Special police units that investigate sexual abuse, sexual assault and serious child physical abuse see hundreds of cases every year. Most striking, though, is the number of child sex abuse cases the units see.
In fiscal year 2013, the 12-month period ending last June, the state’s Special Investigation Units worked with 1,414 Vermonters who were victims of abuse or in high-risk situations, according to a report filed this week the the legislature. Of those, 1,164 were children.
Statewide, the units saw 945 cases of child sexual abuse – 83 percent of all child cases. In the majority of those cases, the offender was the child’s parent.
“Over half of all reported child victims are 12 years of age or younger,” the report said.
The legislature mandated the Special Investigation Units (SIUs) in 2005 with the intent of making them available statewide by 2009. The SIUs are overseen by Bram Kranichfeld, the executive director of the Department of State’s Attorneys and Sheriffs. Since the Addison County unit launched operations in January 2013, Kranichfeld said, 12 units serve all 14 counties of the state.
“The premise,” he said, “was to replicate the multi-disciplinary team concept that had proven successful in Chittenden County and Franklin County and Bennington County.”
That approach calls for close coordination between victims’ advocates, law enforcement, prosecutors, medical and mental health professionals. Kranichfeld said that in most cases, the units are made up of professionals that already exist in the community, but may not have been coordinating their efforts before.
“There really wasn’t that core,” he said. “There wasn’t a ‘there’ there, and the Legislature sought to establish that center piece for each one of the units to develop around.”
With office space and part- or full- time executive directors, the SIUs often double as child advocacy centers. Kranichfeld said that often, interviews with victims – a sensitive process that requires special training – are conducted in the SIU offices.
While 945 cases of child sex abuse is higher than advocates would like, that number has fallen since the previous report. According to the Fiscal Year 2012 report, SIUs statewide saw 1,046 such cases despite having less coverage in Addison County.
“The resource really didn’t exist on a consistent basis prior to the last few years,” Kranichfeld said. Now, “they have become more of a solid entity within each one of their respective communities, and we continue to support that development.”
That support comes in the form of state grants. Between fiscal years 2013 and 2014, the state gave $2,860,810 to the SIUs and associated law enforcement agencies to help advance their investigative capacity.
Last September, the grants funded a seminar on interview and interrogation techniques for child abuse cases, this year’s report said. The three-day seminar, put on by an Illinois-based consulting company, taught best practices for interviewing child victims. The report said 30 people from across the state attended.