Statement on showing child sexual abuse material to victims during forensic interviews

For Immediate Release

The following is a statement from the Phoenix 11 shared at a conference hosted by The American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children:

As survivors of child sexual abuse material (or “CSAM”), some of us have lived the horrifying experience of being shown our own abuse imagery. We want to state that this should not happen. This interviewing practice has made us feel mortified, and exposed us all over again. It is a traumatic experience that places an unnecessary burden on survivors. It is a fear and anxiety we now have to carry with us and work to heal from.

For some of us, our protective parents were also shown our imagery. We can’t unsee these images, and neither can they. They will haunt us, and them, forever. Let us be clear, we believe this should not happen.

We ask, in what situation would this ever be necessary? We ask you not to treat survivors, especially those who are still children, as a piece of evidence. Have a greater focus on victim rights and protection than on criminal rights.

A practice we have experienced is that with cases that have CSAM documentation the police only validate what is able to be proven on film. In some cases victims were told they were giving “incorrect” information during their report and were argued against because it wasn’t on film.

Some survivors experienced officers asking unnecessary questions, such as “what color were”, “what was this.” These questions alone will be triggering for victims, and are useless. These details are not on the victim to verify.

We also feel victims should not be interviewed by someone who has seen their imagery. For most victims there is shame or embarrassment about the CSAM so to be told that you are in a room with someone who has seen it can cause feelings of shame. It also gives the interviewer a biased scope on what they believe happened versus what the victim is saying happened. This practice in interviewing could also cause a victim to shut down entirely. Why should a victim explain details of the CSAM if the person has already said that they have seen it?

We have a document called Insights from the Phoenix 11 for Law Enforcement Working with Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse Material, which covers our collective thoughts on this issue. We have shared our perspectives as the survivors who deal with the trauma of these practices because we believe change is necessary.

Please take time to review our document and consider what we have shared in it, drawn from our experiences as survivors, and consider that just because something has been done one way for so long, doesn’t mean it’s the right or only way.