Arizona Attorney General

Mark Brnovich

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How Do You Talk To A Person You Think Is Abused or Neglected?

1. Establish trust/rapport
2. Get a general narrative of what happened
3. Get more specifics on what happened
4. Close with "friendly" conversation

The first step to an effective interview is to establish a trusting relationship with the victim. The victim is more apt to talk with you if they are comfortable with you and feel that you are being supportive. If this is your first meeting with the victim, start the conversation by talking about common interests or general topics to help make them more comfortable.

The next step is to gather information. Your initial questions should be broad and open-ended to encourage a free-flow narrative response. For example "I see you have a bruise, tell me what happened" or "Tell me more about your daughter and your checking account." It’s best to limit your interruptions while the victim is talking to give the victim a chance to "open up." If the victim is reluctant to answer your broad questions, you can ask more direct questions that can be answered with short or one-word answers. You can also use direct questions to clarify the information given in the narrative. Do not move into interrogative questioning at this point. Don’t challenge the victim’s truthfulness or probe too intensively. Your role is simply to gather enough information to make a report. The police and/or APS will conduct a more detailed investigation of the abuse or neglect.

At some point, it may also be helpful for you to explain to the victim the benefits of cooperation (for example, they don’t deserve this abuse, they deserve respect, they are not alone, there are services available to help them and the abuser).

As you conclude the conversation talk about issues not related to the abuse (such as their home, pets, décor etc.). This will close out the interview on a friendly note and help to reinforce the trusting relationship.

The following suggestions make it easier to talk about abuse with someone who may be experiencing abuse or neglect.

  • Include yourself: "I am really concerned about you…"
  • Show sensitivity to their feelings: "I know it is very hard to talk about such personal matters…"
  • Be specific: "I haven’t seen you in over a week and today I noticed a bruise on your face…"
  • Be non-judgmental and non-threatening: "This is nothing you should be ashamed of or embarrassed about…"
  • Respect the older adult’s right to make their own decisions in their own time.
  • Empower the older adult to take responsibility and action.
  • Help the older adult find the professional help and social services he or she needs.