OGDEN, Utah — As a teen growing up in northern Utah, Anastasia Pili fell in love with the law. And at the tender age of 23, she believes she’s found her life’s calling.
Pili’s passion for justice steered her toward criminal justice, and she majored in that field at Weber State University, graduating in 2015. Pili also earned a minor in Child and Family Studies. That academic training, combined with her own life experience, landed her the job of Weber County’s first forensic interviewer for the Weber Morgan Children’s Justice Center (CJC) in Ogden.
Utah currently has 23 such centers throughout the state, where personnel are tasked with interviewing and examining children who are crime victims. For the past 13 years, Rod Layton has served as executive director of the CJC in Ogden, which has now become the fifth in Utah to hire a forensic interviewer to undertake that difficult but needed mission.
Pili described her role as that of a neutral fact-finder.
“Whenever a case is open with law enforcement or the Division of Child and Family Services that involves any type of abuse — whether sexual or physical — that directly endangers a child, they interview them here,” Pili said of their facilities in the former Becker family home.
“We let them provide a narrative account of what occurred to them, so it’s not an interrogation,” Pili said of the interview that ultimately gets sent to law enforcement and Child Protective Services for use in court “in hopes the child won’t have to testify at a preliminary hearing.”
Since starting in mid-March, Pili has conducted 110 such interviews, a sizable number considering her predecessor did 144 over an entire year.
“There’s two areas of thought across Utah,” Layton said. “One is you get somebody who is more experienced and has been doing it a long time, and the other is you get somebody who’s brand new and you start with a clean slate. I prefer the second option. Each center is a little different on who they feel that person should be, and I’m just glad I have Ana because she’s fit exactly what I was looking for and it’s worked out very, very well.”
In the past, law enforcement officers have typically filled that role, but they tend to slip into interrogation mode, Layton said
“One thing we look for is personality type — can she blend in with a team of people who have been doing this a long time and is she teachable” Layton said, noting that some who have worked in the business a long time acquired bad habits that are hard to break.
Pili said she relies on her training, along with pointers and insights from a multidisciplinary team made up of professionals from law enforcement, child protective services, schools, mental health and the legal profession.
But Layton cautioned that this type of work takes a toll.
“I’ve had detectives come up here, and eight to nine months later they say, ‘I’m out of here, I’m not doing this.’ These are different from any other cases you’ll work in law enforcement,” Layton said.
While empathetic by nature, Pili withholds emotion during the interview process. She’s also keenly aware that anything she does can be seen as leading or persuading the child.
“I’m not a therapist or the child’s advocate. I feel for the kids though, and it’s hard to hear the tragic, horrible events that happen to them,” Pili said. “You watch their hearts break as they retell their stories — you can see it on their face, you can hear it in their voice. You can see it happening to them.”
She also takes heart in their resilience.
“It surprised me how strong the kids are when they’re talking about their abuse. They don’t always cry, they’re not always a mess, they’re very factual about it,” Pili said. “And you can see this weight lifted off them when they leave the interview. They told their story fully, and it’s a little bit off of their shoulders.”
The kids and teens Pili interviews would likely love it if she gave them hugs or said she was sorry about what happened to them.
“But that’s not what helps the child,” Pili said. “What helps the child is me doing my job the best way that I can — getting the evidence and the facts so the detective and CPS can put the perpetrator away and make sure it doesn’t happen to this child anymore.”
And for Pili, this is where it gets personal: “I’ve been in similar situations, and more than anything I wish someone would have done this job for me.”
Information from: Standard-Examiner, http://www.standard.net