up with Reps. Jim Runestad and Robert Kosowski to craft a bill package that addresses this issue in particular. Under House Bills 4298-4300, all forensic interviews conducted with child victims of abuse conducted at child advocacy centers in Michigan would be recorded in their entirety.
If these bills get signed into law, what changes in Michigan?
As Hornberger explains, these bills would “allow recorded interviews to be played during certain hearings, in addition to the live testimony of a witness. The goal is to minimize the repeated trauma young victims experience when repeating their testimony. It also allows the court to view an accurate record and ensure the person conducting the interview followed proper standards and procedures.
The bills also “lay out clear guidelines and procedures for recording interviews, maintaining the video, and preventing videos from being misused or falling into the wrong hands. Specifically, (the bill) provides protocols for accessing and storing the recordings, and increases penalties for intentionally disseminating recorded interviews to unauthorized individuals.”
If passed, when will this change go into effect?
The bills have already passed the House and are headed for the Senate. As of now we have no idea when, or even if, these bills will become law. However, we plan to keep an eye out for this piece of legislation and will keep our readers up to date on any changes to the way Michigan law dictates that abused child interviews are handled.