Special to the Morning Telegraph
For Ms. Cunio, it was a defining moment in her career.
“To me, it lends credence to the power of these interviews because of what it means to the young victims and their families,” said Ms. Cunio, an online master’s degree student at Sam Houston State University who works in the Children’s Advocacy Center serving Anderson and Cherokee counties.
The interview is videotaped and becomes a critical component of the investigation and may be used in judicial proceedings.
Investigators involved in the case can monitor the interview in progress via a two-way mirror and closed circuit television monitors, alleviating the need for multiple interviews.
The investigators are able to meet with Ms. Cunio before the interviews ends to discuss questions that the child may need to address as part of their investigations.
Last year, Ms. Cunio conducted more than 200 forensic interviews in Anderson and Cherokee counties.
The nonprofit agencies also provide counseling, therapy and family advocacy and educate adults and children on personal safety, how to recognize signs of abuse and how to report suspected child abuse or neglect.
The first children’s advocacy center was formed in Huntsville, Ala., in the 1980s when a district attorney recognized the disconnect in child abuse cases between the child, caregiver and investigators.
Different agencies who responded to child abuse investigations were subjecting children to multiple interviews, in various settings over extended periods and were not collaborating efforts or sharing information.
Today, children’s advocacy centers serve as the hub of child abuse investigations and facilitate a coordinated response among all professionals involved.
Children’s advocacy center representatives may remain involved in the case through the point of criminal adjudication.
Ms. Cunio is often called to testify about the process of conducting a forensic interview, disclosure patterns and the role of children’s advocacy centers.
She said they help young victims and their families.
“For children and their families, we provide counseling and follow-up services that emphasize their healing and that promotes justice for victims,” she said. “Children’s advocacy centers are so necessary; I can’t imagine the potential trauma children faced before their existence.”
She said she is increasingly responding to cases involving children used in human trafficking and has interviewed children who were being prostituted by parents and loved ones, exploited in pornographic displays or were held captive as domestic and sexual servants.
Ms. Cunio said she is pursuing a master’s degree in criminal justice leadership and management to help her perform her job more effectively and is considering a career in federal law enforcement.
“I do consider myself to be part of the field of criminal justice, and I work closely with and encounter different elements of the system,” Ms. Cunio said. “I feel motivated to constantly learn and improve my own skills so that I can provide the best services possible to children and their families.”
Beth Kuhles is the publications officer for Sam Houston State University, College of Criminal Justice.