SCHERERVILLE — One-third of the criminal cases filed by the Lake County prosecutor involve sex crimes and domestic violence.
Investigating these crimes and helping victims, including women and children, is the focus of the Special Victims Unit, introduced last spring.
Lake County Prosecutor Bernard A. Carter and four female deputy prosecutors provided insight into the SVU’s work during Friday’s monthly meeting of the Lake County Advancement Committee at Teibel’s Restaurant.
Carter said he set up the SVU to focus on four crimes – domestic violence, sex crimes, including rape and child molestation, child pornography and human trafficking.
The main problem facing prosecutors is “the lack of victim cooperation,” said Deputy Prosecutor Nadia Wardrip. “The perpetrator is known to the victim – father, stepfather, mom’s boyfriend. The victims have been manipulated for years and years.”
Prosecutors fulfill the role of counselor to determine what the woman needs for support, what the children need and what needs to be done to prevent the crime from happening again, Wardrip said. “We can’t throw everyone in jail.”
The SVU goals include training police and detectives to know how to handle the situation, she said. “We see a lot of victim-blaming.”
Training for nurses who handle sexual assault patients and community education comprise other goals for 2019.
Deputy Prosecutor Jessica Arnold said domestic violence includes physical, sexual and psychological abuse. After an assault, there is usually “a honeymoon phase” but the tensions build again, she said.
“A victim will leave (the abuser) seven times,” Arnold said.
Domestic violence is also a “serious problem for business,” accounting for $1.8 billion in losses due to employees missing work or being unable to continue working,” she said.
Employers should look for tell-tale signs of domestic violence including bruising, black eyes, hearing loss and wearing long sleeves during the summer months, Arnold noted.
Sexual assault occurs every 98 seconds, said Deputy Prosecutor Infinity Baulos.
“One in nine girls and one in 53 boys are raped by an adult,” Baulos said. “We hear about false rape claims. Less than 5 percent are false, and 63 percent of rapes are not reported to police.”
Sexual assault of a minor is child molestation and “93 percent of child molestation victims know the person. One in 10 children is molested before their teens and 20 percent of those before they are 8 years old,” she said.
Child pornography also abuses children and has increased 200 percent in the last 10 years, Baulos said. “The United States is the second highest ranked in the world behind The Netherlands in child pornography.”
Human trafficking is a $105 billion industry and 83 percent are American citizens, she said, with sporting events and festivals the primary places where human trafficking takes place. Teens and runaways are primary targets.
Methods of prosecuting sex crimes have changed recently to promote thorough investigation and obtaining tangible evidence, said Deputy Prosecutor Maryam Afshar.
“Our goal is to keep everyone safe – the victims and society as a whole. If the suspect is willing to get help, we try to get him help,” Afshar said. “We either have a pre-trial agreement (admitting guilt) or we go to trial.”