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FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. - A revolutionary approach to interviewing sexual assault victims, created by a Fort Leonard Wood researcher, is obtaining more information about crimes - potentially leading to more offender prosecutions.
Russell Strand, Behavioral Sciences Education and Training Division chief, U.S. Army Military Police School, developed the Forensic Experiential Trauma Interview, or FETI, technique over several years. The technique is based on neuroscience research combining the best practices of child forensic interviews and critical incident stress debriefings.
"The actual technique really came together following assistance the U.S. Army Military Police School provided following the November 2009, mass shooting at Fort Hood, Texas. The first use of the FETI, as we now know it, was (when) conducting re-interviews of survivors of that terrible tragedy," he explained.
Strand said strides in the study of the neuroscience of trauma, over the past five to 15 years, have greatly impacted his research.
Because law enforcement investigations are designed more for witnesses rather than victims, Strand said he developed the forensic experiential trauma interview as a way to interview victims without making them relive the assault in a re-victimizing manner.
Through neuroscience research, he said, he found that part of the forefront of the brain shuts down or is slow to recall key parts of a trauma during an attack. But a primitive part of the brain stem almost instantly records the event accurately.
"When we studied the neuroscience, we identified numerous gaps in which traditional interview techniques may not be as effective, and in some ways actually harmful in obtaining significant information about the experiences of trauma survivors. The FETI was specifically developed to enhance memory and better understand the experience in the most natural way possible," Strand said.
Since 2009, more than 1,397 special agents and prosecutors from each branch of the military have taken Forensic Experiential Trauma Interview training as part of the Special Victims Unit Investigations course, Strand said. The Department of Defense has funded more than 400 seats per year for the FETI special victims unit course, through fiscal year 2017.
More than 10,000 military and civilian investigators, prosecutors, victim advocates, health care professionals and mental-health professionals have been trained in the use of FETI, according to Strand.
Currently, more than 150 national, international, state and local multidisciplinary agencies and organizations have requested and received education on the FETI technique. Colleges, universities, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice are a few of the organizations the U.S. Army Military Police School Behavioral Sciences Education and Training Division is currently working with to provide education on the FETI.
"The FETI technique is currently used by military and civilian prosecutors, investigators, detectives and agents. Victim advocates, medical personnel and other professional first responders across the country are being educated on the principles of FETI, to assist them in a better understanding of the neuroscience of trauma and to avoid potentially harmful questions and responses," Strand said. The reports of sexual assault increased in 2013, according to DoD Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office statistics.
"The department assesses this increase in reports as consistent with a growing level of confidence in our response system, and as a sign that victims trust us to treat and care for them," Strand said.
Strand said his goal through FETI is to bring the military prevalence rates down, while making sure that cultural change occurs regarding sexual assault.
"Although it is difficult to identify specific reasons for this dramatic increase, anecdotal evidence from agents, prosecutors and victims strongly suggest the manner in which we are now collecting significant information about the experience and victim impact certainly has a positive impact on this increase," Strand said.
"The FETI has been shown to yield significantly more information, specifically information to assist us in determining the impact of the experience on the individual. The hallmark of trauma is that it is life changing. This technique assists us in a better understanding of not only the traumatic event, but also the impact of that experience," he added.
The FETI technique has been successfully used following numerous high stress and traumatic experiences.
"Stress and trauma are experienced generally in the same manner regardless of the source," Strand said.
Strand said he is committed to continued research and analysis to refine the FETI technique and explore other potential promising best practices.