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‘Small Voices’

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By Brad Bowman

 

 

Sexual abuse cases make up 70 percent of Kentucky State Police Post 5 detectives’ caseload. Most of those may never be prosecuted.

KSP Sergeant Todd Harwood almost guarantees that a new case lands on a detectives’ desks at least once a week.

On the detectives’ assignment board there are more cases of sexual abuse, rape and sodomy than any other investigation.

During the next session of Circuit Court in Henry County, Circuit Court Judge Karen Conrad will hear cases totaling three counts of 1st degree sexual abuse; three counts of 1st degree sexual abuse with a victim under 12; 14 counts of 1st degree unlawful transaction with a minor; an illicit sex act under the age of 16; use of a minor under 16 in sex performance; two counts of 1st degree rape; one count of 2nd degree rape; and 2nd degree sodomy.

Most child sex abuse cases will not be prosecuted or taken to court, Harwood said.

“It’s one of the most frustrating aspects of sexual abuse cases,” Harwood said. “You know how they did it, when they did it and in a courtroom you have a child against an adult where a jury expects CSI-type evidence.”

Most victims don’t report sexual abuse right away and evidence cannot be obtained. Sexual abuse cases most always are reported later when DNA evidence isn’t pristine, physical evidence on the body has healed and in some cases not reported for several years.

“The perpetrator almost always is someone the victim knows,” Harwood said. “Because of the age of the child they may not be able to articulate things the way they happened. Children see the world and remember in ways that is a different timeline than adults. Sometimes it can discredit them in a trial.”

Embarrassment and family dynamics also delay victims in reporting sexual abuse.

“Sex abuse has always been there, but because kids are more educated this isn’t a family secret kept behind closed doors anymore,” Harwood said. “Kids are tweeting, using Facebook
 

and they are not as closed off from people anymore. They are telling their friends, counselors and teachers.”

Sex abuse cases come in cycles to detectives at Post 5. Reporting spikes occur during school spring break and the summer months. Children are on vacation or at camps where they are exposed to other people like counselors and not their normal routine that may involve the perpetrator.

Signs of abuse

Parents, guardians or caretakers should take psychological changes in children as possible cues of sexual abuse. Children will occasionally seem more sexualized, mimic sexual acts or touch other children after sexual abuse.

“Watch your child and take notice if they are more withdrawn,” Harwood said. “Frequent bedwetting, difficulty sleeping are all signs to look for.”

Parents also should monitor what children are telling their friends on Facebook if they are permitted to use it. Look at their artwork and the things they write for evidence of uncharacteristic behavior or themes indicating abuse. Law enforcement officials encourage family members to talk with children. Male victims are less likely to report than a female.

How you question and talk with your child is just as important to the case as evidence.

How to report

There are certain things that can jeopardize a sex abuse case and make for a more difficult conviction.

• If a child says they have been sexually abused don’t question them any further. Law enforcement should be contacted immediately.

“It protects the integrity of the investigation and helps us bring justice to the victim,” Harwood said. “If a jury or defense attorney suspects that a victim has been lead to the charge it is harder to convict.”

• No one should confront the suspected perpetrator.

“Family members that confront the perpetrator, give the suspect time to rehearse their defense, evidence can be compromised,” Harwood said. “It allows us to make our first priority the safety of the child.”

The Exploited Chidren’s Help Organization in Louisville offers these additional guidelines to parents:

•Believe your child. Young children rarely lie about sexual abuse.

•Reassure your child. It will aid in setting the tone for your child’s recovery from the trauma

• Tell your child that you believe them and assure them they did the right by telling someone.

• Call Child Protective Services and law enforcement.

Protocol for protection and prosecution

•Victims should be interviewed by child advocacy officials through social services who  conduct forensics interviews and implement techniques, which meet the legal requirements of the court. Medical staff will also be available.

•Law enforcement officials can obtain search warrants for bedding, clothing, furniture, text messages and materials like photographs.

•Law enforcement can interview the suspect. Use a polygraph test as a tool for the grand jury and prosecution.

“Social services help us put together a safety plan first and remove the child or the perpetrator from the home,” Harwood said. “Social services can get an emergency custody order. Most individuals will cooperate at this point if they are perpetrator to prove their innocence.”

Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Courtney Baxter’s caseload is usually made up of 50 percent sex abuse cases. Her prosecution relies heavily on witnesses not being tainted — not being interviewed too many times to get a case before the grand jury. She works closely with Teresa Leet Victim Advocate of the 12th Judicial District, as a liaison who helps victims receive counseling and provides the victim information and notification everyday service which includes updates after every court hearing, the offender’s status and protective order information.

“Sexual abuse steals a victim’s childhood and we can’t give it back to them,” Baxter said. “We have the obstacles of delayed reporting, sometimes lack of physical evidence a juror wants and sometimes victims recant unintentionally or tell their mother and sister conflicting stories that may jeopardize their credibility. “

Baxter stressed that jurors want to have physical evidence so they can, without a reasonable doubt convict the perpetrator.

“There are certain things most people don’t realize about sex abuse cases until they are educated,” Baxter said. “The body can recover from physical damage done during rape or sodomy in as little as 24 hours. They don’t understand why a child doesn’t immediately call 911 after they are abused because they are scared and confused.”

Baxter stressed it is important for children to receive counseling.

“It helps the child while they are going through recovery and the conviction process,” Baxter said. “It also helps us understand what the child can withstand in a trial setting.

Baxter believes sex offenders should be punished and the biggest issue can be lack of evidence.

“CSI-type shows provide great entertainment, but are sometimes unrealistic,” Baxter said. “They wrap the bad guy up in a bow with DNA evidence and the case is solved. Jurors take their job very seriously. They want the DNA so they can be sure they are absolutely correct. Documentation helps us. Text messages, phone records, anything that corroborates a victim’s account will help.”

Preventive measures

Kentucky State Police detectives Tim Moore and Steven Goodale both stress the need to know who your children are around. Contact law enforcement immediately to report abuse and listen to your children.

“Parents also need to be aware of where their children are,” Goodale said. “Whether it is a sleepover or parties. Use software to filter what your children are able to view on the Internet like Safe Eyes every measure helps.”

Safe Eyes is a software product put out by McAfee that allows parents to filter what sites their children visit and also keeps a detailed history of where they have been.

“I enjoy what I do and I want to help children that really need it,” Moore said. “If you can affect one child’s life and bring them justice it is worth it.”

Detectives also advise parents to use online tools like the sex offender registry to see where offenders are located.

“Despite the number of registered sex offenders listed,” Moore said, “you have to realize there probably should be at least ten more that aren’t.”

The caseload and nature of sex crimes can be daunting to detectives Harwood stressed, but the reward compels them.

“For me it’s about a little girl who was abused by her stepfather in a case I investigated several years ago,” Harwood said. “The mother wrote to me that she still mentions me and wanted me to be her daddy. We are the protectors of those children. They have very small voices , but we have the capacity to make sure they are heard.”

 

For information on reporting abuse call Seven Counties Services 1-800-221-0446.

For information on the sex offender registry visit at www.kentuckystatepolice.org/posts/post5.htm

 

E-mail us about this article at news@hclocal.com