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Interviewing Sexual Assault Complainants


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Provides recommendations for interviewing sexual assault complainants who were alcohol-intoxicated during the assault

Published in: Education
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Interviewing Sexual Assault Complainants

  1. 1. Heather D. Flowe1 and Anna Carline2 1University of Birmingham, UK 2University of Leicester, UK Interviewing complainants who were alcohol intoxicated during sexual assault: New evidence for practice
  2. 2. CONTRIBUTORS Julie Galagher, Dr Julie Gawrylowicz, Professor Graham Davies, DI Reme Gibson, Dr Clare Gunby, DI Michelle Keen, Lawrence English, Professor Vanessa Munro, Mary Prior QC, Dr Kevin Smith, Dr Melanie Takarangi, Former Chief Superintendent Steph Pandit, Nilda Karağolu, Dr Melissa Colloff, Danielle Hett, Harriet Smailes, Dr Lisa Smith, Dr Joyce Humphries, Dr Hannah Ryder, Dr Debbie Wright, HHJ Nicholas Dean, Rachel Tuffin, Kasha Zelek, Rape Crisis, Leicester, Juniper Lodge, Millicent Grant, Professor Mandy Burton, DC Simon Collington, DC Joanne Collins, Professor Sally Kyd Cunningham, Sally French, Professor Rebecca Milne, Professor Mark Reed, DC Gail Hurley, DC David Patten, Urvi Rathod, Mike Nicholson, College of Policing, DC Phil Parkinson, DC Carey Potter, DC, Deirdre Wokingham, Katarzyna Zelek, Dr Jessica Woodhams
  4. 4. ALCOHOL AND SEXUAL ASSAULT • 4 out of 5 cases involve alcohol (Stern, 2010) • Perpetrators seem to target people who are alcohol-intoxicated (Lisak & Miller, 2002) • Alcohol can affect a survivor’s perception of rape, reducing the odds rape is reported to the authorities (Wolitzky-Taylor et al., 2011) • By and large, the victim will have ingested alcohol only, not other drugs, and she will have done so voluntarily (ONS, 2015)
  5. 5. PROBATIVE ASPECTS OF ALCOHOL The prosecution’s case may be that the complainant had lost the capacity to consent
  6. 6. PREJUDICIAL ASPECTS OF ALCOHOL • Alcohol can diminish complainant credibility (e.g., Ellison and Munro, 2007) and reduce likelihood of conviction (Lynch, Wasarhaley, Golding, & Simcic, 2013)
  7. 7. PREJUDICIAL ASPECTS OF ALCOHOL ‘Advocates and SANEs [Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners] get frustrated when we can’t move forward with an investigation, but sometimes we can’t because the victim doesn’t remember what happened or there are inconsistencies [in her story].’ Quoted in Cole & Logan, 2010
  8. 8. WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT ALCOHOL AND MEMORY IMPAIRMENT? ‘Based on personal experience, alcohol is bad for memory.’
  9. 9. WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT ALCOHOL AND MEMORY IMPAIRMENT? Basic research on memory and cognition finds that alcohol impairs memory
  10. 10. MODAL MEMORY MODEL Atkinson & Shiffrin, 1968
  11. 11. ALCOHOL AND MEMORY Alcohol (en bloc) blackout can occur at high levels of intoxication (e.g., BAC = .14 to .27%) • En bloc blackout • A person will have no memory and not be able to recall anything about events that took place for a stretch of time • Sensory and short-term memory are preserved • Fragmentary blackout • A person is able to remember partial information; memory formation is incomplete • more common than en bloc
  12. 12. BUT HOW DOES ALCOHOL IMPAIR TESTIMONY? In lab tests – the participant has no control over their ‘test output’ – memory is exhaustively tested. During police interviews, people control and regulate their testimony (Weber & Brewer, 2008)
  16. 16. ALCOHOL MYOPIA THEORY • Proposes that alcohol narrows the perceptual field, thereby making people more responsive to salient information and less responsive to peripheral information Josephs & Steele, 1990
  17. 17. MEMORY COMPLETENESS • Women who were most intoxicated provided less information than their counterparts 24 hours and 4 months later Flowe et al., 2016
  18. 18. MEMORY ACCURACY • No differences in accuracy depending on alcohol intoxication • Women most accurate about the central (i.e., perpetrator) details compared to peripheral (e.g., bystanders) details they reported, regardless of intoxication level .000 .100 .200 .300 .400 .500 .600 .700 .800 .900 Placebo Medium HighAccuracy Central Peripheral Flowe et al., 2016
  19. 19. ALCOHOL-MEMORY TIMELINE Peak Blood Alcohol Concentration Fragmentary/En bloc memory loss Retrograde Facilitation Time Wixted, 2005
  20. 20. MEMORY SUGGESTIBILITY • Suggestibility refers to the reporting of erroneous information due to exposure to misleading questions (immediate suggestibility) or incorrect information that is later recalled (delayed suggestibility) • Few studies have examined the impact of alcohol on suggestibility and findings have been mixed (e.g., Gawrylowicz et al., 2017)
  21. 21. REPEATED INTERVIEWS Initial account VRI Time VRI Time A B Research suggests accuracy will be higher over time in scenario A relative to scenario B Alcohol intoxication Alcohol intoxication
  22. 22. REPEATED INTERVIEWS Initial account VRI Time VRI Time A B Research suggests accuracy will be higher over time in scenario A relative to scenario B Alcohol intoxication Alcohol intoxication
  24. 24. SIX RECOMMENDATIONS • Do not avoid interviewing because they were intoxicated at the time of the rape • Establish rapport with the complainant prior to the interview • Allow the complainant to control the level of detail in their testimony • Avoid focusing on the complainant’s memory for peripheral information • Probe the complainant’s memory for relevant events that occurred before intoxication
  25. 25. DO NOT AVOID INTERVIEWING • Initial account should be obtained as soon as possible, even if they are still intoxicated • Body cam • potentially persuasive evidence too intoxicated to consent • May support the credibility of a complainant • Balance against concerns that such footage may perpetuate stereotypical and judgemental perspectives • Blood alcohol will be decreasing
  26. 26. ESTABLISH RAPPORT • One of the most important investigative tools • Influence complainant engagement • Complainant knows their account ‘will be heard, accepted and not judged’ (Powell et al) • Reassaure not at fault or responsible • Encourage to speak truthfully about their levels of intoxication • Increased risk of developing PTSD
  27. 27. COMPLAINANT TO CONTROL THEIR TESTIMONY • Serves to increase the overall accuracy • Repeated questioning may lead to inconsistency and undermine credibility • ‘I don’t know’ - mistaken assumption regarding the ability to remember everything
  28. 28. PROTECT FROM SUGGESTIBLE INFLUENCES • Memory can be affected by suggestible influences • Conflicting results regarding the impact of alcohol • Mainly use open-ended questions
  29. 29. AVOID FOCUSING ON PERIPHERAL DETAILS • Focus upon the central facts • Questions regarding peripheral factors likely accumulate uncertain responses • Recall of central elements will not be any less accurate
  30. 30. PROVE FOR RELEVANT EVENTS PRIOR TO INTOXICATION • May be value in probing for information • May help identify witnesses • May help identify other lines of evidence
  31. 31. THOUGHTS AND REFLECTIONS • Views on the suggestions • How do you see these working in practice? • What can we do to take these forward and to support implementation? • Any other potential developments – i.e. jury directions?