Recording Victim Interviews

The organization EVAWI (End Violence Against Women International) provides a list of advantages to taping victim interviews:


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While preparing for an interview with a sexual assault victim, one of the critical decisions to make is whether or not to tape it (either audio or video). This can be a controversial issue in some communities (although this is becoming less true), and both police and prosecutors must weigh the advantages and disadvantages before implementing any policy. However, it is worth noting that interviews with child victims have been taped for years, and law enforcement professionals and others typically recognize the important advantages of this practice. Many of the same advantages exist for adult and adolescent victims.

Advantages of Taping

  • The primary advantage of taping a victim interview is that it provides a more reliable method of documentation than written notes. In other words, it provides the "best record" of the interview.
  • Taping records more details than could be summarized in a police report, which increases the amount of information recorded and can often reduce any redundancy in follow-up interviews.
  • Investigators are much better able to listen carefully to the victim - without constantly interrupting and disrupting the victim's narrative (which can create inconsistencies) - because they are not also trying to take notes and/or write a report at the same time. When the interview is taped, the investigator can simply listen to the victim's narrative and jot down questions to ask later when it is complete.
  • Taping communicates to the victim that the investigator is taking the case seriously and investigating it thoroughly. It also conveys that the investigator wants to make sure that all of the details are recorded accurately.
  • In addition, tapes of an interview can make it possible to determine the source of any inconsistent information. In many cases, the recording reveals that the person responsible for the inconsistency is not the victim but the investigator who documented a fact incorrectly or simply misunderstood something the victim said. This can be a tremendous help for successful prosecution, because such inconsistencies can otherwise damage the victim's credibility.
  • Because taping more accurately records all of the details of an interview, it can help investigators to synopsize statements, and this may be especially important for cases that do not move forward for prosecution. With these cases, the victim may later want the investigation re-activated or additional victims may be identified, and it is easy to review the taped interview from the previous investigation and use it as evidence for the reactivated investigation.
  • Taping can have the additional benefit of protecting the investigator if a complaint or misunderstanding should arise as a result of what was said.
  • Tapes can also be reviewed for training or supervisory purposes, to improve the quality of interviews conducted by the law enforcement agency.
  • Finally, taping can better convey to prosecutors, judges, and jurors the immediate response of victims to sexual assault.

Law enforcement professionals often have the unique opportunity to talk with victims in the aftermath of a sexual assault, while their emotions are still raw. Their words and demeanor - whether angry, withdrawn, in shock, etc. - can be important in conveying the actual response of victims and bolstering their credibility. Victims often act very differently later, when they encounter prosecutors or jurors - months or years after the assault and perhaps after the benefit of counseling. Taping can therefore document the immediate response of the victim to trauma, which can be an important benefit for the prosecution. This last advantage also suggests the importance of preserving the tape of the 911 call that the victim made regarding the assault, if there is one.

Click here to read the full training bulletin.

 
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