Child Witnesses: The Right Approach
When a child is not the victim, but a witness, access can be complicated. Conflicting priorities place people who would normally be on the same side at odds with each other. How can law enforcement agencies navigate this complex situation to get the information they need while also protecting the child? Here are some key factors to consider.
Understand the rights involved. Clearly, police have the right to question a child. They don’t have to speak to a parent first, and they don’t have to have permission. On the other side of the coin, children can refuse to be interviewed. If a child’s parents are not present at the initial moment of contact, they can ask for them, and the police must accommodate them. Of course, once parents are present, they can refuse to allow the child to be interviewed, and there goes your witness out the door. Those are the bare bones of the situation, but we’re a long way from the full story.
Understand the family’s fears. It can be frustrating to be blocked from interviewing a child, and not just because the child might be a critical witness to your case. If a child has witnessed domestic violence, for example, you may have concerns about which parent is currently supervising the child. You may have worries about the child’s recollection being manipulated. These are valid concerns. Conversely, there are many reasons why a parent would be hesitant to have a child testify. If they witnessed a violent crime in their community, parents will worry that they could become a target. Or they might consider it too traumatic for a child to testify against a family member.
Be an ally when possible. To allay parental concerns, you’re going to need to genuinely relate to their fears, and you’ll need to be able to communicate that to them. You’re going to want to make the interview process as painless as possible. And that’s where video comes in.
Videoing interviews meets everyone’s needs. Video interviews are incredibly useful in cases with child witnesses. As we’ve discussed before, you can use mobile devices to conduct interviews early, when the witness’s recollection is still fresh, because you’ll have what you need with you when the moment arises. You can also do the interview where the child is most comfortable. And when you use a service like iRecord, you’ll have high-quality digital archives of the video. This makes you less likely to have to re-interview the witness, and may even reduce their likelihood of testifying in court, making it less likely they’ll have to confront the person they’re accusing.
It can be difficult to weigh the rights of a juvenile witness against the needs of your investigation. Video can be a powerful tool to ensure that you mitigate the obstacles and meet the needs of everyone involved, helping you protect and support witnesses while also moving your investigation forward.