In criminal sexual abuse cases, many cases are not prosecuted because the victim does not want to be traumatized further. What the victim says to the police, and whether or not she or he cooperates is entirely up to the victim. Parents have inherent authority in their role as parents to make similar decisions on behalf of a child. If a parent wants to take a child for counseling or have him or her medically examined for treatment without the involvement of police, it is impossible. The only choice is to refrain from taking a child for necessary treatment, which certainly would be medical neglect if penetration occurred, or to deal with the consequences of the "child advocacy team" involvement.
If a parent believes that the legal process will traumatize a child, or place a child at further risk, the parent should be able to decide, on behalf of the child, not to cooperate. That attitude, although firmly entrenched in constitutional law, is not respected by law enforcement or Child Protective Services. Consider the following "information sheet" given to parents at the Rockingham County Child Advocacy Center regarding child interviews. I recently had the opportunity to participate in a child interview at the child advocacy center in Rockingham county. This is the pilot program for the "team approach." I found their information sheet offensive, so I annotated it:
Dear Parent or Guardian,
Welcome to the Seacoast Child Advocacy Center. The Center operates as a joint effort between police, Rockingham County Attorney's Office, Rockingham County Sheriff's Office, Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF), Sexual Assault Support Services (SASS), medical professionals, and mental health providers to help children and families who have experienced the abuse of a child. We work as a team, along with you and your child, to make a difficult time as comfortable as possible. Our primary goal is to assure the safety and well being of your child.
[Note: The clear implication of this paragraph, as well as the rest of the letter is that the parents WANT to work with these professionals as a "team." Unfortunately, if the parent does not "want" to "work as a team" there are ways to force compliance, including the unstated, but clear threat of filing a child neglect petition against the parent if they refuse to produce the child for "team services."]
Here are the answers to some frequently asked questions:
The Seacoast Child Advocacy Center can:
The usual procedure is for the team to meet prior to your arrival at the Center. The team members usually include a police detective, prosecutor, child protective investigative worker, Rockingham County Sheriff's Office Representative SCAC staff. One interviewer will meet with your child alone while the other team members observe the interview by close circuit television. While this occurs, you will wait in the waiting area. Parents are not permitted in either the interview room or the observation room during the interview. [Note, the converse of this statement, that the parents have no legal obligation to present the child for the interview at all is not mentioned here.]
We make a videotape of your child's interview to reduce the number of times your child will have to talk about what happened. This does not mean that your child will never have to speak about the abuse again. Following the interview, we will meet with you to discuss the results and what will happen next. [Note, that if criminal or juvenile delinquency charges are filed, the defense attorney is entitled to a copy of the tape. The tape belongs to the police department in the jurisdiction where the offense took place, however, and will not be available to parents should they be charged with abuse or neglect, because the NH Supreme Court has held that information in the hands of the police is not imputed to DCYF. Even if DCYF participated in the interview process, which they do, this is so. In Re: Samantha L. ___ N.H. ___ (2000)]
Your child should be told ahead of time about the interview. We suggest that you tell you child that he/she will be going to a place to talk to some people about what happened to him/her. Do not have your child practice what to say. Explain to your child that you will not be in the interview room or the observation room during the interview, but that you will be nearby in the waiting area. You child should be assured that this is not a medical appointment and that the offender will not be present.
Please be sure that your child is not hungry before arriving at the Center. You may want to bring a snack with you since the process can take up to two hours. It can also be helpful to bring another adult who your child is comfortable with, to wait with your child during times when we might want to meet with you alone. We ask that you not bring other children to the appointment unless you are asked to do so. You child may want to bring a favorite cuddly toy to hold during the interview (please, a quiet one)..
We have found that children are most comfortable when their parents are calm and supportive. We encourage you to get the support you need by talking to a friend, partner, or counselor about your feelings so that you will be able to help your child. Let us know how we can help you during this time. [Note: this part seems to acknowledge that parents are capable of ameliorating the effects of abuse on their own. Then why does DCYF insist that they get involved "to help" in the first place?]
We recognize that talking about abuse is very difficult for a child. He/she may be willing to talk about it on one day but not on another. We do not pressure children to talk. If it is not a good day, we may reschedule another appointment. Sometimes it helps if a child goes for some counseling and later returns for an interview. We may decide that your child is too young to make a statement. There may be a time in the future where we can try again. [In the interview I later saw at the police station, the child indicate four separate times that s/he did not want to talk about it, and presented my business card to the interviewer, which said on the back that s/he wanted his/her parents there. It was ignored, and the child was NOT told s/he could refuse to talk about it. The prosecutor later intimated to the parents that perhaps *I* was responsible for witness tampering.]
Please feel free to ask any of the team members any question you may have. Our goal is to help you and your child through this process by providing information, referrals and support.
[How about: "Must I allow the child to be interviewed? What if I want the child to be interviewed in my home, on my lap, etc? Do I have the right to not cooperate with the Child Advocacy Center? What if I want to handle the counseling or medical care on my own, and I don't want to release the results to the police or DCYF?]
[Note: Physicians and psychologists are mandated reporters. If you take your child for medical or psychological care, it will be reported to DCYF. Consider going to another state, and using a fake name if you don't want DCYF to follow you around.]
Contact Paula Werme, Esq. or return to Law Practice home page.
Last updated 2001 June 23.