Ra Hee Jeon, 3LAlabama Attorney General’s Office
The Lens for Cases Involving Sexually Abused Children
After clerking for Justice Parker at the Alabama Supreme Court during the first half of the summer, I have moved down two blocks to a white unmarked building to the Alabama Attorney General’s Office. Within the Criminal Trials Division, I have been assisting Mrs. Kelly Hawkins Godwin, a Regent Law alumni and an Assistant Attorney General who focuses on child protection and child pornography cases.
In the past week, Mrs. Godwin handed me an active case file, in which a neighbor sexually abused a minor girl several times. At first, one might wonder why a girl would meet a neighbor again after the neighbor tried to touch her during the first visit. However, criminal minds are not sensible and logical. So, a logical mind might have to take the criminal mind as is, instead of trying to understand the logic behind the criminal mind. I was alarmed when I learned that the same minor’s father has sexually abused her for years, and many child pornography videos were found at the father’s residence.
In investigating the child pornography and first-degree sodomy crimes, the Attorney General’s office closely cooperates with the National Children’s Advocacy Center (NCAC). The model of NCAC is the topic of this blog, because it will illustrate how the sexually abused children cases are handled immediately after a case is reported.
It is remarkable that the NCAC, located in Huntsville, Alabama, is the nation’s first Children’s Advocacy Center. The NCAC seeks to prevent sexually abused children from being re-victimized by the system’s response to their cases. A NCAC team is composed of law enforcement, child protective services, prosecution, mental health, medical, family/victim advocacy, and other resources in a model community response to child sexual abuse.
While the “multidisciplinary team” members seek to fulfill the needs of the child in different ways, the NCAC also conducts and records child forensic interviews so that the child does not have to repeat the testimony over and over again. The child forensic interviews (of which the general principles are recognized in consensus) avoid suggestive techniques and rely on open-ended questions and narrative approach. It is common for the children to be reluctant or delay to disclose an accident of abuse. Thus, the NCAC conducts specialized trainings that focus on challenging interviews; the “challenging” factors may range from long-standing violence abuse to cultural issues.
Learning about the NCAC’s mission, I was able to gain perspective on how the criminal justice system, which is designed primarily for adults, can be frightening and stressful for children and their families. Child forensic interviews and victim advocacy training models by the NCAC are now adopted by child advocacy centers across the country. It is very hopeful to see how the adult-centered criminal justice system shares the goals of child-focused advocacy centers; the system must put on tailored, specialized glasses when examining cases involving sexually abused children.