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Interview center to aid child abuse victims

John HartAt the county Behavioral Health offices in the HEW building in Nevada City, Robert Erickson (left), the behavioral health director, and Rodney Gillespie, project coordinator for the Victim/Witness Assistance Center, appear in the interview room as the video camera and other people watch on the other side of a two-way mirror.
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From time to time, children suspected of being sexually abused get rides down to Placer County to give their accounts of alleged molestations.

An interviewer asks the child questions, and an array of people -Epolice, prosecutors and others involved in the case – listen from another room.

The Nevada County Sheriff’s Office arranged such an interview just this week.



“It really replaces the child having to tell their story over and over and over again,” said Fiona Tuttle, coordinator for the Placer County Multi Disciplinary Interview Center.

Now Nevada County, after two years of planning, is getting its own MDIC for interviewing young victims, said Rod Gillespie, director of the county Victim/Witness Assistance Center.




“It creates a lot less trauma for the child, and we just think it’s going to be a better prosecution tool,” he said.

It will open soon after Jan. 1 at the HEW Complex in Nevada City, according to Gillespie.

A signing ceremony is today for the involved agencies -EVictim/Witness; the Sheriff’s Office; Grass Valley, Nevada City and Truckee police departments; County Counsel; Child Protective Services and Child Abuse Prevention Council.

Gillespie estimated the center will initially conduct 40 interviews a year – likely for children ages 4 to 17 – with the numbers increasing as it phases in interviews for suspected elder abuse victims and dependent adults.

One of the four to five people trained for interviews will ask the child questions as others involved in the investigation watch from behind a two-way mirror. The interview will be videotaped and audiotaped, and there will be occasional breaks for others to suggest various questions.

Currently, a child is often questioned by a patrol officer, then a detective. A prosecutor and others frequently have follow-up questions.

“In some sense we’re asking law enforcement to give up a traditional role,” Gillespie said.

He expects the streamlined process will keep fewer cases from going to trial, thus less trauma for the child, because the interview will provide more convincing evidence.

Such interview centers aren’t new. California has 54 of them, according to Tuttle, and Placer County’s has been around more than 10 years. Her center has conducted 110 interviews so far this year, a figure that includes both sexual and physical abuse.

She didn’t have data to show how the center has changed trial rates, but she said only two such cases now go to trial each year.

Gillespie and others modeled their new center after Placer County’s. He also worked with experts at Sonoma State University and arranged no-cost interviewing training. Now he’s seeking grant money to hire a part-time coordinator.


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