In the Know
Hank had driven through the evening and into the night and was looking forward to a shower and a rest when banging on his passenger door startled him.
A young woman with frightened eyes was clinging to the door, her hair in disarray and her makeup smeared. “Can you let me in?” she asked.
Hank unlocked the doors and nodded toward her. He knew she was probably too young to be out so late, and his gut told him she was hurt and something was very wrong. As she climbed into the cab, he noticed a large bruise on her thigh, and an angry red welt blooming across her neck and collarbone.
“What happened to you? What’s going on?” asked Hank, alarmed, ready to defend her against whoever did this. But his concern seemed to frighten the girl further. She withdrew against the door, blinking rapidly without speaking, and biting her lower lip.
It was bad. Hank took a slow, deep breath and tried to calm his tone. “Who hurt you? Are you being chased? Can I call law enfor–?”
“No!” she said emphatically. It was almost the only word he got out of her, as she seemed to withdraw further, unwilling to give any information about herself.
Eventually Hank was able to convince her to accept a ride to the hospital, where he dropped her off, never sure exactly what had happened to her.
Fortunately, the staff at that hospital recognized that her behavior and injuries suggested sexual assault trauma and called law enforcement. Even more fortunately for this young woman, the officer who arrived had been trained in TIVI (Trauma-Informed VictimInterviewing).
TIVI is a way of interviewing victims of such crimes that considers their trauma, before considering the perpetrator’s crime. It seems simple, but that shift in focus can be life-saving for victims, as well as effective in arrest and prosecution of perpetrators. Scientists have known for decades the effects of trauma on the brain, such that even middle school kids have heard of fight-or-flight responses to stress. Trauma, however, adds “freeze,” an extremely common physiological response to threat, and one that can seem, falsely, to indicate consent. When only “fight” or “flight” are considered, and the victim is in astage of freezing instead, it can look as if the victim is complicit in the attack.
Procedure for TIVI
Officers are first trained to approach questioning of victims using a tone of concern and consideration rather than investigation (or interrogation). There are three goal phases of an effective TIVI: first, to set the tone and rules for the conversation that allows thevictim to feel safe recalling possibly painful information; second, to gather as much information and detail as possible without holding the victim to typical (non trauma-related) standards of reportage, such as exact chronological order or strict consistency in detail; and third, to give the victim closure to the questioning, and a “case plan” or idea of how law enforcement will proceed with the investigation, with an open invitation to continue communicating.
Trauma-Informed Victim Interviewing was developed by Donna Kelly, JD, the deputy district attorney for Salt Lake County, prosecutor for 25 years with a caseload of child abuse, sexual assault and domestic violence, including aggravated murder. Kelly is a strong advocate for victims, and actively travels to train and educate police departments in TIVI. The law enforcement jurisdictions in Utah in which TIVI has been implemented, including Utah and Salt Lake Counties, have seen significant increases in prosecution rates, as well as successful criminal closure in rape and sexual assault cases prosecuted.
To be continued….
This article is the first part of two, addressing this kind of interaction with victims of violent and/or sexual crimes. The second part will discuss how victims of human sex-trafficking, which involves long-term, repeated and systemic abuse, can also benefit from TIVI, with some adjustments for duration, type and severity of trauma.
Laurin Crosson is the founder and director of Rockstarr Org and opened the first safehouse in Utah. Laurin specializes in escape and is the Author of “Ride Out; Crisis Response And Extraction Of Human Trafficking Victims” Laurin educates and trains organizations, law enforcement, medical professionals, universities and ambassadors from every Continent. She is currently finishing up a book, enjoying her cats, and consulting to open another safehouse in the area. A special thanks to Zina Petersen for her editing and assistance with this blog.