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Thread: How trauma affects memory and recall

  1. #1
    State Researcher
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    Jul 2006

    How trauma affects memory and recall

    I just read a fascinating article on the KSL website about a study conducted by researchers at BYU of a new sexual assault victim interview protocol implemented by the West Valley City (suburb of Salt Lake City) police department.

    While the protocol, study, and article are all about sexual assault, the key elements regarding how trauma affects memory and recall, and how police and prosecutors can best deal with these realities so as to successfully pursue charges against the assailants, I can't help but believe that very similar dynamics must be at play in the aftermath of a self-defense situation.

    I would not presume to try to compare the relative level of trauma between being sexual assaulted and having to use a firearm in self defense. Indeed, ideally, attempted sexual assaults would result in the intended victim using a firearm to end the attack before any physical harm is inflicted. But it seems the levels are both high enough to impose similar effects on memory and recall if I'm not reading too much into the article.

    Others, more familiar than I with protections afforded police officers by their unions can provide details about how long officers have after a shooting before they are subjected to any official questioning.

    Some fair use excerpts from the article:

    Quote Originally Posted by KSL
    The detective let [the victim] talk without grilling her for information. He listened closely without fixating on the small, specific details she had trouble recalling. He didn't expect her to get through everything in one meeting, and would continue to work with and update her over time.


    The department credits the protocol with more than tripling its number of successfully prosecuted sexual assault cases, as compared with a sample of cases [throughout Salt Lake County in which the city is located] dating back to 2003.


    [The BYU researcher] called the access to the police department, its officers and the processes "unprecedented," noting she couldn't find a similar study anywhere in the country to compare it to.


    Part of that meant understanding how victims' memory is impacted by trauma, influencing the kinds of details they may or may not retain, and the best way to help them recall that information, [the WVC police chief] said.

    Memory of a traumatic event does not play like streaming video, [the WVC police chief] explained, meaning earlier police interview tactics seeking a precise timeline of who, what, where and how were often counterproductive.

    "We have learned that if we slow things down for a victim, if we recognize the trauma and the process that the victims are going through in their recollections, we more often can be succesful in obtaining better information, support and cooperation, which leads us to more successful outcomes — not just for the prosecution of cases, but for the healing of victims," [the WVC police chief] said.


    Before the interview protocol was established, 26 percent of officers said they believed that most sexual assault reports by adults were false, according to the survey. At the end of a year, that number was cut to 13 percent.

    Now, other departments are seeking training on West Valley's interview protocol, which the department is eager to share, [the WVC police chief]said. The interview principles hold true for victims and witnesses in any number of trauma-related cases, from domestic violence to robbery to homicide.

    (emphasis added)

    I may need to contact the WVC PD chief to see if they are using the same protocol for those who claim self-defense in the wake of a shooting.

    In any event, if anyone needed it, another good data point backing up "user's" oft-stated counsel to KYBMS and talk to your criminal defense attorney in the wake of any self-defense incident.

    Last edited by utbagpiper; 04-14-2016 at 11:24 PM.
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