April 25, 2019
April is Child Abuse Prevention & Sexual Assault Awareness month. As former prosecutors, my father, William Dorsey, and myself understand the serious nature and implications of the allegations, as well as the necessity for a thorough investigation during the initial stages. Many times, these crimes do not have forensic evidence or witness testimony to corroborate the allegations. Instead, prosecutors must often weight the credibility of victim testimony alone when making a decision, many times relying solely on the statements of a minor child. Sadly, crimes like child abuse and sexual assault are typically committed in secrecy, the victims often harboring the pain for months (or even years) before even opening up regarding what has happened in their past. On the other end of the spectrum, and also terribly disturbing, are when claims of abuse are alleged to spite another person, even though completely untrue. In both situations, it is incumbent upon law enforcement agencies, prosecutors, defense attorneys and judges to be extremely qualified to how to handle such matters. Experience in these cases can literally make the difference between the truth revealed or a grave injustice, if not handled properly.
While it is impossible to fully explain how much work goes into these cases, it can help to have a general knowledge about what to expect throughout the various stages of investigation. Fortunately, at the Dorsey Law Firm, the attorneys there have dealt with hundreds of these type cases over the years and are equipped to give you the information you’ll need when deciding whether to hire an attorney or not. In particular, I actually served as a prosecutor for over fifteen years, working five years of that time in a specialized division that handled these complex cases. Doing so, meant working alongside several of the agencies that are tasked with helping solve child abuse and sexual assault allegations. In fact, because of my work in that Special Assault Unit, in 2010 I was selected by the Mayor as the recipient of the Judicial Victim Advocate Award, which goes to the top advocate for victims in the judicial system. With that unique knowledge in mind, it allows me to give critical legal advise to both victims and alleged suspects in these type crimes.
If a minor child is involved, then mandatory reporting laws necessarily come into play. Doctors, teachers, therapists and many others all have a legal duty (and a moral responsibility) to report incidents of alleged child abuse. The Sheriff’s Office is likely the first agency to learn of the allegations and investigate the claims. Most times, the Sheriff’s Office will have a dedicated unit, often times called a Sexual Assault or Special Assault Department, with detectives who have extensive training and experience solving these crimes. That detective will gather as much information from the child victim, the child victims parents and any other likely witnesses before making a decision. But as mentioned above, these crimes are often committed in secrecy so corroborating evidence may be limited. Fortunately, many jurisdictions have dedicated places to take the victims, which allow for experts to conduct medical exams and interviews, with information that oftentimes either supplements or potentially even disproves the allegations. Locally, for child victims, this is called the First Coast Child Protection Team (“CPT”), and it is overseen by the University of Florida. For adults, it is the Sexual Assault Response Center or “SARC”.
While by no means the sole determining factor, if penetration or trauma is alleged, a doctor will conduct a medical exam. In addition to documenting any injuries or tears, the doctor will also collect any potential forensic evidence such as the presence of foreign DNA samples. This is what’s commonly referred to as a “Sexual Assault Kit” in the practice of law. This Sexual Assault Kit will then be sent to a lab, analyzed and ultimately the results will be turned over to the law enforcement agency for further evidential consideration. But just because a victim has alleged penetration, does not mean there will be DNA. In fact, often a significant amount of time has passed between the date of the offense and the time of reporting. Or, perhaps the victim has showered in the interim, which eliminates the possibility of finding any traces of foreign DNA. When circumstances such as that occur, law enforcement will still have the interview tape/notes from the trained CPT or SARC worker to reference, and oftentimes that trained interviewer will even provide an expert opinion as to the allegations for consideration.
And then, of course, if a child is the victim the Department of Children and Families (“DCF”) will be involved as well. They too are trained in interviewing and investigating child abuse incidents. While CPT is focused more on interviewing solely minor victims and their family members,
DCF’s interview process can be more in-depth, including interviewing even the alleged suspect. These statements may also be admissible in court later on, even statements that an alleged perpetrator has made. So, it’s incredibly important that if a claim of abuse is made against you, that you speak to an attorney before giving statements regarding the matter to either law enforcement or DCF or to anyone else wishing to interrogate you regarding the situation. Again, these cases are incredibly complex. Investigations can last for months before a decision is even made by law enforcement as to whether to make an arrest. There are so many other factors involved, many of which I haven’t even touched upon. And so if you or a loved one or someone you know is either a victim of this type of crime or is alleged to be a suspect in one, it is extremely wise to consult an attorney who can help explain your circumstances and what to expect and what you should do in greater detail.