Required Videotaping Of Child Abuse Victims?

April 18, 1998

The mere presence of videotape equipment may prevent reluctant children from disclosing details of their abuse.

On Wednesday, April 1, 1998, the Ohio House of Representatives passed House Bill 668, a day care bill. Ordinarily, a new day care law would have little impact on law enforcement agencies, but an amendment which was added just before the bill was passed could affect nearly all police agencies: it requires the videotaping of the initial interview of children alleged to be victims of abuse.

After a lengthy debate, Representative Jim Jordan gained support for his videotaping amendment by a vote of 58 to 36, despite arguments that it represented an unfunded mandate on local governments, and that it needed further debate. Jordan argued that videotaping protects individuals from being falsely accused. In addition, he said, it enables investigators to get the "real story".

Representative Cheryl Winkler opposed the amendment saying it is already part of a bill sponsored by Representative Pringle which is still under consideration by the Family Services Committee. And Representative James Mason argued that videotaping a child would have a "chilling effect" on the testimony of child abuse victims; it is often difficult to convince those children to discuss their abuse, even without a videotaped interview. But Representative William Batchelder (R-Medina) countered by saying "It's about time we do this. We have a situation in Cuyahoga County where young people are being taken out of homes without an idea why it is done."

The videotaping of alleged child abuse victims is not new. The Akron Children's Hospital Medical Center, which investigates a large number of child abuse complaints, has the equipment available to videotape the initial interview of a victim of reported child abuse. Children's Hospital staff does not automatically videotape such interviews, but they will do so upon request. The Orrville Police Department has begun videotaping child abuse victims, but no other law enforcement agency in Wayne County has the capability of videotaping every interview, nor does the Wayne County Children's Services Board.

Should this new requirement become law, the cost to local law enforcement could be staggering. In addition to the cost of outfitting police departments with videotape equipment, they must also bear the expense of training officers to properly perform such an interview. The videotaped interviews will become a permanent record of the child's very first statement, which defense counsel will pick apart in an effort to show that there is evidence of leading questions, suggestions or fabrications. And the mere presence of videotape equipment may prevent reluctant children from disclosing details of their abuse. Although a properly conducted, videotaped interview of a child abuse victim will certainly be helpful in obtaining a conviction, there may be a large number of child abuse complaints that go unprosecuted for lack of a proper videotaped interview.

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