Imagine being a child who has experienced traumatic abuse. You finally get up the nerve to report the abuse, perhaps to a teacher or another trusted adult. That adult then calls the police, and you again have to tell, in detail, what happened to you. Perhaps Child Protective Services is called in and you again must retell your story.
If your case makes it to trial, there’s a chance you’d have to share that story again.
But children’s advocates are working to change that. Child Advocacy Centers statewide now train advocates to interview minors who have been through traumatic situations, including physical or sexual abuse.
April is Child Abuse Prevention Month, where CACs and other groups nationwide work to highlight child abuse prevention and services offered to victims and their families.
“They are having to talk about the most traumatic experience of their life to a complete stranger,” Mike Baker, director of the Marion County Child Advocacy Center, told the Times West Virginian. “It can be scary for them.”
Before Child Advocacy Centers existed, children had to share their experience several times as their case progressed. But with forensic interviews, the number of times a child must relive a horrific event is decreased.
Advocates work to build a rapport with the child victim, sometimes drawing pictures or talking about what the child likes to do for fun. The interview is more conversational in nature, and Baker will make clear when he transitions to a different topic. He’ll note changes in body language that may indicate a child has been abused.
Investigators, CPS officials and others may listen in on the interview, meaning the child won’t have to relive the trauma by telling his or her story over and over again.
“It used to be that when a child disclosed something that they had to talk to 10 different people where that child had to repeat everything over and over,” said Donna Blood, a victim’s advocate for Marion County CAC. “There was a better way by bringing everyone to the child.”
About one-third of all interviews conducted at the Marion County CAC lead to criminal charges involving child abuse or sexual abuse, Blood said. In some instances, however, there may not be enough evidence to charge someone, though the victim is still provided with resources.
“It’s our job to make sure those families get the services they need. The child might need therapy and even the parents, and we’ll help them with what they need,” she said.
To learn more about child abuse prevention, visit www.childwelfare.gov/topics/preventing/preventionmonth.