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The Child Protection Unit (CPU) holds a police training session on child interviewing techniques in Phnom Penh
The Child Protection Unit (CPU) holds a police training session on child interviewing techniques in Phnom Penh yesterday. Vireak Mai

Police get primer on interviewing children

Sitting in groups around tables, two dozen National Police officers read from training handouts featuring a picture of a battered girl in the front.

Each officer came to the training sessions this week to learn how to interview similar victims.

The training is on questioning “vulnerable victims who may have suffered the worst crimes imaginable”, said John Geden, a volunteer training coordinator for the Cambodian Children’s Fund (CCF) and the Kingdom’s Child Protection Unit (CPU). “What we are teaching is a professional approach whereby a prosecutor and a judge receive a detailed account, whereby they won’t feel the need to interview [a child victim] again.”

Repeated interviews can re-traumatise children, and cause them to feel that people think they are lying, he said.

National Police officers from 15 provinces across the country attended the week-long workshop, said James McCabe, CPU’s director of operations. Geden said 23 women and one man attended the course, which is sponsored by CCF.

The lopsided gender ratio was designed to give children a maximum amount of comfort while answering questions about distressing events said Mok Chito, a deputy National Police commissioner.

“We have learned that the use of female police officers when interviewing children is the most successful,” Chito said. “Especially with girls who were raped or sexually abused, because this way they don’t feel shame.”

The course is the first of its kind in Cambodia, Geden said at one of the sessions held at the capital’s Icon building yesterday. Attendees learn about how a child thinks, how to build a rapport with a victimised child and how to extract a testimony solid enough to put a perpetrator behind bars without inducing further trauma, he said.

Child victims must be treated in a specialised manner when being interviewed by law enforcement officials about being victimised, especially in cases of sexual abuse or violence, McCabe said. More than adults, children are prone to accidentally giving conflicting testimony, forgetting certain details and feeling intimidated by having their story questioned.

“One of the primary reasons [for the training] is if we elicit a good and credible statement in the first place, it will take the pressure off the child possibly having to recant,” McCabe said. “[The training is] all about memory, the way children respond to questions, rapport, interview techniques, dealing with irresponsive children.”

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