Tuesday, July 29, 2003

Prosecutors dedicate unit to child abuse

Warren announces new focus

By Janice Morse
The Cincinnati Enquirer

LEBANON - Warren County Prosecutor Rachel Hutzel has formed a unit that specializes in prosecuting child abuse and supporting the victims.

"Oftentimes, the child can't speak up for themselves," Hutzel said Monday, announcing formation of the Child Abuse and Exploitation Unit. "More than any other victims, they need to have a system that works around them."

A number of nearby counties, including Butler, have formed similar units.

Hutzel said now is the time to start the anti-child-abuse unit in Warren County because, "We're getting a little bigger. We have more of these cases occurring in Warren County, with our population increasing and with the number of criminal cases increasing." Last year, her office handled 114 criminal cases and 97 civil cases involving child abuse, neglect or dependency. This year, Hutzel projects about 125 criminal cases and 130 civil cases.

She also cited a need to better coordinate the work of various professionals who deal with abused, neglected or exploited children. Those professionals include prosecutors, victim-witness advocates, police, child-protection services workers, doctors, nurses, teachers, ministers and counselors.

"These cases are difficult, and yet they are very important," Hutzel said. "You have innocent victims who are relying on that whole system to work very effectively."

Detective Larry Sims of the Warren County Sheriff's Office welcomed the unit's formation, saying it will serve as a resource for experienced and inexperienced professionals alike.

Hutzel has appointed three of her 18 assistant prosecutors to serve the unit. Josie Olsvig, who is also a licensed independent clinical social worker, will be assigned exclusively to it; Andy Seevers and Leslie Meyer will serve the unit and also handle other cases.

In neighboring Butler County, Prosecutor Robin Piper has a Child Assault Task Force, which coordinates professionals working with abused children.

And two years ago, he formed a Child Exploitation Obscenity Section, which targets perpetrators of sex crimes, child pornography and those who use the Internet to meet children for sex.

"There are some crimes that require a degree of sensitivity when you focus on a certain area," Piper said. "There are certain things you can do that make it less traumatic for (children)."

By avoiding re-interviewing children by multiple professionals, the child is less traumatized and the child's testimony is more likely to remain uninfluenced, Piper said. "Little people can't compete in an adult world," he said. "To kind of protect little people, we kind of have to go an extra step."


E-mail jmorse@enquirer.com

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