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Questioning eased for young sex-assault victims

Updated: 2016-10-10 07:53
By Zhou Wenting in Shanghai (China Daily)

Questioning eased for young sex-assault victims

Toys and warm colors can be seen in an interview room designated for juvenile victims in Shanghai.[Photo by ZHOU WENTING/CHINA DAILY]

Shanghai prosecutors and police are conducting joint inquiries into crimes involving juvenile victims for the first time in the country in an effort to prevent secondary damage to the victims who, in the past, had to recount their traumatic experience multiple times to different investigators.

The new practice, which was adopted in August 2015, was recently recommended for use nationwide by the country's top prosecuting agency, according to Wu Yan, director of juvenile prosecutions for the Shanghai People's Procuratorate, on Sunday.

A review of 451 cases investigated from the beginning of 2014 to August this year, in which the victim was under the age of 18, found that most involved rape or sexual assault of a child. About 60 percent of the victims were under the age of 14.

In the past, victims were asked to sit down with police officers and prosecutors separately during different stages of case investigations. Now, those sessions are combined in a room specially designed to make the victims feel safe and comfortable. There are stuffed toys, picture books and a graffiti wall in a room painted in warm colors. Young victims and their parents talk with police officers and prosecutors at a round table or on a sofa to get closer to each other, Wu said.

This is different from a regular interview room, where the walls are white and questioners wear police uniforms, said Zhu Ming, deputy director of the legal affairs office of Public Security Bureau in Fengxian district.

"The minors often feel really nervous and feel they've made mistakes when officers in uniforms ask questions in a hurried manner and when the environment is serious. Often they are scared to tears or just don't utter a word," Zhu said.

But it's important to get the minors to talk because such cases usually don't have a witness and suspects typically deny wrongdoing.

Yao Qiannan, deputy director of juvenile prosecutions for the prosecuting agency in Fengxian, said when a 4-year-old victim in a rape case was interviewed last year, she kept silent for hours. The officers spent three hours singing and sharing candy with her and finally won her over.

"We used a toy bear to let the child point to the part of body the suspect touched and show how he touched. We ultimately leveled rape charges against the suspect because there was enough consistent subjective and objective evidence," Yao said.

Yao said investigators usually avoid talking about the details of a sexual assault at the beginning. Instead, they may spend considerable time - even hours - playing with the children first to establish a trusting relationship.

The questions and the way they are asked are codesigned by police officers, prosecutors and experienced psychologists to guide the minors to accurately recount the crucial details of a case, Yao said.

She said psychologists also pay attention to a child's state after the inquiry if the child shows symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, such as fear of being left alone or having nightmares.

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