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Going Beyond Prosecution

I found myself nodding along as I read a recap of a presentation given by Connilee Christie, who works with children who report being sexually abused. Especially, this part:

Success often is measured on prosecutions, she said. In part, she said, because it is easily measured.

But that is not how the Children’s Advocacy Center in St. Louis measures it. The center abides by what is called the “Child First Doctrine,” which states:

“The child is our first priority. Not the needs of the family. Not the child’s ‘story.’ Not the evidence. Not the needs of the courts. Not the needs of police, child protection, attorneys, etc.”

“Sometimes that means no prosecution,” she said.

I’ve written before about the difference between “justice” and healing. Just because your abuser didn’t go to jail, or didn’t go to jail for as long as you thought they should, has no bearing on your ability to heal. I see the same sort of thought pattern in what they are doing for children in St. Louis. Yes, it would be wonderful if justice could be served in every case, but that’s never going to happen. We can do as much as we can to try and carry out justice in these cases, but getting a guilty verdict is dependent on so many things that are out of our control as survivors or those who wish to help them. It depends on being able to take the stand, having others do the same, having a jury believe you versus the person you are accusing, etc.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t pursue justice, but that can’t be the only goal and the only definition of success. Success when dealing with victims of sexual abuse is in getting them the help they need, keeping them safe, and getting them on the path to healing as soon as they are able. The best part is that we can do that without waiting to see what the criminal justice system comes up with, and we can do it regardless of the results.

A survivor overcoming their childhood and learning to live a full life is just as much of a success as seeing their abuser convicted. But the two are not the same thing. Healing can happen regardless.

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  1. I know as someone who spent years in the Police investigating these offences that we are liable to be blamed in some circumstances for not getting a conviction at court.
    In some cases you are right.
    I will always be open and honest in my opinions and feelings and always willing to listen, learn and try an explain.
    The trouble with child abuse and people in general is that they like to put things in clearly defined boxes and to appoint blame.
    With Child abuse you have to treat every case, every child, every family, every abuser differently. There are no boxes, no generalisations, only what you know from that case. Abusers will lie, parents will lie and you also have to be very careful when interviewing a child or even an adult who has been abused.
    If a child has been abused parents want to know what has happened but often don’t know how to ask a child. They are angry at themselves for letting it happen and that anger comes out closing the child up. It is difficult to talk to a child without ever leading them. Every question you ask has to be open so they say what actually happened rather than being lead by your own opinion and this is a real skill.
    There are many reasons abuse is not reported and you cannot put them in boxes. Every one is different and often a mixture of many different reasons. You can generalise but it would be wrong.
    By putting reasons in boxes you are finding excuses and there is no excuse for any form of child abuse.
    As a detective my job was never to prosecute child abusers. First and foremost it was to protect the child and help them all I could. Their feeling should always come first. A prosecution of an abuser will never make what happened go away. Sometimes it helps, sometimes it makes things worse. There are still things that can be done without going to court against the abuser. Taking an abuser out out of society is so important but allowing a victim to cope and live within society is far more important..

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