A three-day conference is wrapping up today in Council Bluffs for professionals who deal with victims of child sexual abuse. Pottawatomie County Attorney Matt Wilber says some 70 participants took part, from many fields in addition to law-enforcement. He says the success of prosecuting a child sex abuse case depends a lot on who the child happens to tell first, like a guidance counselor or doctor. The conference teaches them all how to cooperate to put together a case, since what a counselor’s concerned with may not be the same information prosecutors need for their case. He says it’s important for everyone dealing with children to keep in mind what’s been learned from past cases. For example, the county attorney says it’s important for counselors not to “lead” a child who’s being interviewed, not to plant ideas in their head while listening for the story because it would taint the information they have. Wilbers says it’s important for law-enforcement to get to perpetrators as fast as possible when a child has been abused. He says often a case is easier to crack when it’s a surprise to the offender. If prosecutors can get to them before they realize an allegation’s been made, it works to the advantage of cops who say they’re likely to get a confession when they surprise the suspect. Wilber says if they have a week or more to think about it, the offender has time to “formulate a story,” and the confession rate drops. Wilber says every case in which police get a confession is another in which they don’t have to hold a court trial, which can be tough on child abuse victims. Cops, school guidance counselors, social workers, mental-health workers and prosecutors from all over southwest Iowa have come for the conference and Wilber says one investigator even drove down from Wisconsin to attend.
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