The Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association met Wednesday to advocate the use of the endowment placed on Penn State to fund Child Advocacy Centers throughout the state.
"Child Advocacy Centers work," said Shawn Wagner, president of the PDAA. "And I know because I have one in Adam's Town. It has changed children's lives and helped the process of healing children and achieving justice in these cases."
The endowment resulted from the sanctions placed on Penn State by the NCAA, which included a $60 million fine, a four year bowl ban, and a reduction of scholarships from 25 to 15.
Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller said she has been working to start a center in Centre County since she was elected and they are currently in the process of seeking funding.
"One question resonates and continues to resonate as we reflect on these events," she said. "Would things be different in our community if we had a Child Advocacy Center? Would there be different results, less victims? We don't like to look backward; we like to look forward. But that's something that's on the minds as we plan what's best for the children and plan to fight sexual abuse."
Wagner said high-profile sexual abuse cases such as that of Jerry Sandusky, who was convicted on 45 of 48 counts of child sexual abuse, have increased public understanding of child sexual abuse.
In order to move forward, he said the PDAA wants to ensure that the good intentions currently spotlighted on sexual abuse focus on the services that best protect the children and hold predators responsible.
Wagner said the PDAA has written letters to both NCAA president Mark Emmert and university president Rodney Erickson asking them to consider the Child Abuse Center when determining how to distribute the funds.
Wagner said the Child Advocacy Centers are the best option for the endowment because they create a safe, child-friendly, non-threatening environment for the children.
"What makes Child Advocacy Centers work is the cooperation," he said. "Cooperation between the prosecutors, police, service workers, as well as victim advocates. The child's needs are always put first."
President of the PA chapter of Child Advocacy Centers Abbie Newman said without a center, children are subjected to multiple and repetitive interviews where the child ends up experiencing additional trauma as they are forced to relive the story over again.
"Imagine telling a parent whose child finally has the courage to disclose they've been abused by so and so, and by the way, they're going to have to go tell it again and again," she said.
Parks Miller said the centers eliminate the fundamental flaw in child sexual abuse cases by having the child go through the interview process only once, which ensures the defense attorney cannot pick apart the child's argument based on slight story differences in different interviews.
Newman said the original idea for the center originated in Alabama in 1985 with the concept to have the child be the hub of the wheel and the professionals be the spokes.
She said currently, only 21 counties out of 67 have centers in PA.
"The ultimate success of every Child Advocacy Center relies on the fact that it's a flexible structure and can be brought equally well to each community in Pennsylvania regardless of the make-up of each community," she said.
Parks Miller said she spoke with a female survivor of child abuse and explained what the center would have done for her.
"She was bowled over by the idea that she could have gone through the system without the torment of repeated and repeated interviews," she said.
Currently, Wagner said the centers rely solely on individual donations and fundraisers as an income, as they do not charge the children and families who go.
"They have the smallest voice and in some cases, they have no voice," Parks Miller said. "We as prosecutors, we as citizens, must protect them and put these predators away."