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Revista chilena de pediatría

versión impresa ISSN 0370-4106

Rev. chil. pediatr. vol.89 no.6 Santiago dic. 2018 


Systematization of the pilot implementation of a Gesell dome in a Family Court

Juan Carlos Oyanedel S.1 

Harry Ortúzar F.2 

1 Sociologist. PhD in Law King's College London. Faculty of Education and Social Sciences, Universidad Andrés Bello. Chile.

2 LLB. PhD Candidate in Psychology, Universidad de Girona. Universidad Tecnológica de Chile INACAP, Chile.



Children and adolescents who are victims of sexual abuse or severe mistreatment are exposed to secondary victimization -understood as the revictimization resulting from the cons tant memory of the mistreatment or the abuse suffered when they are subject of multiple questions about what happened- when they have contact with the justice system. In 2012, the Chilean State implemented a pilot Gesell dome in order to reduce this risk and move towards a single interview process, with probative value in the context of the judicial process.


To systematize the implementation process of a Gessel Dome in a chilean Family Court.

Subjects and Method:

Qualita tive, non-experimental, exploratory and descriptive study. Ten representatives of institutions of the inter-institutional network of the Family Court at the city of Melipilla were interviewed. Purposive sampling was used for the selection of participants, which seeks to obtain a representative discour se of the participants. The Semi-structured Individual Interview was used, based on seven research dimensions: 1) knowledge of the Gesell dome; 2) knowledge of the right of the child to be heard; 3) knowledge regarding severe mistreatment and sexual abuse; 4) knowledge about secondary victi mization; 5) organization and operation of the institutional network; 6) training; and 7) general eva luation of the Gesell dome of the Melipilla Family Court.


There are differences in knowledge and information management among the institutions associated with the project. Coordination diffi culties of the local network that affect the objectives of the project are identified.


There are problems of coordination and networking in the implementation and use of the Gesell dome. In order to achieve the objective of reducing secondary victimization, in addition to the investment in physical facilities and specialized training, a strong investment in local network management and coordination is required. The results facilitate the development of plans to avoid such difficulties in the future implementation of Gesell domes as public policy.

Keywords: Family court; Chile; Secondary victimization; institutional networks


Secondary victimization is what happens not as a direct result of the criminal action, but rather, through the response of specific institutions and individuals to the victim1, such as making repeatedly relate what happened and/or in an unconditioned place2. This hap pens after the commission of the crime, from the moment where the victim informs the authority of it, and the institution is inoperative3 causing the victim the feeling of being ignored or even humiliated due to the denial of his or her rights4, which, in a judicial process can result in extensive trials, repeated and questioned statements5, without the presence of specialized professionals in charge of the process6, and in inadequate environments.

Regarding children, this victimization violates the right to psychological integrity, intimacy and health, among others, constituting a form of abuse to which attention must be paid due to the physical, emotional and cognitive effects it may cause in the short-, me dium- or long-term7, considering that child abuse is an increasing medical-social fact8.

The impact of secondary victimization is such that the European Union considers that each State should be responsible for protecting those affected9, where the protection of the victim is the first priority10, considering that victimization is a form of harmful aggression that affects all dimensions of the person11.

Having adequate spaces for interviews with chil dren and adolescents who have been victims or wit nesses of serious abuse or sexual crimes constitutes a substantial public policy need and a debt as a country. Regarding this, the Committee on the Rights of the Child recommended to Chile to ensure that all child victims or witnesses of a crime receive protection12. This situation is even more worrying given that the re porting rate of sexual crimes among underage victims has increased in the last two decades and especially in the last few years13.

Therefore, it is necessary to work on practices that contribute to the reduction of secondary victimization in child and adolescent witnesses or victims of crimes, adopting measures that protect the guarantees that avoid confrontation with the aggressor at the time of testifying14, having a conditioned environment, in which the process is also carried out by specialized professionals in order to avoid the testimony repetition15, contributing to the exercise of the child’s right to express his/her opinion without coercion16,17, which affects his/her subjective well-being and capacities to exercise his/her rights in an actively18.

Thus, at the beginning of 2012, the Judicial Branch began a pilot program in the Melipilla Family Court to conduct interviews with children and adolescents, which would contribute to reducing secondary victi mization through the protection of the child’s right to be heard in the dimensions of Space, Voice, Hea ring, and Influence17. For this, a Gesell dome was built, which is a conditioned space to record the behavior of the interviewed child who was a victim or witness of a crime, without disturbances, with furniture and de coration adapted to a child. The room has two spaces connected by a one-way mirror, the first one for con ducting the interview and the second one for observa tion, so that the professionals involved in the process can see and hear the interaction, through intercoms and other means suitable for communication between the observers and the professional interviewer, who should have training in child psychology and forensic


In summary, the Gesell dome is an infrastructure that contributes to diminishing and preventing secon dary victimization through an investigative interview, executed by a professional interviewer specialized in psychology or psychiatry, with the participation of other professionals involved in the process, who par ticipate behind the mirror21, in a controlled environ ment inside the court.

In order to reduce secondary victimization among child and adolescent victims or witnesses of crime, we propose to work in two areas: a) to improve the con ditions in which the interview is conducted, and b) to reduce the number of interviews conducted.

The first proposal has been addressed by several instances in our country, through the preparation of a single specialized interview and training in it19, as well as the creation of appropriate environments where children and adolescents are heard, in order to pro tect their physical and mental health in family courts22. The second proposal has recently been addressed with the publication of Law 21,05723, which regulates in criminal proceedings how videotaped investigative interviews and judicial declarations are conducted, in order to prevent secondary victimization of child and adolescent victims of sexual and other serious crimes; regulating particular aspects of the process such as the interviewer must have specialized training in videota ped interview methodology and techniques, in addi tion to being accredited by the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights.

However, the participation of children or adoles cents in judicial proceedings or as subjects of police activity is still an area in which greater specialized pro fessional staffing is needed in order to intervene appro priately to the evolving development characteristics of the subject of care.

In this sense, European evidence points to the need to work on the articulation of networks to address the reduction and prevention of secondary victimization, through an effective coordination of professionals to ensure the protection of child and adolescent victims or witnesses of crime24, so that coordination, through referral protocols and joint action, contributes to the quality and a reduction in the number of investigative interviews.

Thus, the objective of this investigation is to syste matize the implementation process of the Melipilla Family Court Gesell dome, in order to identify elements that facilitate its implementation in other jurisdictions, as well as to reduce possible problems arising from its implementation.

Subjects and Method


It is a qualitative research of non-experimental, ex ploratory, and descriptive design25.

Participants and sample characterization

Ten counterparts from public and private institu tions related to the implementation of the pilot project were interviewed (Table 1). Six of the interviewees were female and four were male, with an average age of 36.8 years (ranging from 27 to 45 years) and with an average of 12 years of experience in the respective institutions (ranging from 5 to 27 years). To select the participants, the purposive sampling was used, which seeks to ob tain the representative speech of the participants, thus the following were included: a) heads or designated representatives of the institutions that are part of the court’s network; b) who receive cases of serious abuse and child molestation; and c) who agreed to be inter viewed, of which 60% were directors or heads of the institutions and 40% were heads of areas.

Table 1 Institutions in the sample. 


The Semi-structured Individual Interview was used, based on the following research dimensions: 1) Gesell dome knowledge; 2) knowledge of the child’s right to be heard; 3) knowledge on serious and se xual abuse; 4) knowledge on secondary victimization; 5) organization and functioning of the institutional network; 6) training; and 7) general evaluation of the Melipilla Family Court Gesell dome.


An introduction letter of the research project and a meeting and interview request was sent to institutions which are part of the Melipilla Family Court network. Subsequently, telephone calls were made to confirm receipt of the letter and the date and time of the inter view which took place between March and May 2012.

An interview pattern with seven main dimensions was used, from which the conversation with each of the interviewees began, which was later guided by their own interests: 1) Gesell Dome (general and court pro cess knowledge); 2) Children’s rights, especially the right to be heard; 3) Physical and sexual abuse (preva lence and procedural protocol); 4) Secondary victimi zation (general knowledge and existence in the terri tory); 5) Institutional network (link with the different institutions of the network and protocols for referral of cases); 6) Received training regarding the Gesell Dome use; and 7) General evaluation of the implementation process.

Data analysis

The data analysis was carried out from the proce dures set by the grounded theory, which maximizes the advantages of simultaneity in sample selection, data collection, and analysis26, working with emerging categories. The categories indicated by the actors, within the analysis process, focused on three critical points: secondary victimization, activity knowledge of other participants in the network, and participation in the dome implementation.


There is general knowledge of the Gesell dome regarding its use in cases of sexual abuse and the decrease of secondary victimization. However, not all institutions are clear about the objectives of the dome implementation in the Family Court, without prejudice that some institutions express the importance of its use for the exercise of the rights of the child to be heard.

Although most of the institutions are able to obser ve that the pilot dome is related to the Convention on the Rights of the Child objectives, it is difficult for them to identify whether this situation is ful filled in practice since many of them do not have information regarding the installation and imple mentation process.

With regard to the cases admission of serious abu se and sexual abuse (Figure 1), there are no pre- established or agreed-upon referral channels to organize and unify the process by which a case of serious abuse or child molestation goes through in the commune.

All institutions report that the secondary victimi zation phenomenon occurs in the commune and evaluate it as a serious situation. Some institutions try to take some actions to minimize this situation, but they are isolated.

The relationships in the network are good, but the re is no clear or organized vision of a single net work facing serious abuse and child molestation. The institutions are related only between some of them, depending on the issues that are treated and not all of them interact with each other, not allowing to diminish the secondary victimization in the commune.

Most institutions state that they cannot evaluate the project in general due to lack of information. However, in abstract terms, the idea of the project is well received and there is hope that it can be a contribution to the reduction of victimization in cases of serious abuse and child molestation in the commune.

Figure 1 Flux of access and diversion in cases of grave mistreatment and sexual abuse in the area of Melipilla at baseline time. 


Carrying out the systematization and evaluation at the beginning of the installation and implementation of the pilot program provides a baseline on which to carry out future evaluations to identify the results and impact of that experience. This systematization is one of the main contributions of our research, conside ring that this experience was replicated in more family courts in the country.

The collected data show the coordination and transfer difficulties of information on a specific topic, in this case, the decrease in secondary victimization of children and adolescents who are victims of sexual cri mes and serious abuse, in a network made up of ins titutions with different profiles: a) those in which the violation is revealed; b) those in which it is reported, and c) those that subsequently carry out the diagnosis and/or intervention.

The scarce information of the pilot project mana ged by the institutions linked to the court’s network is a constant that is presented each time innovative expe riences are implemented in our country, which usually means that many good proposals do not go beyond being an isolated experience.

This situation reflects the challenge that institu tions have to generate the necessary, stable and per manent instances (such as meetings, trainings and se minars), in which the objectives, criteria and internal operating procedures of the Gesell dome pilot project can be presented and worked with the extended net work, in order to generate trust among the institutions and allow them to disseminate and strengthen their implementation process.

The entry and referral routes diversity between institutions through which a case of serious abuse or child molestation must pass, in which they may even pass more than once through the same institution (Fi gure 1), explains why part of secondary victimization occurs, and this is where the work must focus to con tribute to the prevention and reduction of it.

For this reason, it is important to carry out trans formations aimed at the articulation of different local networks, in a gradual process that allows for the ge neration of a communal network that addresses cases of serious abuse and child molestation, designing and establishing a procedure with entry and derivation channels, in which all the institutions that in one way or another have a relationship participate, in order to share and feedback among the three areas or groups of identified institutions in this research.

In this sense, and given the pilot project quality, it is not necessary only to have a law, but also to manage and articulate the local networks.

Therefore, and given that this line of work is com plex and sensitive, this process must be carried out with due external technical accompaniment, which allows modeling the network work, and with it the possibility of transferring a model of implementation and work that supports the intervention carried out in the Gesell domes at the country level. However, the mere infras tructure or videotaped interview system directed by a specialized professional is not a guarantee for reducing and preventing secondary victimization if it is not accompanied by work with joint action protocols for a multidisciplinary approach between the involved pu blic and/or private institutions or organizations.

In simple words, without a network that refers and protects the rights of the child, the existence of infrastructure such as Gesell domes or the intervention of qualified professionals in the techniques of the inves tigative interview will be nothing more than the back drop of a process that does not safeguard the rights of child victims or witnesses of crime, or who have suffe red a violation of their rights.

It is necessary to point out that one of the limita tions of the research was the difficulty in accessing interviews with the different institutions, including the local prosecutor’s office and the family court itself, which makes it even more necessary to consider the lo cal context and the participation of the different actors in the children’s network, within the design and poli cies implementation that have an impact on the lives of children and adolescents.

Ethical responsibilities

Human Beings and animals protection: Disclosure the authors state that the procedures were followed according to the Declaration of Helsinki and the World Medical Association regarding human experimenta tion developed for the medical community.

Data confidentiality: The authors state that they have followed the protocols of their Center and Local regulations on the publication of patient data.

Rights to privacy and informed consent: The authors have obtained the informed consent of the patients and/or subjects referred to in the article. This docu ment is in the possession of the correspondence author.

Financial Disclosure: This Project was supported by the following grants: PIA CONICYT CIE160009 and FONDECYT F1181533 of the Chilean Science and Technology Comission (CO NICYT) and FNSP11-ESP-14 of the National Fund on Public Safety of the Chilean Ministry of Interior.

Conflicts of Interest: Authors declare no conflict of interest regarding the present study.

Aknowledgments: To the National Fund on Public Safety of the Chilean Ministry of Interior.


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Received: January 24, 2018; Accepted: July 13, 2018

Correspondence: Juan Carlos Oyanedel S.

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