Sunday, February 10, 2013

“Did someone touch you at day care?”

Testimony from children can make or break sexual abuse case

If David Glenn Smith, the Des Moines man accused of sexually abusing children at his wife’s in-home day care over the span of four years, is tried in court, the nature of the case will pose unusual challenges for prosecutors.

There is no physical evidence in the case, police say. Prosecutors are relying solely on the testimony of the alleged victims and witnesses, who are all younger than age 10.

As investigators experienced in a recent Polk County case that was retried after an appeal to the Iowa Supreme Court, putting a child on the witness stand has inherent risks.

In an interview, Polk County Attorney John Sarcone said he could speak only in general about child abuse cases, and not specifically about Smith’s case.

“They’re not the easiest cases in the world, but they’re ones that need to be brought,” he said.

Some child abuse cases are resolved before a trial, but if that doesn’t happen, the alleged victim usually must testify. Preparing children to recount the abuse they endured and to face their alleged abusers in court is especially difficult, Sarcone said.

“You wouldn’t believe the damage that is done to some of them, and it takes a long time to recover from those things,” he said.

In certain circumstances, when appearing in the courtroom would inhibit a child’s ability to testify, children are allowed to provide their testimony by video. Even then, some children clam up, Sarcone said.

He cited the 2009 trial of Matthew Elliott, who was accused of killing a 7-month-old girl in 2007 in the West Des Moines home where he was staying. Prosecutors called on the 7-year-old uncle of the victim to testify.

The boy had originally told investigators he saw Elliott carrying the baby’s lifeless body, but in his videotaped interview before the court he balked, saying he did not remember what he told police.

Elliott was convicted anyway, but the Iowa Supreme Court in 2011 awarded him a new trial, out of concern that detectives’ testimony about what the 7-year-old originally reported amounted to hearsay without the boy’s testimony.

Elliott was convicted again and sentenced to 60 years in prison.

In the case against Smith, investigators interviewed more than 10 children who attended the day care. Some said they were touched by Smith. Others said they saw Smith touch other children.

According to Polk County court documents, Smith allegedly placed a 9-year-old girl on his lap, put his hands under her clothes and touched her inappropriately.

Smith is charged with second-degree sexual abuse, a felony with a potential 25-year prison sentence.

While Smith allegedly touched several other children, prosecutors decided to file one charge based on the abuse allegation they felt made the strongest case, said Des Moines Police Detective Terry Mitchell.

Some of the children interviewed were as young as 4, and prosecutors felt the 9-year-old could most accurately recount the alleged abuse, he said.

Additional charges are possible, Mitchell said.

Cases often lack physical evidence

A lack of physical evidence is common in child abuse cases, said Dr. Ken McCann, a child abuse medical examiner at the Regional Child Protection Center at Blank Children’s Hospital in Des Moines.

The child protection center is a neutral agency that conducts interviews and medical exams of children involved in physical and sexual abuse cases. There are five such centers around the state.

McCann said he conducts about 1,000 medical exams on children each year. About 95 percent of those children show no physical signs of abuse.

That doesn’t mean there was no abuse. Much of the evidence can heal within a week or 10 days, and abuse frequently is reported much later, he said.

Additionally, many types of abuse — like what Smith is accused of — leave no physical evidence, McCann said.

Mitchell said he is confident in the case against Smith.

The children’s stories corroborate one another, and it’s clear that Smith had the opportunity to commit the abuse, the detective said.

Children who attended the day care at different periods and have never met reported similar types of abuse, which Mitchell said showed the multiple abuse allegations were not a result of children repeating what they heard from others at the day care.

Smith worked nights at the Polk County Juvenile Detention Center, where, county officials say, he had no direct contact with children.

Smith helped his wife, Lisa Rae Smith, run the day care in the afternoon. He watched the school-age children in one part of the two-story east-side home, while she watched the younger ones elsewhere.

There’s no evidence that Lisa Smith knew of the abuse. Some of the children told interviewers that Smith would stop the alleged abuse when he heard her coming, Mitchell said.

Interviewers must use careful tactics

Keith Rigg, a Des Moines defense attorney not associated with Smith’s case, said prosecutors face a risk with relying solely on the testimony of children.

There have been numerous notable cases in which investigators and parents have used leading questions to bring a child to believe he or she was abused by a teacher or baby sitter, when in fact they were not, he said.

“The main pitfall that you have — and historically where these cases have gone very, very wrong — is that you can feed information to a kid, and they will take that information as their own,” he said.

One infamous case started in California in 1983, when a McMartin Preschool teacher was accused of sexually abusing a 2-year-old boy.

Police notified parents, and in time children were urged in interviews to divulge secrets about their school. They responded with allegations of rape, being photographed, secret passageways under the school, satanic rituals and even the sacrifice of a human baby.

After six years of criminal trials, all charges were dropped.

Interview practices have evolved in the decades since.

Locally, most interviews of child abuse victims are conducted by the Regional Child Protection Center.

Interviewing a child abuse victim is a meticulous, research-based process, said Tammera Bibbins, a forensic interviewer at the clinic.

She starts by showing the child the camera in the room and flips on the lights behind a one-way mirror so the child can see where investigators will watch.

Then they talk for a while to make sure the child can tell a coherent story.

The interviewer never uses the suspect’s name before the child does, or asks leading questions such as, “Did someone touch you at day care?” Bibbins said.

She tells the child to be honest, and that it’s OK to say “I don’t know.” Children must not feel they have to say what the adult wants to hear, she said.

“In the real world, the adult is the one with all the answers,” she said. “Sometimes kids go along with what they think adults want to hear. We try to turn that around and make them the ones with all the answers.”


I Knew It - The Jews Own India!

India faulted for failing to curb child sex abuse

NEW DELHI—India's government has failed to curb rampant sexual abuse of children, especially in schools and state-run child care facilities, a rights group said Thursday.

The report from Human Rights Watch comes in the wake of the fatal gang-rape of a young woman on a New Delhi bus in December, an attack that shook the conscience of the nation and forced people to recognize the problem of sexual violence.

The report said child sexual abuse is disturbingly common and government responses fall short in protecting children and treating victims. It also said the inspections of state-run child facilities were inadequate, with many not even registered with the government as required by the law.

"Shockingly, the very institutions that should protect vulnerable children can place them at risk of horrific child sexual abuse," said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director of Human Rights Watch.

The group called for strict implementation of laws on sexual violence and better monitoring of child-care facilities. It also demanded more sensitive treatment by police, including an end to internal medical exams that it says are traumatic and pointless.

There are no clear statistics on the number of child abuse cases in India, primarily because of the low reporting of such crimes. As a result, Human Rights Watch based its reports on hundreds of detailed case studies with victims and their relatives, child protection officials, independent experts, police, doctors and social workers.

India's 430 million children form a third of its 1.2 billion people and around one-fifth of the global child population.

Things are particularly bad in state-run or state-funded child care homes, activists said.

"The vulnerability of children to sexual abuse is very high, and it becomes worse because there is nobody monitoring these children's homes," said Anuja Gupta of the Recovering and Healing from Incest Foundation in New Delhi.

Abuse often is committed by the caregivers, she said.

"When the caretaker himself is the abuser, the situation is especially traumatic because then the child has nowhere to go," Gupta said.

Simply reporting sexual violence is a challenge, rights activists said!!! (Sounds like Mesira - Sanjay Kaminetzky)

In many cases, police or court officials refuse to accept that rape or incest has taken place, said Shantha Sinha, the head of India's National Commission for Protection of Child Rights.

"People have to be made aware of their rights, the procedures to be followed in registering a case in a police station, and insist that they get justice," Sinha said Thursday at a press briefing.

In India, child abuse is often aggravated by poorly trained police officers who refuse to register complaints or who encourage victims to seek settlements with their attackers. Convictions are rare and cases can languish in the country's sluggish court system for years, if not decades. Police officials insist their forces are getting more training to deal with sexual violence.

The outcry over the Delhi bus rape forced the government to rush through new laws to protect women. A government panel appointed after the attack to examine the country's treatment of women also shone a light on the high incidence of child sexual abuse and the failure of the government to ensure the implementation of child protection laws.

While the government passed a comprehensive law to protect children from sexual offenses in 2012, efforts to implement it were poor or nonexistent, activists say.

Government officials admit that a major handicap in putting the law into practice was the lack of resources to fund monitoring.

"Some states have lagged in providing the required infrastructure to ensure implementation of the law," said Vivek Joshi, a top official in India's ministry of women and child development.