OVC ArchiveOVC
This file is provided for reference purposes only. It was current when produced, but is no longer maintained and may now be outdated. Please select www.ovc.gov to access current information.

IV. Child Victims


     The victimization rate for children 12 through 19 is higher than that for any other age group. (Note: Criminal victimization data are not collected for children under 12 years of age.) In addition, according to the American Medical Association, approximately 1,100 children die each year from abuse and neglect while 140,000 are injured. Uniform Crime Report data indicate that almost 2,000 children under the age of 18 were murdered in 1996. Finally, murder and nonnegligent manslaughter are the causes of death for approximately 17 percent of children under the age of 19.

     When children are victimized, their normal physiological and psychological adjustment to life is disrupted. Furthermore, they must cope with the trauma of their victimization again and again in each succeeding developmental stage of life after the crime.

     Child victims suffer not only physical and emotional traumas from their victimization. When their victimization is reported, children are forced to enter the stressful “adult” world of the criminal justice system. Adults—perhaps the same adults who were unable to provide protection in the first place—are responsible for restoring the children's sense that there are safe places where they can go and safe people who they can turn to. As a law enforcement officer, you can play a key role in this process and lessen the likelihood of long-term trauma for child victims.

Tips for Responding to Child Victims

  • Choose a secure, comfortable setting for interviewing child victims, such as a child advocacy center. If such an interview setting is not available, choose a location that is as comfortable as possible. Take the time to establish trust and rapport.

    • Preschool children (ages 2 through 6) are most comfortable at home—assuming no child abuse took place there—or in a very familiar environment. A parent or some other adult the child trusts should be nearby.

    • For elementary school-age children (ages 6 through 10), the presence of a parent is not usually recommended since children at this age are sometimes reluctant to reveal information if they believe they or their parents could “get into trouble.” However, a parent or some other adult the child trusts should be close by, such as in the next room.

    • Preadolescents (ages 10 through 12 for girls and 12 through 14 for boys) are peer-oriented and often avoid parental scrutiny. For this reason, they may be more comfortable if a friend or perhaps the friend's parent(s) is nearby.

    • Since adolescents (generally, ages 13 through 17) may be fearful of betraying their peers, it may be necessary to interview them in a secure setting with no peers nearby.

  • Realize that children tend to regress emotionally during times of stress, acting younger than their age. For example, 8-year-olds may suck their thumb.

  • Use language appropriate to the victim's age. Remember your own childhood and try to think like the victim. Avoid “baby talk.”

  • Since young children often feel they may be blamed for problems, assure preschool and elementary school-age children that they have not done anything wrong and they are not “in trouble.”

  • Be consistent with the terms you use and repeat important information often.

  • Ask open-ended questions to make sure victims understand you.

  • Use care in discussing sexual matters with preadolescent and adolescent children, as their embarrassment and limited vocabulary can make conversation difficult for them. At the same time, do not assume that victims, including elementary school-age children, are as knowledgeable about sexual matters as their language or apparent sophistication might indicate.

  • Maintain a nonjudgmental attitude and empathize with victims. Because elementary school-age children are especially affected by praise, compliment them frequently on their behavior and thank them for their help.

  • Remember the limited attention span of children. Be alert to signs that victims are feeling tired, restless, or cranky. When interviewing preschool children, consider conducting a series of short interviews rather than a single, lengthy one. Also, consider postponing the interview until the victim has had a night's sleep. However, in this case, be sure not to wait too long before interviewing preschool children because victims at this age may have difficulty separating the events of the victimization from later experiences.

  • Encourage preschool children to play, as it is a common mode of communication for them. You may find that as children play, they become more relaxed and thus more talkative.

  • Limit the number of times victims must be interviewed. Bring together for interviews as many persons from appropriate public agencies as possible, including representatives from the prosecutor's office, child protective services, and the medical/health care community.

  • Include victims, whenever possible, in decisionmaking and problem-solving discussions. Identify and patiently answer all of their questions. You can reduce victims' insecurity and anxiety by explaining the purpose of your interview and by preparing them, especially elementary school-age children, for what will happen next.

  • Show compassion to victims. Children's natural abilities to cope are aided immensely by caring adults.

  • Although the immediate victim is the child, do not forget to comfort the nonoffending parents. Referrals regarding how they can cope, what they can expect, as well as how to talk to and with their child should be provided.

Previous Contents Next
Archive iconThe information on this page is archived and provided for reference purposes only.