Child advocacy centers play a critical role in helping kids get out of abusive situations and hold their abusers accountable under the law. When allegations of child abuse arise within a community, such a center is used to observe and talk to the kids involved in the situation in a safe, child-friendly environment.
Many of these advocacy centers use video technology – like the VALT system from IPIVS.com – to create improved outcomes. Video recordings improve outcomes by creating a permanent record of every interaction with abused children that can serve multiple purposes, which will be discussed in this article.
Child abuse is a bigger problem than most people think. Each year in the United States, an estimated 115,100 kids are physically abused, and 60,927 are sexually abused. Unfortunately, many of them suffer in silence, even when family members know about the abuse.
Although a great deal can be learned by talking to a young person in a safe environment, here’s how technology is helping advocacy centers to be more effective in their efforts.
1. Video recording supports the prosecution of child abusers
The main function of a child advocacy center is to perform forensic interviews. Video recording these interviews supports efforts to prosecute child abusers. Video interviews are frequently played for the accused offender and their attorneys in order to elicit cooperation for a plea.
Playing a video-recorded interview during a trial gives the jury a better understanding of the impact of abuse on a minor. In some situations, the effects of the abuse are almost tangible in a recorded interview and that’s what the jury needs to see. The impact isn’t the same by reviewing notes taken by an interviewer.
Having a recorded interview with a minor can also prevent re-traumatizing them by limiting the number of times they must relive the abuse. For example, a recording might prevent them from having to repeat the same process in the courtroom during the trial. Some courts will allow a videotaped interview to be admitted as hearsay evidence.
2. Video recorded forensic interviews are easy to review
When a caseworker or attorney needs to reference part of a child’s interview to gather information, video is easier to review than written statements and notes. With the right software, digital video recordings can be tagged at various time stamps to create an easy-to-reference index of the content. For example, if a young person talked about being threatened by an adult, that segment can be tagged for quick reference later.
A forensic interview can be tagged at intervals of every minute if needed. Adding tags to an interview creates an index for the interview content, and those tags become text-searchable.
3. Video recordings document subtle body language
Sometimes notes and statements aren’t enough to tell the whole story. With kids, body language is especially important to note. Children who have been abused often protect their abuser(s) and don’t always realize that’s what they’re doing. Despite physical evidence, like bruises, they might say they aren’t being abused. However, their body language might tell a different story.
Many kids, especially victims of sexual abuse, are conditioned from an early age not to tell anyone. Abusers routinely tell kids they’ll hurt them and their family members if they tell anyone about the abuse. Some abusers convince young people they’ve done something wrong and the abuse is the punishment they deserve.
Body language can reveal a discrepancy in what the kid is saying compared to how they are acting. While it’s not an exact science, there are certain telltale signs clinicians are trained to spot. Sometimes it’s hard to spot those signs while the interview is being conducted. Being able to review a video makes it much easier to spot and analyze a kid’s body language – especially subtle body language.
4. A video recorded interview helps if a child recants
Child abuse victims often recant their claims, but not because the abuse isn’t happening. While some kids are pushed into making false accusations and then recant, that’s not always the case. Many kids who have been severely abused recant out of fear.
The number one reason young persons recant is that one of their primary caregivers doesn’t believe them when they disclose they’re being abused. For example, many kids recant their stories simply because their mother, who doesn’t believe their child, suggests they should recant. On the contrary, young people who are fully supported by a non-offending caregiver don’t recant their stories.
Many minors recant but reaffirm their original statements later on. According to several studies, 48.3% of children reaffirm their statements of abuse after recanting.
If a young person recants, having a video interview can help prosecute the child abuser(s) regardless of how the minor changes their story. That initial testimony will be considered by the court. Courts are aware that young individuals often recant out of fear, but it’s difficult to prosecute the offender without a documented video interview when a young person recants.
Child advocacy centers are becoming the standard
There are no nationwide standards that law enforcement must follow when handling child abuse allegations. However, some states are creating statewide standards. For example, South Carolina recently made it mandatory for minors involved in abuse allegations to get help from an advocacy center.
Statistics show that advocacy centers benefit children in the following ways:
- Abuse investigations are more coordinated
- The cost of investigating the abuse is far less than a traditional investigation costs
- More individuals receive specialized medical evaluations
- More individuals receive mental health treatment
- Parents and guardians of abused minors find investigation outcomes more satisfactory when an advocacy center is involved in the case
High-tech video recording is the next standard
While such advocacy centers are slowly becoming a mandatory part of investigating child abuse, high-tech video recording isn’t far behind. These advocacy centers that don’t already record forensic interviews are starting to see the value. One by one, each advocacy center is adopting video recording technology as a standard.