Child Protection Team for Special Victims

January 3, 2023 Criminal Defense, Sex Crimes

When a criminal case involves the abuse, abandonment, or neglect of a minor in Florida, a child protection team (CPT) may be assigned to the victim for additional support. A recent case in Osceola County has recently been criticized for conducting an “inappropriate” investigation with a minor that did not include a CPT.

This article will provide information on child protection teams and their roles in a criminal case, along with details from Florida’s recent legislature on sexual assault response teams.

What is a Child Protection Team?

Child Protection Teams (CPT) are independent programs—typically community-based—that help to provide expertise in evaluating alleged mistreatment of child abuse and neglect. CPTs assess the risk factors and provide recommendations for interventions to protect children and enhance families’ capacities to provide safer environments for victims when possible.

According to the University of Florida’s College of Medicine, CPT services help to supplement the child protective investigation activities of the Department of Children and Families, along with law enforcement.

Florida Statute section 39.303 explains that the role of a CPT is to support the assessment and protective supervision activities of the family safety and preservation program and to provide services deemed by the Department of Children and Families to be necessary and appropriate to abused, abandoned, and neglected children upon referral.

CPTs must be capable of providing specialized diagnostic assessments, evaluations, coordination, consultations, and other services which include, but are not limited to the following:

  • Medical diagnosis and evaluation services, including provision or interpretation of X-rays and laboratory tests, and related services as needed.
  • Telephone consultation services in emergencies and other situations.
  • Medical evaluation related to abuse, abandonment, or neglect, as defined by the Department of Health’s policies and procedures.
  • Psychological and psychiatric diagnosis and evaluation services for the child or the child’s parent(s), legal custodian(s), or any other individual involved in child abuse, abandonment, or neglect cases, as the team may determine to be needed.
  • Expert medical, psychological, and related professional testimony in court cases.
  • Case staffing to develop treatment plans for minors who have their cases referred to a CPT. The CPT may provide a consultation for the child who was abused, abandoned, or neglected. In every CPT staffing, consultation, or staff activity involving a child, a family safety and preservation program representative must be in attendance and participate.
  • Case service coordination and assistance, including the location of services available from other public agencies in the community.
  • Such training services for the program and other employees of the Department of Children and Families, Department of Health, and other medical professionals as is deemed appropriate to enable them to develop and maintain their professional skills and abilities in handling child abuse cases.
  • Educational and community awareness campaigns on child abuse, abandonment, and neglect in an effort to enable citizens to successfully prevent, identify, and treat child abuse, abandonment, and neglect within the community.
  • CPT assessments that include, as appropriate, medical evaluations, medical consultations, family psychosocial interviews, specialized clinical interviews, or forensic interviews.

Example Case

Detectives from Osceola County are being criticized for failing to comply with standard operating procedures for special victims. According to the report, a 14-year-old victim was being interviewed by detectives for inappropriately being touched by a 17-year-old living in the same house.

An email sent to subordinates by Maj. Robert Yawn claimed that the investigators had the victim reenact the assault by demonstrating on camera “the position she was in when the assault occurred.” The victim was then told to “recreate the suspect’s actions.”

When Osceola County Sheriff’s Office submitted the incident report, there was no mention of how the victim described the assault. However, Yawn’s email explained the interrogation in detail, described as having “played out on the floor of the interview room.”

One of the concerns from the interview was due to a child protection team (CPT) member not being present with the child victim. Under agency policy for a Special Victims Unit, victims under 16 are required to have a CPT during an interview.

This would be a clear violation of the best practices for these types of interviews, claimed by experts working in the field of sexual violence. The risk from violations can jeopardize the victim and cause them to needlessly be retraumatized by the crime.

The following is a statement from Yawn regarding the interview:

“Although I am new to [the Criminal Investigations Bureau] and have minimal experience investigating crimes of a sexual nature, I am familiar with investigative interview protocols and was alarmed we had a victim reenact a traumatizing event and confused as to why policy was not followed.”

Yawn’s email urged subordinates to “immediately cease” the recreation of sex crimes by the victims unless approved by a captain or other employee of a higher rank.

Despite the concern over the email and the interview process, there was no internal investigation into the detectives who conducted the interview. The supervisor of the unit, Sgt. Stephanie King, was moved from the SVU to her previous role of overseeing the patrol unit.

Yawn retired in September, meaning Maj. Wiley Black was reassigned to the Criminal Investigations Bureau (CIB). The Sheriff’s Office declined to provide any comment on Yawn’s departure or whether they were aware of other instances in which victims were told to reenact the actions of their attacker.

Responses to the Example Case

A spokesperson from the law enforcement agency gave the following statement:

“The Sheriff [Marcos Lopez] is dedicated to providing a safe and comfortable environment for victims of sexual abuse to disclose what happened to them. Detectives need to get as many details as possible regarding the facts of the crime in order to be able to hold the victim’s abuser accountable.”

In addition, the spokesperson claimed that in certain circumstances, some victims are “more at ease demonstrating what took place, rather than verbalizing each detail.”

Erin Earp from RAINN—the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization—explained that having survivors reenact their attacks goes against the best investigative practices when dealing with sex crimes. Earp stressed that doing so can reopen the original trauma of the attack while not adding anything useful to the investigation itself.

“A victim being asked to inhabit the mind of their perpetrator and act out as if they are their perpetrator is incredibly traumatizing,” said Earp. “Our brains are designed to keep us alive, but they aren’t wired necessarily to remember chronologically every detail of what happened. It’s an unreasonable ask.”

Earp added that the investigating detectives could potentially introduce “bad evidence” for the case and its attorneys. An entire case could potentially be jeopardized by the victim misremembering the position of the body, or if the victim is asked to fill in memory gaps.

UF Senior lecturer Tiffany Sanford Jenson called the forced reenactment “beyond comprehension,” claiming that it puts the victim in a position to be retraumatized while on trial.

“It’s normal to second-guess ourselves, but sometimes an investigator might interject because they’re trying to get a consistent story from the prosecutor,” lecturer Jensen said. “If that gets on camera, even the smallest little interjection, that can be constructed as leading the witness and interfering with the testimony. That’s where the backfire can happen.”

Both Seminole and Orange County offer CPTs who are specifically trained to interview and assess youth victims alongside authorities. Lecturer Jenson claims that having CPT professionals in the investigation room adds additional layers of accountability.

“Even if this victim volunteered to reenact, should they? This is a 14-year-old girl,” Sanford Jensen said. “That’s where that professional can say, “it’s not really in her best interest to go through with this.”

Florida Legislature on Sexual Assault Response Teams

In 2021, Florida Legislature passed HB 1189 titled “Victims of Sexual Offenses.” Now codified under Florida Statute section 154.012, the state is now required to create guidelines “with an emphasis on culturally responsive, trauma-informed training on interviewing sexual assault victims.”

The new law went into effect on July 1st, 2021, and states that each county’s health department shall participate in the sexual assault response team that is coordinated by the certified rape crisis center if such a sexual assault team exists. If one does not already exist, the county’s certified rape crisis center may coordinate with community partners to establish a county-specific or regional sexual assault response team.

Each of the sexual assault response teams shall meet quarterly and develop written protocols to govern the team’s response to sexual assault, which must include all of the following:

  • Roles and responsibilities of each team member
  • Procedures following a report of a sexual assault, including:
    • Law enforcement and immediate crisis response
    • Healthcare treatment for a sexual assault victim
    • Follow-up services provided to a sexual assault victim
  • Procedures for the preservation, secure storage, and destruction of evidence from a sexual assault evidence kit, including the length of storage, site of storage, and chain of custody.
  • Procedures for maintaining the confidentiality of a sexual assault victim during a forensic medical examination.

The sexual assault response team must also promote and support the use of qualified sexual assault forensic examiners who have successfully completed a minimum of 40 hours of specialized training in the provisions of trauma-informed medical care and in the collection of evidence in sexual assault cases.

New Required Police Training

The recently enacted Florida Statute section 943.1724 explains the requirements for sexual assault investigative training. The statute states that the Florida Council Against Sexual Violence, along with the commission, must establish minimum standards for law enforcement officers to include trauma-informed responses to cases involving sexual assault.

By July 1st, 2024, each law enforcement officer will be required to successfully complete training on sexual assault, with an emphasis on culturally responsive, trauma-informed training on interviewing sexual assault victims and investigations of sexual assault as a part of the basic recruitment. If any officer fails to complete the sexual assault training, their certification may be placed on inactive status until the employing agency notifies the commission that he or she has completed the training.

Finding a Defense Attorney in Tallahassee, Florida

Crimes involving sexual assault are taken very seriously in Florida, especially with the new laws being implemented over the last year. While sex crimes come with the stigma that the defendant is immediately guilty, that is not true. Not only are there cases in which the defendant is innocent, but every defendant is innocent until proven guilty. Therefore, it’s imperative for anyone accused of a sex crime in Florida to reach out to a skilled defense attorney in their area.

Don Pumphrey and his legal team at Pumphrey Law Firm have years of experience representing Florida citizens from all walks of life. Our team will work tirelessly to build a strong defense for your case. Contact us today for a free consultation at (850) 681-7777 or leave an online message on our website.

Written by Karissa Key

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