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Call for rape victims to be interviewed on video
01 May 2012
Portsmouth, University of
Police officers believe rapists would be more likely to face justice if victims were filmed being interviewed, according to new research.
Video interviewing gives police officers more opportunity to collect information and gives courts and juries more compelling evidence.
Research by scientists at Griffith University, Australia, and the University of Portsmouth, England, questioned more than 100 police investigators, supervisors and specialist adult sex crime interviewers for the study published in Applied Cognitive Psychology.
They found 94 per cent believed video interviewing a person who claims to have been raped would help ensure more complete, accurate and reliable information from the complainant, who is often the sole source of evidence in these types of cases. It could also help the victims because video interviews would mean they wouldn’t have to repeat their statements or be interrupted, and they might not have to endure the trauma of giving evidence in court.
The method could also help ensure police officers ask complainants open questions which are more likely to produce high quality information than closed or leading questions.
Police in England, Wales, New Zealand and other countries are moving towards video recording rape complainant interviews in preference to the traditional method of writing down statements.
Lead researcher Nina Westera, of Griffith University, said: “Video interviewing provides an opportunity for improving the way police investigate and the decisions they make, and in so doing, it is likely it would also bring more effective resolutions to rape cases.
“This is the first time scientists have examined whether police officers take questioning style and format into account when making judgments about a potential crime. An interesting finding was that officers rated the complainant as more accurate when appropriate questioning was used and that they were also more likely to commence a prosecution.
“This finding suggests that the interviewing methods used may affect real outcomes in rape cases.”
The researchers wanted to better understand police officers’ attitudes to video recording interviews with rape complainants and whether they thought such interviews would help them investigate crimes or provide strong evidence for court hearings.
Dr Becky Milne, of the University of Portsmouth, said: “We would like to see a system where video interviewing is more commonplace. One of the key reasons video interviewing is beneficial is it’s likely to save hours of police officer time and immeasurable stress to the victims of crime.
“As it stands, police have to interview complainants for two reasons – they need information to judge if a crime has taken place in order to then be able to investigate it, and they need evidence that is admissible in court and likely to help secure a conviction. Video interviewing gives them both at once in the way written statements often don’t.”
Police officers had some reservations about video interviewing rape complainants, including concern that video footage of a rape victim who was composed and who spoke calmly might not convince a jury that a rape had taken place; that the time taken to review and revisit a video statement was significantly longer than the time taken to re-read a written statement; that video recording required lots of resources; and that video interviews capture everything, including information that was irrelevant or inadmissible in court.
But despite misgivings, they were resoundingly in favour of the practice becoming the norm.
Comments made by police officers in the study include that it captures all the information available, including peripheral information which can prove crucial in court; that it prevents the victim’s story being misinterpreted by the interviewer; that it can be used as evidence-in-chief (allowing any trial to proceed straight to cross-examination of the accused); and that it reveals the true impact on the victim and prevents them from having to go through the trauma and embarrassment of being asked to repeatedly reveal intimate details.