Baltimore prosecutors and police rely primarily on adult witnesses to crime to solve cases, but with the increasing violence in they city they have begun turning to the most unlikely source, children.
On Monday, the state’s attorney office and Police Department announced a partnership with Baltimore Child Abuse Centers’ trained interviewers to question the youngest witnesses of violence and other crimes. The idea is to solve crimes and help children deal with the trauma.
“Children witnesses oftentimes suffer first-hand violence,” said Baltimore State’s attorney Marilyn J. Mosby. “The post-traumatic stress, the depression, attachment issues … If we don’t try to channel this in a productive way, it can be detrimental.”
In a city, where violent crimes and homicide is surging, with 130 homicides recorded this year so far, children are potentially valuable witnesses.
For years, law enforcement has partnered with the child abuse center to prosecute and solve cases of sexual abuse. The center can now prove even more valuable by helping to carefully get information from children on a wider array of crimes.
Detectives in the Baltimore Police Department’s family crimes unit moved to the center at 2300 North Charles Street. In addition to the move, the center’s staff is performing a higher number of forensic interviews. The U.S. Department of Justice awarded the center a $600,000 grant, which will be utilized to hire new staff members and a specialized therapist to work with children, conduct research at Baltimore schools and train prosecutors.
Some children have already been brought to the center after being rescued from a sex trafficking ring and only minutes after witnessing a homicide. For other children, it may take weeks or months to arrive at the center.
In 2010, the center extended opening times to 24 hours a day, while adding services for youth involved in trafficking, domestic violence and pornography. In 2016, the center served over 1,000 children and nearly three years ago, it began aiding police in homicide investigations.
The center offers medical services, art therapy, yoga and referrals for counseling and psychiatric help. It also provides trainings for teachers, camp counselors, coaches and others who frequently interact with children.
Just recently, a mother brought her son and two daughters to the center to be screened for STDs related to an alleged sexual abuse case. Urine samples were collected, while Nickelodeon’s Dora the Explorer played in the background.
“There are kids who are experiencing a lot of trauma and if we do that right, if we respond correctly and get these children help, we will build a better city a generation from now,” said Adam Rosenberg, the center’s director.
Baltimore Child Abuse Center
2300 North Charles Street
Baltimore, Maryland 21218