Training seminar for investigating and prosecuting child abuse cases
The Vernon Parish Sheriff's Department attended a Child Abuse and Neglect seminar hosted by the Children's Advocacy Network.
Sensitive cases that can sometimes take years to investigate and prosecute, the seminar stressed the importance of agencies working together on child abuse cases.
Vernon Parish Sheriff Sam Craft said last year, they investigated 226 cases of domestic or sexual abuse and so far are on track to reach a similar number in 2018.
Just last week, Ronald Allen Jr. of Leesville was indicted by a grand jury for 1st-degree rape and molestation of a juvenile. According to VPSO, the female victim said sexual contact occurred in Vernon Parish when the child was between the ages of 9 and 12. VPSO called it a case of 'historical abuse' that may have occurred in other locations. Detectives said Allen also lived in Alaska and California. VPSO is working with the Army Criminal Investigation Division to determine if any abuse happened on military installations in Louisiana, Alaska, and California which could lead to additional charges.
Sheriff Craft said investigating and prosecuting cases of child abuse is a delicate process.
"We're looking to make an arrest and for prosecution and the other side of the spectrum is to bring some counseling and some techniques available for victims and families of the victims so that they can move forward with their lives," he said.
At Tuesday's seminar, guest speaker Sergeant Harrison Daniel who works in the special victims unit at the Athens-Clarke County Police Department in Georgia explained the multi-disciplinary team approach. MDT includes cross-reporting, co-occurring investigations and co-located services with the priority always being the child's recovery.
"Even if you prosecute a case, the child may not be capable of carrying through the prosecution and testifying because you're lacking other pieces that are vitally important to putting a child on a stand in front of a jury to tell about something tragic that has occurred in their life," said Sgt. Daniel.
He also reminded the audience that some of the trauma children in these cases experience would be difficult for an adult to endure, so agencies should keep in mind that they're asking victims to relive those tragic experiences.
Supporting victims is where the Children's Advocacy Network comes in. Communications director Keri Murphy said, "we provide under one roof the opportunity for law enforcement, child protection agencies, medical services, therapy services, family advocacy to come together and coordinate that process of fostering hope and healing for our families."
The Children's Advocacy Network houses three programs: Children's Advocacy Center (CAC), Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA), and Trauma Therapy (TF-CBT).
Tuesday's seminar, which concludes on Wednesday is the first time Vernon Parish has participated in comprehensive, multi-agency training. In the past, VPSO might have to travel to Baton Rouge or Shreveport for the training they received this week. The Children's Advocacy Network hopes to hold seminars like these regularly.