Awareness of child abuse and participation in the Darkness to Light child abuse prevention training with the Child Advocacy Center and the Rutherford County Coalition Against Child Abuse is supported by the District Attorney’s Office for the 16th Judicial District.
Tennessee has long recognized the necessity of the team concept and has mandated the formation of Child Protective Investigative Teams.
“The key to successful prosecution starts with a thorough investigation of the allegations,” said District Attorney General William C. Whitesell, Jr. “Experience has shown that these investigations are best conducted utilizing a team-oriented approach. It is often necessary that law enforcement, child protective services, medical personnel, the Child Advocacy Center, and the prosecutor, as well as other disciplines become involved in the investigation in order to collect information and evidence for the case to be prosecutable.”
“The Child Advocacy Center has been a tremendous asset in the prosecution of child abuse and child sexual abuse cases,” said Whitesell. “The Child Advocacy Center offers a child friendly location where child abuse victims can be interviewed by an experienced forensic interviewer, while the CPIT Team members observe the interview and have input into the line of questioning.”
The District Attorney's office is responsible for prosecuting those cases that are deemed suitable, meaning sufficient reliable evidence exists to believe that there is a reasonable likelihood of a conviction of the alleged perpetrator.
“Child abuse and child sexual abuse cases are considered to be some of the most horrific and detestable crimes. It is important not to charge someone with such a stigmatizing crime with less than credible and sufficient evidence. That is the reason that the prosecutor should be involved with the investigative team early on in the process, in many cases to understand the proof, and assist in guiding the direction of the investigation,” said Whitesell.
After criminal charges have been formally brought against a defendant, it is the responsibility of the prosecutor to meet with the CPIT members to review the physical evidence, if any, and discuss the specifics of the case.
The prosecutor meets with the child victim and their non-offending parent to explain the criminal justice process and establish a trusting relationship. This includes preparing the child for live, in court, testimony in front of the accused, who has the right to confront the child accuser.
“This can be terrifying for children who have already suffered physical or sexual abuse at the hands of the defendant,” Whitesell said. “The child has a team of professionals to support them through the criminal justice process. The team approach is essential to let the child know that they are not alone and people are there to protect them and hold the abuser accountable for the crime. The District Attorney's Office is committed to doing everything we can to prevent the child from being re-victimized through the criminal justice process. That is why we are committed not only to vigorously prosecute cases, but to encourage and participate in detection and prevention training.”
Child Advocacy Center executive director Sharon De Boer said, “Child abuse cases are some of the most difficult cases to prosecute. We are very privileged in Rutherford County to have a District Attorney General and his staff that are committed to protecting children and aggressively prosecuting perpetrators to the full extent of the law.”
The District Attorney’s Office is a member of the Child Protective Investigative Team and an active participant in the Darkness to Light Project. Darkness to Light is a new nationwide initiative to teach parents and grandparents how to protect their children from child sexual abuse.
To bring a Darkness to Light training to your church, school, PTO, business, non-profit agency, or civic group, please contact the Ryan Wallace at the Child Advocacy Center of Rutherford County (615) 867-9000 or Amanda Pruitt at the Cannon County Child Advocacy Center (616) 563-9915.