Putting a child molester behind bars will take all those who work with children getting on the same wavelength and asking the child the right questions.
That was the sentiment expressed Monday at a conference designed to help law enforcement officials and children’s advocates learn better techniques to use when interviewing sexually abused children.
The daylong conference, titled Forensic Interviewing of Children: Child Abuse and Neglect Program, was designed to help those who work with children learn how to obtain the most information from a child that could be used in a criminal case.
“Children remember a lot more than you think they can,” said 1st Judicial District Attorney John Young after the morning session of the conference.
James Starks, a detective with the Kentucky State Police who was the lecturer for the program, said interviewing the child is the single most important component for determining both the risk to the child and whether or not a crime has occurred.
During his lecture, Starks said those asking the questions should not imply blame, but let the child say who did the act and what was done.
Most of the techniques are useful with those children over the age of 7 or 8. Letting younger children draw a picture is sometimes useful, he said.
In a majority of sexual abuse cases, most children are not lying, Starks said.
Starks said his home county of Woodford County, Ky., has a 98 percent conviction rate for child molesters using the cognitive interviewing techniques he talked about Monday.
To get a higher conviction rate of sexual abusers, Starks said it took prosecutors, those who work with social service agencies, law enforcement officers, medical personnel and mental health employees all working together.
In 1995, Lee County was third highest out of Mississippi’s 82 counties in the number of reported incidents of child abuse. State welfare workers and law enforcement officers said the number of reports is a combination of more incidents being reported as well as more cases occurring.
The number for Lee County included physical abuse along with sexual abuse.
In a five-year period, of the more than 40 cases that have passed through the Lee County Circuit Court, more than half the defendants were either freed outright or given suspended sentences.
In almost a third of those cases, prosecutors believed the evidence was weak or the victims’ families wanted to avoid the ordeal of a trial so much that prosecution was not pursued.
Monday’s conference was sponsored by the Department of Human Services and the law enforcement coordinating committee of the U.S. attorney’s office in Oxford.
About 90 law enforcement personnel and children’s advocates attended the three-hour session Monday at Itawamba Community College, Tupelo campus.
This was Starks’ second time to Tupelo. In January, he was one of the speakers at the Stop the Hurt Conference held to deal with child sexual abuse.