HERMITAGE — When authorities in Mercer County investigate one of the most heinous crimes imaginable — the sexual assault of a child — that process begins at the Mercer County Child Advocacy Center.
However, examinations for evidence must be handled at Akron Children’s Hospital in Akron or one of the hospitals in Pittsburgh.
“It’s quite a hardship on families,” said Mary Ann Daniels, chief executive officer with the Mercer County Behavioral Health Commission.
But because of a state grant, those examinations could soon be handled locally.
The grant of $47,000 was administered by the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency, based on a recommendation by the Mercer County Children’s Advocacy Center Advisory Committee, said state Rep. Mark Longietti, D-7, Hermitage.
“Children victimized by sexual abuse need state-of-the-art care, including medical evaluations and examinations that will not add to the trauma they have already endured,” Longietti said in a press release. “The funds awarded today will help ensure that our advocacy and support professionals are trained in best practices and have the resources needed to carry out urgent, non-urgent and wellness exams in the most effective, least intimidating manner possible.”
Using the funds, Daniels said the Mercer County Behavioral Health Commission would hire a certified sexual assault nurse examiner, who would be able to interview and check the victims for potential evidence or signs of sexual abuse.
The commission also would aim to establish an examination room, which would have a more child-friendly design than a typical examination room. The examiner would also give children a full wellness check, which would make the process seem more like a regular doctor’s visit, Daniels said.
“If you’ve ever been to the emergency room, which most adults have, it can be very scary,” she said. “We have a room we’re hoping to use that we can make into a child-friendly place where the children can feel safe.”
Cases where there is potential child abuse are recommended to the Mercer County Children’s Advocacy Center by either the law enforcement agency involved, Mercer County Children and Youth Services, or both, Daniels said.
The Children’s Advocacy Center, which is part of the Behavioral Health Commission and supported by CYS, handles interviews with potential victims. However, the county has been without a sexual assault nurse examiner-certified nurse for about three or four years, Daniels said.
Mercer County District Attorney Pete Acker, who signed a letter of support for the initial grant application, said having a certified nurse available locally would be a big help.
In some instances, Acker, who took office in February, said he hadn’t been able to have a certified nurse from Akron Children’s Hospital to testify in Mercer County cases, which led to a lengthy legal process. Having a locally based certified nurse would streamline investigations and prosecutions.
“We’ll be absolutely merciless in prosecuting those defendants,” Acker said.
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