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Local police, others learn crime interview techniques

By : By Katie Ellis

The 911 call was from a woman who said she had been raped and tied up in her apartment by a stranger. She said he had taken her ATM card and left to use it. She said he threatened her if it didn’t work and she feared he was going to return to kill her.

The vast majority of those listening thought the woman on the tape was lying. They said she didn’t sound believable — that there were too many inconsistencies in her report and she didn’t provide details. In fact, the woman was telling the truth — a surprise to participants of the two-day Sexual Assault Investigative Techniques seminar held on campus last month.

Joanne Archambault conducted the seminar. Retired after 23 years with the San Diego Police Department where she supervised the sex crimes unit, Archambault is president and training director of SATI, Inc., which provides victim-centered training and consultation on sexual assault crimes. She is also executive director of End Violence Against Women International, a non-profit organiz-ation that provides training on law enforcement investigation and proper criminal justice responses to sexual assault and domestic violence.

“The more bizarre a call, the more probable,” Archambault said of the 911 tape. “It’s not the call taker’s job to make a judgment or decision. It’s to do the job. Be really careful to do your job.”

The seminar, attended by about 90 police officers, counselors and security officers from the area, was sponsored by a Reduce Violent Crimes Against Women on Campus grant from the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Violence Against Women and hosted by the University Counseling Center and University Police. “One goal in having this training done is to increase the likelihood that women would feel comfortable in reporting assaults; to help dispel the notion that police officers in our community are not sensitive to their needs,” said Liz Droz, director of the Counseling Center. “Our University Police are great in that I’ve witnessed how they review reports with students and how they explain the process to students.

“One of the things Archambault said is that police will often make women feel ‘wrong’ or ‘bad’ by asking them ‘you didn’t shower did you?’ when that’s the first thing women will want to do after a trauma. In fact, Archambault stated that police work will never rely on just one type of evidence collection and there is never a type of crime in which you put the onus on the victim to carry the responsibility for evidence collection,” said Droz.

Archambault covered a lot of ground in two days, beginning with how to effectively recognize and respond to sexual assaults. “Most victims of crimes, especially sexual assaults, go to their closest circle first,” she said. “The truth is, that each time a victim discloses, judgments are made. Law enforcement and counselors are initially pushed away until the world comes tumbling around them (the victim). We need to start out by examining perceptions about responses and where responsibility lies.”

The seminar took participants through proper interview techniques for sexual assault survivors, as well as how to effectively write the interview report. With less than 3 percent of sexual assault cases prosecuted, and most not successfully, Archambault said it’s imperative to be thorough and complete. “Law enforcement has to conduct a thorough investigation and provide the prosecutor with the documentation to support the charges,” she said. “Often, the work is done, but the documentation is severely lacking.

“Don’t interview using a ‘just the facts’ routine,” she added. “Make sure you’re being really, really good listeners and allow the victim to provide narration without interruption. “It has to be a whole process of evolution,” said Archambault. “You’re following up on pieces of information you’ve learned by doing your job.

But, also, don’t rush to arrest unless a person represents a danger to the community, because that tends to stop the investigation.” Archambault recommended audio taping interviews at a minimum, with videotaping her preference. “We must be patient. These are long, emotionally difficult interviews. We can learn from them,” she said.

It’s important to create a positive last impression with the victim as well, Archambault said. “Provide the victim with resources and contact information on who to follow up with, the case number and all that,” she said.

When the time comes to write the report, Archambault said it’s a big mistake to “clean up” a victim’s statement to make it presentable. “Don’t sanitize any state-ments because it distorts reality and we lose that victim’s voice,” she said. “ We need to recreate the reality of the sexual assault. We shouldn’t have to go on a scavenger hunt to pull it all together.”

Archambault also took participants through collaborative investigative approaches to investigating sexual assaults, the challenges collaborative approaches pose, who sexual offenders are and the impact of DNA on sexual assault investigations.
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Last Updated: 10/14/08