Offering SHELTER and HOPE amidst the storm

A Voice for the Voiceless | Gina Karst

Recently I read an article in the Aberdeen American News where the author questioned “who is helping the voiceless”.  He described numerous children who had been brutally abused and died as a direct result of the abuse they endured.  He stated that there are many voices for the unborn children of the world, in an effort to save their lives, but he wondered why there are no voices for the children who have been born and who are being abused, sometimes so severely to the point of death.  There are children in the world who are being sexually abused, physically assaulted, and emotionally beaten- who speaks for these children?

For these reasons, among others, several states have developed Child Advocacy Centers (CAC), to help give a voice to the voiceless. A CAC is just what the name implies, an advocacy center for children.  Typically, the staff consists of a child advocate, who will advocate for the child before, during, and after any court proceedings and a forensic interviewer who interviews the child, or children, to learn exactly what the circumstances were surrounding the abuse and the details about the event or events. The interview is one of the most crucial parts of the investigation and the prosecution of the perpetrator(s).  Forensic interviewers go through extensive training to appropriately interview children in a manner that does not intimidate, allowing for the child to explain, to the best of their ability, the events and details of the abuse, in their own words.  Some CACs have medical practitioners on site that can then conduct a head to toe examination of the child. The findings of the medical examination may not only assist in the investigation and prosecution of the perpetrator(s), but it also allows the professionals assisting the child to receive an individualized treatment plan, based on the child’s injuries and their emotional/mental state.

South Dakota has 5 CACs, with the nearest ones located in Sioux Falls and Pierre.  While there is no CAC located in Aberdeen, these satellite centers have assisted numerous child victims from Aberdeen and our surrounding communities.  However, a CAC that is 3 hours away does have its downfalls.  The biggest issues is that by the time an appointment  is made and the commute is taken into consideration,  the child has time to re-evaluate their story and to be heavily influenced by individuals surrounding them. The child, or children, can decide that do not want to assist in the investigation and recant their story, stating that the abuse never occurred. If the victim is not a willing participant in the investigation, it becomes increasingly more difficult for law enforcement to pursue the perpetrator, thus allowing for the abuse to continue and the children to remain voiceless.  Another disadvantage to the distant locations of these CACs is the cost of the commute, either to the parents or to the taxpayer. In regards to the parents cost, there is not always funding available for the expense of gas, food, or lodging.  If law enforcement is transporting the child/children, it is at the expense of the taxpayer for staff hours, etc.

Children who are victims of abuse do not need to be voiceless. The Child Advocacy Centers in South Dakota are trying to help these children have a voice and treat them the way that they should be treated, like children. Children who are victims of abuse are often being mistreated by someone they love and care about and the abuse is often times seen as a normal part of their lives. These precious victims cannot be addressed the same way as an adult victim, because they do not necessarily understand that what is occurring is very wrong. The author of the article in the Aberdeen American News stated that once the children arrive here on the earth, they are on their own because no one speaks for them.  The 5 Child Advocacy Centers in South Dakota are trying to change that. They are trying to be the voice for the voiceless, but the question is- is 5 enough?