Go Upstate: Report calls for training, coordination in prosecuting child sex abuse cases

Training and coordination are the keys to eradicating child sexual abuse, according to a report aimed at making South Carolina a leader in successfully resolving the thorny and difficult cases.

Victor Vieth of The National Child Protection Training Center conducted a year of research on child sexual abuse in South Carolina. He interviewed more than 160 people associated with child welfare and issued surveys based on interview information to an additional 400 professionals.

The resulting report is called “The View from the Trenches: Recommendations for Improving South Carolina’s Response to Child Sexual Abuse Based on Insights from Frontline Child Protection Professionals.”

“Our report proposes concrete steps to help those who help children,” Vieth said. “… It turns out South Carolina’s front line of child protectors know what they are talking about. They are worth listening to.”

The report was released amid fanfare Tuesday in Greenville County Council Chambers. Vieth was joined by Bob Castellani, research funder and founding member of the nonprofit Silent Tears: Giving a Voice to Child Sexual Abuse — U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy, S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson, 7th Circuit Solicitor Barry Barnette and slew of law enforcement and child welfare professionals.

The study found most of those directly involved in handling child sexual abuse cases have no undergraduate or graduate training specific to child-related cases. The report calls on colleges, seminaries, medical and law schools to develop or expand child protection curricula. Continuing “trench training” to hone daily skills and an online portal, available 24-7, for standardized text-based learning, should be mandatory, according to the report.

Gowdy, a former prosecutor, said child sexual abuse cases are “the most difficult in all the criminal justice system.”

“They are extraordinarily difficult, and they take highly trained individuals,” he said.

Child sexual abuse cases are challenging to prosecute because it is often the victims’ words against that of their attackers, Barnette said.

“Just imagine a young child having to tell something like this to total strangers, to relive it,” he said.

The report outlines investigative goals for child sexual abuse cases, including photographing every crime scene, gathering five pieces of corroborating evidence and conducting forensic interviews within two hours of the abuse being reported.

The report also calls for speeding up the trial process and forging alliances with community agencies to enhance reporting of crimes.

In 2011, more than 3,000 victims younger than 18 years old reported being raped, sodomized, sexually assaulted with an object, forcibly fondled, or were the victims of incest or statutory rape in South Carolina, according to information from the S.C. Law Enforcement Division.

Officials said they hope Tuesday’s report will guide the overhaul of South Carolina’s system for addressing sex crimes against children and create a model for other states to follow.

Wilson said he plans to bring the report to the National Association of Attorneys General.

Scott said he is looking forward to presenting the plan to his colleagues in the Senate with the hope of providing relief for victims across the country.

“This gives us the opportunity to be hopeful South Carolina will be a beacon of light for those children,” he said.

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