Attorney General Peter Kilmartin today announced the creation of a Child Abuse Unit in the Office of the Attorney General. The Child Abuse Unit will prosecute individuals charged with physical and sexual abuse of children. Joining the Attorney General at the announcement were representatives from Day One, Hasbro Children's Hospital, the Department of Children, Youth and Families and members of the law enforcement community.
"The abuse of a child, either physical or sexual, is among the most devastating of crimes. Through their criminal acts, offenders can inflict severe physical, emotional and psychological trauma on their victims. The effects can be long-lasting; the healing process can be an arduous one," said Attorney General Kilmartin. "These victims are the least likely to be able to stop crimes from being committed against them, report crimes to law enforcement and have the support that they need to get through the legal process. All of the attorneys and support staff in this unit have both a desire and a commitment to help victims survive the crimes committed against them and empower them to be involved in the process of punishing the perpetrator of the crime."
The Child Abuse Unit will be led by Special Assistant Attorney General Shannon Signore and comprised of prosecutors, victim advocates and support staff, all trained to handle the emotional and psychological effects associated with physical and sexual abuse of children.
Child abuse cases are often medically complicated, such as cases of abusive head trauma and sexual abuse of children that are too young to speak for themselves, and require prosecutors to have the education and experience to understand these medical issues, as well as the ability to relate to children who experience abuse. It is critical for the victim of physical and sexual abuse to feel comfortable and safe with those who are prosecuting the abuser. Members of the Child Abuse Unit have significant experience in prosecuting such cases and have received special training specific to child abuse.
In 2011, the Office of Attorney General charged 40 individuals with child molestation and 34 individuals with child abuse or child neglect. These figures do not include individuals charged where the child died as a result of the abuse.
The establishment of the Unit further enhances the existing partnership among those agencies that deal with child physical and sexual abuse, primarily DayOne, which is a resource and center for both children and adult victims of sexual abuse, the medical community and in particular Hasbro Children's Hospital Child Protection Program, the Department of Children Youths and Families, and our law enforcement partners.
"We are pleased to join here today with Attorney General Kilmartin in recognition of the formation of this important unit within the Office of the Attorney General, said Peg Langhammer, Day One Executive Director. "The creation of the unit is an exciting enhancement to the collaboration that exists between the Attorney General's Office, DCYF, Hasbro Children's Hospital, local law enforcement and the RI Children's Advocacy. There is no doubt that this will continue to reduce the trauma that families face when dealing with this experiencing these horrific situations, and as importantly, hold offenders accountable for their crimes against children."
The coordinated wraparound effort is aimed at reducing and minimizing the number of times a child has to tell the story and relive the trauma of abuse. First, law enforcement and DCYF assure the immediate physical safety of the child. Hasbro's Child Protection Program tends to the medical needs of the child and Day One provides the interview process and counseling services. Day One's Child Advocacy Center, a state-of-the-art, child-friendly facility, where an interview is conducted by a specially trained forensic interviewer, provides a safe, comfortable setting, not in a clinical atmosphere of a hospital or a busy police station that children can find distressing. Prosecutors, police, physicians, DCYF and other interested parties can monitor the interview and feed questions to the interviewer through a closed circuit system, so that this child's statement only has to be taken once, and there is no need for separate interviews from each person who needs to speak with the child to do their job – which is to keep the child safe. The interview is videotaped and may be used as a substitute to the child's testimony in preliminary proceedings if a criminal case is initiated.
"The Attorney General's office is to be commended for its new Child Abuse Unit, and its continued commitment to prosecute those who physically and sexually abuse the children of Rhode Island," said Carole Jenny, M.D., director of the Child Protection Services program at Hasbro Children's Hospital. "Our children are our most vulnerable population, and both the abuse and the process of prosecution have life-long effects. This new program will make what is a very difficult and emotional situation more comfortable, helping these children to feel safe in what has been an incredibly frightening time in their lives."
"Physical and sexual abuse of children cuts across all strata of our society, and affects us all. We believe that child abuse is more than simply another criminal justice issue. The complexity of the cases and the overriding need to consider the welfare of the child first makes dealing with these cases a specialized job which requires diligence, patience and talent. The formation of this Unit is to improve upon what we already have in place to help our children, to improve the way we prosecute cases and to hold these perpetrators of these most egregious acts accountable," concluded Kilmartin.