Imagine you are a child being sexually abused by someone you thought loved you. How scary that would be to tell someone. Now imagine the perpetrator told you that if you told someone, he or she would kill you, or kill someone you love. Imagine the tormented life you would have as that child.
Imagine how much courage it takes for you to report this. Now imagine having to summon that courage repeatedly. Typically, a child must share his or her story and respond to questions several more times after the initial disclosure – once each to the police, Child Protective Services, a medical professional, and a prosecutor, and in several different, coldly official types of locations.
Superior Child Advocacy Center (SCAC) will prevent that by being a one-stop, more welcoming hub for child sexual and physical abuse investigation. As volunteer Hannah Syrjala explains, “It’s not a scary police station, not an interrogation room or intimidating courtroom. The child will be able to come into a soft space and talk to just one interviewer – there are no cops there, no lawyers. Everyone on the team–Child Protective Services, a counselor, medical professional, and law officer-observes the interview from another room, so the child only has to tell his or her story once rather than living it over and over again.”
“Keeping the process to one forensic interview limits further trauma to the child, strengthens the case as a whole, and streamlines how the child gets the different services he or she may need,” adds volunteer and Marquette County Assistant Prosecutor Jill Simms. “The interviewer is specially trained to ask the right kind of questions to get the information needed for an arrest and conviction, and to help the child move forward. A multi-disciplinary team will continue working on each case, assigning services for the child as necessary.”
Studies have shown that without proper intervention, children who are abused are likely to become abusers themselves, or continue to be victims, with poor life skills and increased likelihood of experiencing mental illness and/or drug addiction. “SCAC’s goal is to nip that in the bud to better their lives and prevent future turmoil,” say Simms.
The initiative to create SCAC was begun a couple of years ago by Marquette County Prosecutor Matt Wiese. Wiese explains, “MI law requires that we have a social worker, law enforcement, and medical personnel all address child physical and sexual abuse cases. We’ve learned having a child advocacy center is the most effective way to implement these requirements. It’s been proven to be the best approach in many communities, increasing accountability for perpetrators of child abuse, and decreasing the amount of times children have to appear in court.”
Currently, Delta is the only U.P. county with a child advocacy center. And with an increase in such cases, handling them as sensitively and effectively as possible becomes even more crucial. Prosecutor Wiese says, “We have already been seeing approximately thirty felony cases against children a year, and that’s just counting those under thirteen. The forensic interview room we’ve been using is woefully inadequate – it’s not soft or welcoming. It’s in the courthouse building, next to a stairwell. Children are often distracted by the sounds of people walking by, and by any movement or sounds from the other side of the one-way mirror. Plus we have no ability to record the interview. The center will create a one-stop place with trained professionals in a friendly environment. Digital and audio recordings of the interview will be made. Everything disclosed is captured evidence showing the interview was done appropriately, without leading questions. There will a physical examination room with a trained medical professional who knows how to look for evidence of both sexual and physical assault injuries.
Eventually the center’s services will include education and prevention programs, and may be extended to adjacent counties. However, the biggest need right now is financial. A rent-free initial location has been secured thanks to Trace Holistic Center, which will begin providing forensic nursing for sexual crimes against both children and adults in 2019.
At least $12,000 of the $50,000 goal for Superior Child Advocacy Center’s set-up and first year of operation needs has been raised so far. Grant applications are in process and fundraisers have been organized to pay for expenses such as recording equipment and cameras.
This holiday season, a “Wish List Christmas Tree” will be up at the Marquette County Courthouse. Community members will be able to choose an ornament specifying a needed supply to donate, such as paper, ink, staplers, and so on. SCAC’s future needs include volunteers, installation of recording equipment, furniture, paint, and electronic donations.
Another enjoyable and also healthy way to donate is by participating in the “Lead the Way 5K” scheduled for April 13, 2019.
A healthy, caring community must support the health of our children, our future adults. As Acting Board President of SCAC Dianne Heitman implores, “Please help us to help physically and sexually abused children take back their lives.”
To stay updated and learn more about SCAC, and how you can donate or volunteer, you can visit http://www.superiorcac.org or the Superior Child Advocacy Center Facebook page.
Excerpted with permission from Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine, Winter 2018-19 Issue, copyright 2018. All rights reserved.