I often meet people, as we all do, who ask what I do for a living. When I reply, “I’m a forensic interviewer”, I am often asked, “What’s that?” To which I explain, I conduct neutral, fact finding interviews with children who are suspected victims of sexual abuse. The majority of people assume that I’m some sort of saint, which I promise you, I am not. The rest simply say, “I don’t know how you could do that, I could never do your job.” I get why people think and say that. I do. I understand that listening to children talk about the details of their sexual abuse is something most people can’t fathom doing once, much less on a daily basis. I also get that people find it hard to imagine that I love my job. Do I wish we lived in a world where a job like mine doesn’t need to exist? Absolutely, but that’s not the case. The following are a few things that I wish people knew about child sexual abuse and what I’ve learned through my work as a forensic interviewer.
Secrets aren’t safe: I interviewed a child a few months ago who disclosed ongoing sexual abuse by someone she and her family trusted. At the end of the interview this little girl told me that she wanted to have cake and ice cream when she left the Children’s Advocacy Center (CAC). She said she wanted to celebrate getting this secret off her chest and that keeping it made her stomach hurt every day. The secrecy and shame associated with child sexual abuse can be as devastating as the abuse itself. We need to teach our kids that secrets aren’t safe and that there is nothing they can’t tell us, because it’s our job to protect them.
If your child discloses sexual abuse to you the most important thing you can do is listen: Forensic Interviewing is a profession for a reason. That reason is that often well intentioned parents and professionals question children in inappropriate ways. As a forensic interviewer, I am trained to ask questions in a developmentally appropriate, non-leading, and legally defensible manner. Forensic interviewers are required to complete on-going training, quarterly peer review, stay current on research in the field and many of us have years of experience honing this craft. As a parent of a child disclosing sexual abuse, you are going to react to what your child is saying to you, you may cry, you may ask “Why didn’t you tell me sooner?” The consequences of these responses is that it may affirm to your child that what they told you is bad or that they should feel ashamed. You may also ask questions that your child can’t answer because of their age or cognitive development, but they may try because they want to please you. This could lead to misinformation or unintentional tainting of the disclosure. If you find yourself receiving a disclosure of sexual abuse from your child listen, be supportive and leave the difficult questions to the professionals.
Children are not defined by sexual abuse: I talk to children everyday who tell me about playing sports, riding bikes, hanging out with friends, their pets, school, dance recitals, the latest fashion trends and video games. Many of these same children tell me about being sexually abused. Sexual abuse is a terrible thing that is done to some children, but it does not have to define who they are. A nine year old boy told me once, “I just want him (his abuser) to stop touching my privates. I just want to go back to being a kid.” From the moment a child enters the Delaware County CAC there is a team of highly trained professionals working to ensure that their needs are met, that they are safe and treated with respect. By the time a child comes to the CAC the bad thing has already happened, and while we can’t change that, we can help children get back to the business of just being kids.