Child Abuse: Munchausen’s Syndrome By Proxy

Frequently, obtaining a court order for videotaping is considerably less complicated when the request omits sound because judges do not have to consider wire tap laws.2 However, sound is not a critical element in videotapes of MSBP cases that involve suffocation, poisoning, or fabrication through simulation.

If investigators suspect that a child is being poisoned, they should collect relevant evidence, such as tubing, I.V.s, and needles. Other possible evidence might include towels that offenders use to suffocate their victims or medicine bottles that suspected abusers bring into the hospital.

Investigators should also check bio-hazard containers and garbage cans for evidence. In addition, they should check receptacles used to store urine or stool if foreign matter is present in these items.

And finally, in hospitals, investigators should be aware of any missing syringes or other medical equipment. Because MSBP offenders sometimes use items of opportunity, they obtain instruments from hospitals to abuse their victims.

Arrest Of Offenders

When there is sufficient proof in an MSBP case, investigators should arrest the offender quickly. This will preclude relocation, further injury to the child, or self-inflicted injury by the offender.

However, arresting an abuser in front of the victim causes unnecessary trauma to the child, who may view the offender as an ideal caretaker. At this juncture in the case, investigators may find it helpful to elicit the help of medical personnel who can reasonably explain the situation to the child.

Interviewing The Offender

Some investigators are affected by the fact that certain offenders are suspected of child abuse. However, in order to interview the offender successfully, it is important to always maintain a neutral position.

During the interview, many offenders will continue to deny their guilt, even when confronted with videotapes that prove intentional abuse. In some cases, they may not even recognize that they have a problem until the magnitude of the offense is brought to their attention. However, a subtle suggestion to offenders that their continued denial of guilt could lead to the untimely death of their child may be a useful interview technique.

Although MSBP offenders intentionally abuse their children, they may truly love them. That love may eventually extend beyond the fear of punishment and the shame they feel to provide an excellent avenue of dialogue between the offender and the interviewer. This dialogue is especially important in cases of unidentified poisonings, where the ability of medical personnel or investigators to determine the source of the poison directly affects the future health of the child.

When interviewing MSBP offenders, investigators should understand that the offenders need to have a feeling of self-worth. It is important for investigators to discuss the offenders’ families and personal histories in an effort to build a rapport with them. It is also important for investigators to be aware that it is likely that the offenders were also abused as children.