As National Child Abuse Prevention Month ended last month, I hope we all continue to take that cause to heart not just during April, but all year. We owe a big thank you to all those whose job is to help victims of child abuse. This includes victim advocates, child advocacy centers, DFCS, therapists and counselors, sexual assault nurses and other medical professionals, and many more.
But I want to extend a special thank you to a small group of amazing individuals: prosecutors who handle child abuse cases, including physical and/or sexual abuse. These individuals spend countless hours fighting inside and outside of courtrooms for the most vulnerable among us.
A high percentage of these investigations begin well after the abuse occurred as it is quite common for children to not immediately disclose abuse, especially when the abuse is committed by a person close to the child. Further, due to the nature of these crimes, there are rarely witnesses to the abuse. When someone is convicted of these crimes, they rightfully face very lengthy prison sentences. The combination of these realities leads to many child abuse cases resolving only after a trial.
Prosecutors who try these cases have an enormous weight on their shoulders. These trials involve a child victim having to testify or a victim so young that he or she cannot testify. Take a moment to think about that, a child as young as 4 or 5 years old having to talk in open court about the worst thing that has ever happened to them, and they have to discuss it in detail in front of the person that abused them. If a prosecutor is nervous or scared, or the child does not trust the prosecutor, that child might just shut down on the stand and say nothing.
Those prosecutors who have handled these cases will tell you that they have seen amazing strength and bravery by young child victims having the courage to walk into that courtroom and confront their abuser in front of 12 random people (the jury) and the world. I believe that a large part of that strength comes from the child knowing that the prosecutor is fighting for him or her. Along with the child victim looking to the prosecutor for strength, the victim’s family, the community, and the jury are watching and judging every word and action of the prosecutor.
The weight these prosecutor bear in court is matched by the hard work and long hours needed out of court. They spend hours meeting with child victims, their families, witnesses, and law enforcement. Much of their days are spent discussing the most intimate details with kids who just met them. In some cases, the prosecutors have to look at picture after picture and video after video of child pornography.
It is a hard job that brings you face to face with the absolute worst of humanity. We all would rather live in a world where children are not victimized or where child pornography does not exist. But it happens, it exists, and it is much worse than you would ever want to imagine. If you handle these cases, you have probably shut your office door so others do not see you crying. If you handle these cases and have children of your own, you have gone home after a long day wanting to just hug your child and protect your child. You have probably heard your child say something similar to “Daddy, why are you just wanting to sit on the couch and hold me,” but you cannot tell them it is because you spent the entire day meeting with a child the same age discussing that child’s abuse or that you went to an autopsy of a child the same age. So you just tell them how much you love them.
Those doing this job continue to do it despite the fact that they could all easily go make two or three times as much money in a different legal job. But, to them, this is a career and a calling, not a job. It is not about the money, it is about doing what is right, day in and day out.
I say all of this to thank prosecutors everywhere, but also to call on those in law school, college, or even those younger to step up to the plate and fight for victims of child abuse. Our society needs lawyers coming out of law school that have the strength, the work ethic, and the drive to do this job. The children and families in our communities do not need someone virtue signaling on social media, they need someone to put the entire weight of what happened to them on their shoulders and go into court to fight for these victims.
We are bombarded daily by the news and social media of people being offended or “triggered” by the smallest of slights, by mean words, by perceived offensive jokes, or by political disagreements. I promise you, those things pale in comparison to what a prosecutor that handles child abuse cases sees and hears daily. Those of us that do this work know that no matter how hard it is, no matter how emotionally and mentally draining it is, it is the most rewarding work there is. We get to work with the best and brightest law enforcement, doctors, child advocates, and other amazing people. But, nothing compares to a simple, sincere “thank you” and a smile from a child who has been through so much.
So many today want to “fix” the world all at once with mere talk or posts on social media. I believe that a bigger impact is made by positively affecting one person’s life at a time. Prosecutors who handle child victim cases are the best example of that. Their positive impact on even one single child victim who has been through so much physical, mental, and emotional hurt will continue to make a difference in our society for years and years to come.
If you are wanting to make an enormous impact in our world, become a prosecutor and work towards handling cases with child victims. If you are in law school, or thinking of going to law school, reach out to your local DA’s office and meet with a prosecutor to learn more about the amazing work they do. I promise you it will be a tough job, but I also promise you that you will never find a more fulfilling career.
Alcovy Judicial Circuit