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Column: Prosecutor taking steps to protect kids


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When young victims of abuse or violence are interviewed by police or prosecutors, the experience is at best unsettling.

The surroundings are strange. The people often are unknown to them, and the questions they are asked, no matter how sensitively they are phrased, will evoke unpleasant memories.

To reduce the level of anxiety, the Johnson County Prosecutor’s Office wants to create a more comfortable and quiet environment for police officers and child advocates to interview victims of sexual abuse. The office will set up a room in its building just south of downtown Franklin where children can be interviewed in a place where they feel safe and have limited distractions.

 

The interview room will be smaller than one for adults because kids will feel more secure in a less-open space. To eliminate distractions, the walls will be painted a soothing color such as beige. A total of three rooms will be used for the new child advocacy center: one for interviewing, one for recording and video equipment, and another where families can wait.

Deputy prosecutor Joe Villanueva said electronics, a new security system and construction will cost about $8,000. The money for the project will come from fees charged to people who commit sexual crimes.

The rooms will be available to victim advocates and law enforcement officials 24 hours a day, he said.

The new advocacy center should be open in a few months, according to Lisa Vanek, a victim advocate for the Johnson County Prosecutor’s Office.

Interviews with children have been conducted at the Department of Child Services building in Franklin since the former prosecutor’s office was destroyed in the 2008 flood. Using a room there has not been ideal because children get nervous, Vanek said.

This is a positive step forward. It will help put children at ease in an extremely trying circumstance and give prosecutors and child advocates a better chance of eliciting helpful information.

The project’s cost seems small when weighed against the need to help the children.

To further help these defenseless youngsters, there is a continuing need for court-appointed special advocates. These are trained community volunteers who help look out for the children’s interests in court proceedings. Their presence on a continuing basis offers a small piece of security in an emotionally roiling time of their lives.

Protecting the young and defenseless is vital. The prosecutor’s office is taking a positive step by setting aside a quiet area that helps reduce anxiety when young people can be interviewed.

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