Prosecutor unveils plan for molestation investigations

Jefferson County Prosecutor Chad Lewis hopes to have a coordinated way of handling child molestation investigations in place by July 2008.

The current procedure requires children to tell their story numerous times to law enforcement officials, Child Protective Services, sexual assault therapists and social workers from different hospitals with, at times, little cohesiveness.

Lewis’ plan is to form a Sexual Assault Response Team (SART). The team will be trained in dealing with child molestation cases and will include one officer each from Madison, Hanover and the state police; two sexual assault nurse examiners; and the prosecutor’s office.

The SART team will cover six counties. When a call of alleged child molestation is received, SART will respond immediately, even if a member of the team is off-duty.

“This will keep everyone involved from the beginning instead of some of us getting involved in the case months down the road,” Lewis said.

It would also keep victims from having to travel to several locations such as Cincinnati for a forensics interview and New Albany’s Floyd Memorial Hospital for a physical exam. King’s Daughters’ Hospital sexual assault nurse examiners only work with adults who have been sexually assaulted.

Another program Lewis plans to have in place next year is Finding Words, which would train SART members on how to question a child without leading them and how to make a child comfortable enough to trust and give out more information.

Lewis unveiled his plans at this month’s meeting of a group formed by residents who say they are fed up with what they believe are lax sentences and laws regarding child molesters, and they want changes to be made.

Indiana Parents Against Pedophile Acts (INpapa) was started by Madison residents George Tustin and Debbie Williams. Signs imprinted with “Judge Todd Protect Our Children” have sprung up in many yards as part of the group’s efforts to generate interest in the cause.

INpapa meets monthly. In addition to Lewis, the speakers this month were Madison Police Detective Tim Armstrong, Lide White Boys and Girls Club Director Ray Black Sr. and State Rep. Dave Cheatham, D-North Vernon.

“We are tired of our judges giving weak sentences to convicted child molesters or letting alleged child molesters out on bond until their trial with no restrictions and they are free to roam the streets where children live,” Tustin said. “Our goal is changing some of the laws and putting pressure on the judges to do the right thing and make our children safe.”

Concerns voiced by the group were a lack of help by Child Protective Services; the court system allowing alleged child molesters to post bond until their trial; and gaps in the process of dealing with suspected child molestation.

“CPS is dropping the ball,” Susan Auxier said. “We need people to be in those positions that are going to be more caring and experienced.”

Child Protective Services was invited to attend the meeting but declined.

Tustin asked Lewis if there was some sort of registry that could be set up with the names of those arrested or suspected of child molestation, but Lewis explained such a registry would be unconstitutional and go against the presumption of innocence until proven guilty.

“Child molestation cases are one of the most difficult prosecutors have to prosecute,” Lewis said. “Oftentimes there are no eyewitnesses and the children are sometimes threatened not to say anything, which causes a delay in reporting. In terms of sentencing a child molester, sometimes a plea agreement is required because it’s beneficial to the victim to not have to go through the trauma of a jury trial.”

Armstrong said police officers used to be required to have 16 hours of mandatory training on the subject of child molestation and abuse, but currently no Madison police officers are certified in this training.

“We’ve got some new, young officers in Madison and they do a great job, but we need to look at getting them better trained to handle these cases,” Armstrong said.

Armstrong said that when a call comes in to investigate alleged child molestation, it usually comes from CPS, a parent or a teacher.

“We go out and talk to witnesses if there are any, the victim and the alleged perpetrator,” Armstrong said. “If we have sufficient cause we arrest them, but we have no control as to what happens from that point on, and that’s frustrating,

“Our police officers have a great working relationship with Hanover police, the county and Indiana State Police, and that makes dealing with such a sensitive issue easier on everyone, especially the victim,” Armstrong said.

Armstrong said that CPS fields a large volume of calls, but if victims are falling through the cracks it should be addressed.

Black said that each year the Boys and Girls Club reports about 20 to 30 possible child molestation or abuse, but if the child stops coming to the club there is no effective way to follow up on the case. Black said the club averages 235 children a day who attend.

Cheatham said the recidivism rate of sex offenders is 20 percent, and many are back in prison within 36 months of their release date.

“We need to look at how to change some of these laws and at stricter sentences for the benefit of our children,” Cheatham said.

For more information on INpapa and its meeting schedule, go to http://www.INpapa.org.

Published in: on November 5, 2007 at 6:14 pm  Leave a Comment