Advocacy Center holds training seminar

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 26, 2003

Child abuse, whether sexual or physical, is a horrible, but all-too-prevalent fact of life for many Alabama children.

According to the Prevent Child Abuse Alabama orgranization, a nonprofit, statewide program to prevent and treat child abuse in the state, there were 19,635 children reported as possible abuse or neglect victims. Of those cases, close to 10,000 that were valid, 748 were less than one year of age.

Training is an important aspect of any occupation, but it is crucial for those whose job it is to investigate these child abuse cases.

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With this in mind, the Butler County Children’s Advocacy Center sponsored a training session on investigative techniques, led by world-renowned children advocacy expert, Det. Mike Johnson of the Plano, Texas, police department.

The training session included about 40 employees from 15 regional law enforcement and children’s advocacy organizations.

&uot;I have traveled from Miami, Fla., to The Bronx, N.Y., to Washington D.C. to talking with the Mormons in Utah,&uot; Johnson said. &uot;Child abuse is the same no matter where you are, especially when you talk about the criminal justice system.&uot;

Johnson said that the job of investigating child abuse cases is very stressful and difficult.

&uot;I have been involved with investigating child abuse and domestic violence cases for 14 years,&uot; he said. &uot;I can honestly say I’ve been doing it for two years too long. But I also can say that I would have quit doing it in my fifth or sixth year if it hadn’t been for this little thing that came along called the Children’s Advocacy Centers.

The Texas detective asked the assembled group what they thought protected children from abuse.

&uot;A lot of people will answer that with ‘parents’ or ‘laws,’ but those things don’t protect children,&uot; he said. &uot;Law enforcement and children’s advocacy groups protect children.&uot;

Johnson said that conducting an effective investigation is impossible without facts – detailed information that prevails in a criminal/civil court of law.

&uot;There are some ugly realities of child abuse,&uot; he said. &uot;Everyone has cases where they know the man or woman did it, but they can’t prove it. It’s frustrating, and you must say to yourself ‘something will break open or that they will do it again.’ That sounds horrible, but we know with the limitations of the criminal justice system, we can’t force something up there if we can’t win it.&uot;

He also emphasized the importance of attempting to get a confession, or at the very least, an incriminating statement from the suspect.

&uot;If we don’t, we leave our entire case many times in the hands of the child’s testimony,&uot; he said, &uot;and that’s tough.&uot;

Other evidence that can be used is eyewitnesses and direct link evidence, such as videotapes of the crime and DNA.

&uot;Those are very hard to come by in these cases,&uot; Johnson said. &uot;You also can use circumstantial evidence, but you have to have a whole lot of circumstantial evidence to make a case.&uot;

Johnson said his main goal is to increase community awareness about child abuse.

&uot;I feel my greatest challenge is to get communities beyond their ignorance and apathy,&uot; he said. &uot;I want them to recognize that child abuse exists and to care about it.

&uot;The people here are the front lines of protection for these children,&uot; he said. &uot;The community needs to throw its support behind these agencies. I’m here to give them more tools to do their jobs better. I also hope I can give them inspiration and motivation. I truly believe this is God’s work, but it can’t be done in ignorance; people have to get their hands dirty.&uot;