Sexual abuse: Criticism of practice in child surveys

Sexual abuse: Criticism of practice in child surveys



If a child is questioned about alleged sexual abuse, a person of trust is usually allowed to be present. An affected mother, two lawyers and victim support criticize that there is too little attention paid to the law in the canton of Bern.

It’s a story that raises questions: A mother and father from the Bern region suspect that their child may have been sexually abused by someone outside the family. This because her child hinted at something.

The parents file a complaint with the police. This then forwards the procedure to the Bern child protection group, which conducts interviews with four to six-year-old children if there is a suspicion of child abuse.

Mother criticizes the conduct of the survey

However, the mother, who would like to remain anonymous for data protection reasons, criticizes the survey – she as parents and her daughter were not well prepared for it. “We have not been informed that our daughter can take someone she trusts with her. It was said that the questioning will take place alone. Point,” says the mother to SRF-Regionaljournal.

questioning child

Legend: The mother, father or person of trust is not always allowed to take part in a child survey. Colourbox

This, although this in the Code of Criminal Procedure be held. It says: “The victim can be accompanied by a person of trust in all procedural acts.” But according to the law, it is also possible to exclude them from the procedure.

Exclusion of trusted person possible

open box Box zuklappen

A person of trust can be, for example, the father or the mother or a person from the environment – depending on who the allegations of abuse are directed at. According to the law, the authorities can exclude the person of trust from the procedure if they could “exercise a decisive influence” on the child.

The descriptions of the mother are obviously not isolated. Linda Borner from the Lantana Victim Support Center for Sexualized Violence says that parents or their legal representatives are not comprehensively informed about their rights when children are interviewed.

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In the canton of Fribourg, on the other hand, the bodies that conducted child surveys, provide information much more proactively than in the canton of Bern. This is what Laura Jost says, a lawyer at the Institute for Child Representation in the Canton of Bern.

Such a questioning about sexualised violence is an extreme situation for children.

In the event of suspected sexual abuse, the relatives and the mothers or fathers receive support from Lantana, the specialist center for victim support in the event of sexualised violence. Linda Borner from the specialist department thinks that it is always an advantage for the children if a person they trust is present during the survey. “Such a questioning about sexualised violence is an extreme situation for children.”

It is more protective of the children when they are unable to feel their mother’s or father’s emotions and simply tell them about them.

Mischa Oesch is the lead psychologist at the child protection group. She says it doesn’t matter to the children whether a person they trust is present during the survey or not. “19 years of experience with child surveys show that children are more protective when they are unable to feel their mother’s or father’s emotions and simply not be able to tell them.” The primary goal is that the children’s statements can be used in criminal proceedings. Most of the people they trust are usually also part of the party there.

Police need usable statements

Like the child protection group, the cantonal police are primarily concerned with the fact that the children’s statements can be used as evidence. “We have to assess on a case-by-case basis whether a person of trust could be influential or not,” says Barbara Schärrer, who is responsible for sexual offenses at the Kapo in Bern. Around 200 child surveys take place there every year.

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Schärrer emphasizes that before the interrogation, a conversation takes place with the accompanying person, where appropriate leaflets with information on persons of trust are distributed and the matter is explained to the people.

Regional journal Bern Freiburg Valais, 03/01/2023, 5:30 p.m.;

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