Sexual Assault: The Importance of Forensic Questioning
Posted on: June 28, 2021 Time to read: 2 minutes
Sexual violence victims often experience trauma that has lifelong physical and emotional impacts. Unfortunately, it’s a common problem that 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men will experience in their lifetime. 1 When an individual experiences sexual violence—whether it’s a single event or ongoing nonconsenual contact—it can be challenging to comprehend what happened and why it occurred. To support survivors—especially those on college campuses where sexual violence is a common crime—staff, faculty, and administrators should be properly trained in forensic questioning.
What is Forensic Questioning?
Forensic questioning, also known as forensic interviewing, is a way to gather information from a victim of physical or sexual abuse. It is often used among children, but it is also applicable for college-aged students.2 The goal of the interview is to elicit accurate, extensive, and detailed recollections of the event(s). In our Consent & Respect Staff course, we provide information on the basics of effective forensic interviews and an understanding of the difference between a traditional counseling interview and a forensic interview. The course, which is uniquely tailored to each campus community, also trains staff to use a trauma-informed approach.
Though each interview and circumstance is different, the general pattern of a forensic interview is done in five phases: introduction, setting ground rules, free recall, clarification, and a closing.
Tips for a Successful Forensic Interview
Remain relaxed. Maintain a calm and friendly atmosphere to show respect for the survivor. Additionally, be cautious of their personal space by not sitting too close or touching them in any way.
Ask for information to be repeated. If you don’t understand what a person said, politely ask them to repeat themselves by using phrases, such as “What did you say?” or “Can you say that again?” It’s best to have them repeat their answer, rather than guessing or making assumptions about what they may have said.
Embrace the silence. There are likely going to be pauses during your conversation. Instead of trying to fill those moments, give the survivor time to gather their thoughts and convey what they’d like to tell you.
Remain neutral. No matter what your personal feelings are about the information being shared, avoid expressing surprise, disgust, belief, pity, or any other reaction to what the survivor describes.
In addition to the Consent & Respect Staff course, 3rd Millennium Classrooms offers a student version of the course, as well as a Campus Climate Survey course. All courses meet the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act (SaVE Act) requirement within Title IX.