Morbihan: a legal assistance dog to facilitate the hearings of minor victims

Created in February 2020, the Vannes Family Protection Unit (CPF) is made up of seven soldiers who take care of and support victims of VIF and acts of a sexual nature. In 2021, 443 victims were interviewed, including 337 minors. Indeed, the investigators of this unit are specialized in collecting the words of child victims. Nevertheless, expressing the unspeakable, being confronted again with the facts during the hearing, the legal process and the sight of the uniform can be disturbing and block speech. Some victims are unable to overcome the trauma associated with the hardships endured. It was in view of this observation that Warrant Officer Muriel offered to take in a legal assistance dog.

Dogs especially trained

To make this project a reality, a partnership was signed with the Handi’chiens association. Created in 1989 and recognized as being of public utility, it ensures the acquisition, then the education, for two years, of specialized dogs which will be made available to various beneficiaries: assistance dog for people with disabilities, dog awakening for children with autism and Down’s syndrome, companion dog for the elderly, legal assistance dog, etc Selected in a pedigree dog breeding, the animal is handed over to a foster family at the age of two months, in order to socialize and pre-educate it. From the age of 18 months, he is trained by educators in one of the four centers of the association, before being handed over to future beneficiaries six months later. Since its creation, Handi’chiens has trained and handed over more than 2,700 dogs.

© CabCom Bretagne / MDC C.HAUTIER

On November 19, it was with a mixture of joy and emotion that Warrant Officer Muriel was handed over to Rumba, a two-year-old fawn golden retriever dog, at the center of the Handi’chiens de Kunheim association. , in Alsace (68). Rumba is not a dog like the others. Affectionate and sociable, she shows great empathy and is particularly gentle with children. Embodying tenderness and serenity, she is very protective and loves to snuggle up with young and old alike. His presence before, during and after the hearings must thus make it possible to reassure and facilitate the testimony of the children, by promoting the construction of a relationship of trust between the investigator and the victim, by reducing the somatic and physiological symptoms of stress and anxiety, by establishing a climate of confidence necessary for the release of speech, by providing emotional support and by stimulating the child’s attention. The aim is to help the most vulnerable victims and witnesses to express themselves, by mitigating the sometimes traumatic nature of the judicial process.

One investment collective

While the Handi’chiens association is largely funding the project, the Vannes family protection unit had to find other partners to help cover the costs of acquisition, training of the dog and its referent. , maintenance, veterinary care, food and insurance. The Morbihan prefecture, the France Victimes 56, Alexis Danan de Bretagne and la Voix de l’Enfant associations, the Brocéliande Atlantique hospital centre, the Diana Pet Food company and several local pet shops have thus participated in financing this innovative approach.

© CabCom Bretagne / MDC C.HAUTIER

The warrant officer was also very involved and invested in this project. After convincing her superiors and actively participating in the search for partners, she followed a ten-day training course in Alsace to welcome Rumba and officially become her referent. In this capacity, she must personally and daily ensure her custody and follow-up, which means that the female dog lives at her home. It is therefore a project that is both professional and family.

When Rumba listen

Since December 9, 2022, Rumba has already participated in twelve hearings, including seven with minors, any victim being able to benefit from his presence. Carried out at the CPF and at the pediatric medico-judicial reception of the Bretagne Atlantique Hospital Center in Vannes, these hearings produced more than encouraging results. Sitting or lying down, Rumba remains perfectly calm, close to the victim, to reassure him and accompany him in the collection of his testimony.

© CabCom Bretagne / MDC C.HAUTIER

Other judicial assistance dogs are expected to join gendarmerie units in the coming months. The Keeper of the Seals, Éric Dupond-Moretti, moreover announced, on December 20, the generalization of legal assistance dogs in all departments, in order to accompany minor victims during the procedures, the collection of the complaint to court.

Morbihan: a legal assistance dog to facilitate the hearings of minor victims