Sex crimes is a sensitive part of law enforcement, especially in the investigative process. While suspects are rarely open and honest, aggressive interviewing skills can sometimes play an important role in confessions. For victims, however, a much less aggressive tone is required. So just how do police investigate sex crimes? It all starts with the interview process. As one sex crimes investigator told us, “Sometimes it’s a very slow waltz that investigators do not get to lead.” Keep reading as we explore this complicated investigative aspect of law enforcement.
An outcry witness is one who first hears the victim’s statement after a sex crime has been committed. This may be a stranger or friend or relative, but typically, they are the ones who call 911 and remain with a victim until medical help and law enforcement arrive. They are often interviewed on the scene and then meet later with investigators for a more formal interview. They are an important element of the investigative process and often, they testify in court on behalf of the prosecution since their testimony often provides insight into why an investigation unfolds the way that it does. The victim, in a state of shock and fear, may make a statement to the outcry witness that helps the investigation and trial, should a trial occur.
Another early witness can be the patrol officer who often arrives prior to the ambulance and investigators. He too will likely provide more in-depth information to the investigators, but his primary goal early on is to secure the scene, ensure the victim does not have life-threatening injuries and ensure any witnesses remain on scene. He too may be an outcry witness and his testimony is an important part of the trial. They too require specialized training.
If a victim’s first experience with a representative of the law enforcement agency is negative, he or she may withdraw cooperation. This degree of trauma and fear is enough to force a victim to withdraw from everyone, even those who are trying to help. A police officer’s attitude, prejudices or beliefs can affect the victim’s perception of law enforcement and the efforts to investigate the sex crime.
Specialized training is necessary to deal with victims of sex crimes and part of that training is learning how to do a proper interview. How to approach victims in an incredibly sensitive time, how to approach suspects to ensure the truth comes out in what they know, what they did and others who might have been involved are two elements of this investigative training process. Further, there is always a time commitment involved. Interviewing a suspect is an hours-long, sometimes days-long process. No one walks into an interview room at a precinct and leaves 15 minutes later with all of the necessary information, including an admission of guilt.
California law enforcement agencies that are equipped to deal with sex crimes understand how important their specialized training is. With so many typologies associated with sexual offenders and the sometimes-confusing absence of sexual needs, it can be difficult to really get into the mindset of a dangerous sex offender. It’s not uncommon for suspects to lie and change their stories many times. Trained investigators can see through those lies and games. In California, assault and sex laws are tough – and that is always a good thing.