Protecting children
Interviewing sexually abused children examined

Dane Gibson
Northern News Services

NNSL (Oct 11/99) - Interviewing children about sexual abuse is something that must be conducted with the upmost care.

Last month, RCMP held two weeks of workshops in Yellowknife with officers and social workers from throughout the territories to ensure that everyone is on the same page when they sit down to interview a child.

"This is excellent for us. Having social workers get together with RCMP provides a multi-agency response to child sexual abuse and allows us to work in partnership," said Dogrib Community Services social programs manager Beth Williams.

"We're hoping that we will catch symptoms of sexual abuse at an early stage because if it's not detected, the child will grow into a dysfunctional lifestyle and may continue the cycle of abuse on their children."

She said through the new Child and Family Services Act they are hoping to compile NWT statistics on sexual abuse, which don't exist right now.

"As professionals, we know that there is abuse occurring and it's very important to work not only with other professionals but also with the family and community members," Williams said.

Inuvik RCMP Const. Dan Martin said they tried to have as many investigators from as many detachments in the North as possible attend the workshops because sexual assaults happen all over.

"We may have a one-time shot to interview a child so we have to get as much accurate information as possible," Martin said.

"That's very important because if a little guy or little girl is telling you something they believe to be true, even though it may not make a lot of sense, we have to determine whether an offense has occurred."

He said they rely almost entirely on referrals from community members such as teachers, health care workers and neighbours to report suspected cases of sexual abuse. It is the interview with the child that is essential to determining if they are going to proceed with charges.

"If a child discloses that something has happened that doesn't seem quite right, that child should not be discredited," Martin said.

"We don't want the public crying wolf but we would rather initiate an investigation rather than not have a child be believed.

"We want children to be safe, that's what it boils down to. If they're in an abusive home or relationship, the sooner the proper agencies can become involved, the sooner the child's safety can be taken care of," Martin added.

The primary focus of the course was on children aged 3-7. RCMP interview trainer Geraldine Crisci co-ordinated the workshops. The Toronto resident trains RCMP officers throughout Canada.

"I think it's safe to say the cases raised here are no different than anywhere else," Crisci said.

"Our point in focusing on pre-school children is that we know if we intervene effectively before the age of seven, then we go a long way toward making everyone's life, particularly the child's, healthier and happier."