Wednesday January 22, 2014
Expanding the focused prosecution of domestic violence and sexual assault cases in adult court, County Attorney Mike O’Connell is creating a special unit designed for juvenile court cases.
Adults are not the only ones impacted – either as perpetrators or victims – by domestic violence and sexual assault. In fact, county attorney records show that in 2013 there were 158 domestic violence and 74 sexual assault cases in Jefferson County Juvenile Court.
While the Jefferson County Attorney’s Office has long had a specialized unit of prosecutors and victim advocates dedicated to adult domestic violence cases, there has never been a specific focus on that in the juvenile division. Until now.
“By having a dedicated prosecutor to handle these cases, it furthers our office’s goal to objectively help keep victims safe and hold offenders accountable,” O’Connell said. “It also helps to provide the expertise to handle the special needs of juvenile offenders and victims. One prosecutor handling all these cases provides the continuity and consistency that is needed.”
O’Connell has hired Erin White as the dedicated prosecutor for juvenile cases. White brings with her extensive experience. In addition to her excellent work as an assistant commonwealth’s attorney, White also spent time working with children as a social worker.
A specialized victim advocate will also be involved in the initiative.
This effort to bring more attention to domestic violence and sexual assault among juveniles includes a partnership with Seven Counties to provide counseling and intervention. Seven Counties is developing a program modeled after the Step Up program in Washington state that will provide adolescent-specific treatment. That treatment can be included in the disposition of cases and completion can now be made as a condition of sentences.
“This effort puts an emphasis on trying to catch the cycle of violence early so that children can change their behaviors and prevent it from continuing on into adulthood,” O’Connell said.
Most of the cases currently seen in Jefferson District Court involve violence among family members, though dating violence also comes up in court as well. But national statistics indicated that only 33 percent of teens in a violent relationship tell anyone about the abuse.
“Through this initiative, a new focus will be brought to juveniles involved in domestic violence and sexual assault,” O’Connell said. “Victims will be given the support they need to move forward with their lives, while perpetrators also receive the counseling they need to change their behaviors.”