In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, law enforcement officers are using innovative tactics to connect with victims for investigations and to ensure they get the support they need. Ordinary activities, such as meeting for in-person interviews, can be complicated or even impossible right now. Survivors may be quarantined, they may be in another community or state and unable to travel, or they may be otherwise limited by “stay at home” restrictions. Some agencies, like New York State Police, are using virtual meeting software to interview victims, and they are including victim advocates in that process just like they would when scheduling a traditional interview.
Although there are some concerns about the privacy and security of virtual meeting platforms, we believe the technology is worth exploring. Therefore, we outline several steps that can be taken to mitigate any risks that might compromise a survivor’s safety and well-being.
Using Virtual Meeting Software and Cameras
A virtual meeting, where each person uses a camera and audio to link up through a smart phone, tablet, or computer, can be a highly effective way to connect remotely. Interacting using cameras creates the closest replica of an in-person interview.
Cameras show body language and expressions, which gives law enforcement a better opportunity to build rapport with victims and convey empathy and understanding. We know that these connections are key to maintaining survivor involvement through the criminal justice process. Cameras also allow advocates to better support survivors. Visually reading the victims’ emotions and reactions helps advocates recognize when they might need to ask for a break or offer extra encouragement.
One investigator who regularly uses virtual meeting software to communicate with victims and advocates is New York State Police Investigator Matthew Stegner of the Campus Sexual Assault Victims Unit. He shares a number of tips for investigators.