Trauma informed perspective on sexual assault

By: Sgt. Cody Cooper, 133rd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

Approaching military sexual assault cases from a trauma informed perspective by implementation of the Forensic Experiential Trauma Interview technique demonstrates a new approach to addressing sexual assault without re-traumatizing the victim and can provide accurate details for an effective case disposition. The Kentucky National Guard trained on the new technique for the first time in August, 2017. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Cody Cooper)

FRANKFORT, Ky. — Investigators, prosecutors, defense attorneys, victim advocates, healthcare personnel and military and civilian law enforcement officials gathered to engage in a groundbreaking response technique in Frankfort, Ky., Aug. 5-8, 2017. The technique that was discussed was the Forensic Experiential Trauma Interview (FETI), which has been proven successful in research-based studies.

“The goal of FETI is to provide an advanced trauma-informed interview technique to elicit relevant, creditable information without re-traumatizing the victim,” said Dave Markel, an independent trainer and sexual assault consultant expert.

Typically, officials may approach traumatized victims with questions that refer to typical interview questions such as who, what, when, where, and why. This interview technique puts the victims in a perspective that he or she has witnessed the crime committed to (upon) them, which can lead to inaccurate information and details. Thus, having discrepancies in a victim’s story may deter and harm an attorney’s case for their client. However, if an investigator or attorney uses the right technique that allows the victim to express their story in his or her own words then it can lead to a stronger and captivating case.

This was the first time Kentucky National Guard personnel were trained on the FETI technique. Participants, including Sexual Assault Response Coordinators and Victim Advocates are constantly seeking proactive and effective ways to deal with sexual abuse.

“The FETI Training was beneficial to our Victim Advocates who attended because they learned a new conversational technique that will help them build rapport and gather information from survivors of sexual assault during the initial intake,” said 2nd Lt. Sean Embry, Victim Advocate Coordinator. “Although this technique is not therapy, it is reported to have therapeutic effects by victims who have participated.”

The FETI technique is an effective scientific approach that asks open-ended questions to bring to surface representational details and truthful evidence. By using the word experience, we are acknowledging to the victim that he or she did not witness the crime but rather he or she experienced the crime, said Markel, by doing this, it puts the victim in control of the interview and allows him or her to express what they feel is comfortable.

Allowing the trauma victim to express their story in their own words is one of the many things the participants learned during the two-day course. They also learned what other traditional sexual assault technique fail to adopt. That is the learning of how trauma affects the brain, which impacts behavior as well as memory. Through learning how trauma affects victims, the participants are able enhance the credibility of their clients by understanding their client’s viewpoint and asking the right questions.

“FETI is more than just an interview technique, the concept for the training is to be able to approach sexual assault cases with a trauma informed perspective,” said Lt. Col. Natalie Lewellen, the Staff Judge Advocate for the Kentucky National Guard.

Approaching military sexual assault cases from a trauma informed perspective by implementation of the FETI technique demonstrates a new approach to addressing sexual assault without re-traumatizing the victim and can provide accurate details for an effective case disposition. Moreover, the wide range of representatives attending the event allowed for more information on dealing with trauma-based victims to be circulated through every level in the process that sexual assault cases are worked through.

Staff Sgt. Paulette Terry, Chief Paralegal, for the Joint Force Headquarters said, “We (the Kentucky National Guard) have made leaps and bounds in regards to our response in sexual assault. Educating JAG attorneys, paralegals, Victim Advocate’s, and commanders with FETI training will not only assist in responding to sexual assault, but also promote much needed cultural change within our ranks.”

About sraymond