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Ten Tips for Conducting Sexual Abuse Investigations

Posted - August 11, 2015

Sexual abuse investigations are one of the most challenging types of regulatory investigations to conduct. The following tips are a brief overview of some key things investigators should consider when taking on these important cases.

1.    Consider the timeline of events and document this visually to understand the sequence of all events before, during, and following the alleged abuse. This can be very helpful in understanding all the pertinent details and will assist in determining witnesses and additional lines of inquiry. 

2.    Gather all available materials prior to conducting any interviews, including client records, hardcopy and electronic communications, as well as social media posts that may be relevant. Consider asking for these items in interviews if they are not known or available prior to interviews.

3.    Determine who will be interviewed and the order of interviews. Stay open to discovering new potential witnesses and consider the need to re-interview some individuals as new or differing information becomes known.

4.    Conduct interviews in person for these matters – these are serious allegations and interviewees, need to know you are fully engaged.

5.    Ensure you have an interview location that is safe and comfortable for all parties. The location of interviews should always be in an environment you can control and should be private and neutral with no potential for unwanted distractions.

6.    Remember that alleged victims may be struggling and might demonstrate a variety of emotional responses that can result in anger, sadness, being withdrawn, being talkative, or all of these. They may move from one emotional state to another very quickly and you must be prepared to work through this. Be patient and allow extra time and breaks where possible so they will be comfortable and ultimately provide a complete and accurate statement.

7.    Be prepared for possible lack of cooperation from alleged victims. Sometimes they may be reluctant because of fear they are to blame, fear of reprisal, being intimidated by the process or the investigator, embarrassment, and fear they will be disbelieved. Interviewers must prepare these interviewees by explaining the process and answering their questions so they can be more comfortable engaging in the interview and possible subsequent proceedings.

8.    Be aware that not all allegations of sexual abuse are legitimate. Stay open minded and remember your neutrality as you move through the investigation. Regardless of whether the allegation is legitimate, accused parties also deserve the same courtesies and proper explanations of process. In some cases, their career may be on the line and that can generate many of the same emotions and behaviours described earlier for alleged victims.  

9.    When interviewing, do not hesitate to be direct and ask clear questions that leave no doubt or room for interpretation. This means speaking about things that may be uncomfortable for some, but this is necessary to ensure accuracy. Do not hesitate to have interviewees clarify slang terms.

10.All documentation created by the investigator must be free from bias and subjective conclusions. Be objective in all writing and present information in a factual and unbiased manner.

These are just key highlights and by no means a comprehensive guide on investigating sexual abuse matters. Investigators who manage these cases should be experienced and confident investigators who have some training specific to sexual abuse investigations. Benard + Associates offers comprehensive courses on sexual abuse investigations and will customize such courses for your organization. Please visit our website by clicking here to learn more about our educational offerings.