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. Adultsperhaps the same adults who were unable to provide
protection in the first placeare responsible for restoring the childrens
sense that there are safe places where they can go and safe people to
whom they can turn. As a law enforcement officer, you can play a key role
in this process and lessen the likelihood of long-term trauma for child
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
homeassuming no child abuse took place thereor 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 friends 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 victims 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
- 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 nights 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 prosecutors 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. Childrens 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
|First Response to Victims of Crime