A Cycle of Abuse, Pt. 1: The team

Published: Nov. 8, 2020 at 11:51 AM CST
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The story was originally published and aired April 14, 2019, but is being republished after it did not properly transfer onto WSAW’s new web platform.

WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAW) - A Cycle of Abuse, Pt. 1: 7 Investigates began this project by attending a monthly meeting attended by agencies all across Marathon County responsible for either investigating the cases or protecting and servicing the victims of child sexual assault. As a result, that’s where our series begins.

Advocates. Social services. Law enforcement. Counselors. Forensic interviewers. Nurses. State attorneys.

Every month, these people come together at the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin’s Child Advocacy Center in Wausau to share notes and discuss the details of ongoing cases of child sexual assault in Marathon County.

Each person at the table has their own role to play in these investigations, and they all agree that the multidisciplinary approach keeps each of them on the same page.

It does not just help them understand other agencies' needs, it helps them fill in gaps in the cases.

Stephanie Hamman is a child counselor, whose role at the monthly meetings is to help provide insight into a victim’s mental health.

“We always choose a case that’s happened and talk about it start to finish: from the first time there was contact with the family through present day. And to be able to look for ways we can improve and to look for ways that we might be missing a need that we didn’t realize.”

Marathon County’s district attorney Theresa Wetzsteon explains that the approach helps communicate through every facet of their system.

“If we don’t, we’re going to miss things that will help support victims, we’re going to miss critical information in the investigation, we’re going to waste time,” Wetzsteon tells 7 Investigates. Because even for her, the meetings provide insight she is unable to get herself.

“I’ve learned so much beyond what I can see through police reports or my brief encounters with victims of crimes,” Wetzsteon said.

For professionals who have been on the front lines of child sexual assault cases for a couple of decades or more, they say the multidisciplinary approach is proven to be one of the most effective.

Child Protective Services (CPS) supervisor Christa Jensen is one of those professionals, and she says the Marathon County team is one of the strongest she has worked with.

Speaking of other agencies, she explains, “They can do some things differently than I maybe can and can maybe gather some information that I can’t. And we can freely share that information among one another to make sure that what we’re doing is in the best interest of this family and in the best interest of that maltreater.”

But the meetings serve another purpose: “The importance of showing that victim that there’s a team of people around you,” Jensen explained.

Continue reading this series: A Cycle of Abuse, Pt. 2: Interviewing children about child sexual assault.

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