GENERAL OVERVIEW OF CHRONOLOGY OF EVENTS:
Report of Abuse
Referral to Child Abuse Assessment Center to schedule interview (if Center in area)
Investigation provides sufficient evidence that abuse occurred
- District Attorney sees case and determines if basis to bring charges
- Information summary is filed at the courthouse
- Warrant and arrest may occur at this point or after
Grand Jury is presented with information and determines if probable cause to go forward
- Determines probable cause and makes charging decision
- Victim Services may become involved at this level of process
Arraignment of defendant (perpetrator) and formal legal process begins
- Attorneys are hired or appointed
- The perpetrator is informed of the charges against him
- Perpetrator makes a plea, guilty or not guilty
- Hearings may be scheduled
Early Resolution Conference with attorneys involved in the case
- Plea offer in which attorneys negotiate
- Determination to settle the case or
- Go to trial
Criminal Trial in which Defendant is tried on charges brought by the Distict Attorney
- Conviction on charges
- Dismissal of charges
- May be several counts, and one or more may be convicted or dismissed
Each state has a system to receive and respond to reports of possible child abuse. As a mother reporting, you can call your local child protective services or law enforcement to make the report. You can go to your child's physician, and your physician is mandated to make a report in the case of child abuse report or suspicion. Professionals and concerned citizens can call statewide hot lines, local child protective services, or law enforcement agencies to share their concerns.
The procedure after a report of child sexual abuse involves many professionals. After finding out about her child's sexual abuse, a mother will immediately interact with law enforcement and social workers from the child protective services agency. These agencies are required to cross-report. If one receives a report, that information should be relayed to the other within 24 hours in order for a timely response to occur. Prosecutors, medical professionals , interviewers, attorneys, and the court system then become involved in the case.
The child protective services agency in your area may be the Child Welfare office of the Department of Human Services or a separate entity such as Child and Family Services Agency. It is the responsibility of this agency to assess and investigate the case. They must determine the nature, extent, and contributing factors to the abuse and assess ongoing risk to the child. They will determine whether the child can remain in the home if the perpetrator is a family member. This agency also provides a range of other services.
Law Enforcement must investigate, make a report, file charges, and determine if arrest and further investigation is necessary. The investigation and ensuing legal process are best served when Law Enforcement Detectives have specific training and experience in sexual abuse cases. Law Enforcement will collaborate with the District Attorney's Office in determining the viability of a case to go to trial. The case may be scheduled for a grand jury hearing.
The best possible option for interviewing your child is a local child abuse assessment center. Physicians with expertise in child abuse will conduct a physical examination. Trained interviewers with talk with you and gather historical information on your child child and family. The interviewer will then spend time with your child, and this session will be videotaped. That videotape will then be make available to law enforcement, child services, and attorneys.
The case will be determined to be either founded, unfounded, or unable to determine whether founded. Based on this determination, the perpetrator will be arrested, and court hearings scheduled.
The procedures involved in the allegation of child abuse are well understood by the professionals but often not well understood by mothers. It is important that you access the victim advocacy office in your courthouse or local area for support and information. The internet (sites such as this one) and support groups for mothers also offer mothers improved understanding and realistic expectations of the legal process that follows disclosure.
When sexual abuse is suspected or reported, professionals must intervene and provide services. It is essential that you understand that you, as the mother, are also being scrutinized during the investigation. Professionals will observe your response to the situation, your ability to protect your child, your level of belief and support for your child, and your emotional stability. The relationship you establish with these professionals and agency representatives is crucial to the ongoing investigation. Plummer and Eastin (2007) discuss the need for mothers to "monitor their emotional responses" with professionals. Both hysteria and showing no emotions are judged in a negative way.
Many professionals continue to assign blame to mothers and believe that mothers must have known about the abuse and did not protect the child. Although research has shown that most mothers did not know, mother-blaming continues. Mothers often do not receive support from professionals, and their grief process is not acknowledged. Mothers need to find sources of support (friends, family members, victim advocates) to survive the investigation process and court system.