Child sexual abuse is a serious problem in the commonwealth. Now, state lawmakers are on a mission to make it easier for investigators to work together and protect the well-being of helpless victims.
The Virginia State Crime Commission is considering a measure that would require different groups to coordinate early and often in cases of abuse. It’s a strategy that calls for the creation of “multi-disciplinary teams,” or MDTs. Charlottesville and Albemarle County have been using the MDT approach since the early 1990s, bringing together law enforcement, the Department of Social Services, and child advocates to ensure investigations are being handled properly.
Albemarle County Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Darby Lowe says, more importantly, MDTs help child victims get the support they need.
“The prosecution of the child abuse cases is important, but the well-being of the children, the healing of the children, is also our ultimate goal,” she said.
Albemarle County Delegate Rob Bell is vice chair of the Crime Commission. While getting groups to work together seems like common sense, he says it’s more difficult than it looks.
“Getting all the parts to work on it is hard,” Bell said. “You want to make sure that nothing ever slips through the cracks.”
Bell and others on the commission are looking to places like Albemarle as they now consider requiring MDTs statewide.
“We have to make sure that everyone is working together,” Bell said. “We don’t want a social worker investigating a criminal charge. That’s something that should be up to law enforcement.”
The commission is now in the process of drafting several bills to address training and investigations into child sexual abuse cases. It will meet on December 2 to review legislation before sending it along to the General Assembly.