The following is a vignette of the Juliette’s House forensic assessment process and how remodeling our interview rooms will make a difference:
Nora* has just finished her medical exam at Juliette’s House and now it’s time for her forensic interview. The interviewer leads her down the hallway, back into the room she saw on her tour earlier. They go into the room and the interviewer closes the door. Nora sits down at a small table in the middle of the room where paper and markers are already waiting for her. The room is cozy with a funny framed print of a rabbit on one wall and a colorful quilt on another. There are two armchairs and a small end table at the other end of the room, but Nora wanted to sit at the table so she could draw while she talked to the interviewer – they said she could choose.
During the interview, she starts telling the interviewer about the place where the abuse happened the most – her bedroom. The interviewer asks her if she can draw a picture of her bedroom and label what’s in it, like her bed, her dresser, and her big dollhouse. While Nora works on this picture, a camera, controlled in another room by the pediatrician who just did her checkup, zooms in on the drawing. Another camera, also controlled by the pediatrician, focuses on Nora’s face and catches the fat tears that roll down her cheeks in embarrassment as she talks about what would happen most nights when her mom was at work and her mom’s boyfriend was left at home to babysit Nora and her brother. The interviewer hands Nora a tissue from the table and reminds Nora that they can take a break if she needs to. Nora says she okay and hugs the stuffed pony she picked out earlier that morning when she came to Juliette’s House.
After a few minutes, Nora gets up from the table, walks over to the wall and slides down it. She’s now sitting on the floor, holding her pony and her knees. The pediatrician observing the interview moves the camera to follow Nora to her new position and the interviewer continues with the interview, allowing Nora to dictate where she is most comfortable talking.
The interviewer reflects to herself that before the interview room was remodeled it was very difficult when children did what Nora is doing. It used to be that there was a single, fixed (not moveable) camera and a single microphone that could not pick up a child’s voice if they were not seated at the counter facing an intimidating, often-distracting, wall-sized mirror that had the camera behind it. The interviewer had to repeat back all of the child’s statements if they were outside the range of the microphone and if the child chose to sit on the floor, most places in the room they would be off-camera. This was particularly difficult for the cases that went to trial because it meant jury members could not see the child’s face and the subtleties of their facial expressions. They could not hear the child’s voice if they were not directly in front of the microphone. And drawings could be seen after the fact, but they were less impactful because jury members could not watch the child actually create them.
Yes, the newly designed interview room led to a much more relaxing experience for the child and a much higher quality documentation of her statement at Juliette’s House. It allowed the child so much more flexibility in how they told their story, whether that was sitting at the table coloring, sitting in an armchair talking, or laying on the floor with a stuffed animal and blanket.
Toward the end of her interview, Nora made her way back to the table and sat down. The interviewer asked Nora if she had any questions for the interviewer. Nora asked, “When can I come back here . . .?”
*Name changed for privacy