JACKSON, MS (WLBT) - Forensic interviewers are on the front lines in a child's journey to recovery after sexual and physical abuse and even human trafficking.
Tomiko Mackey received the 2019 Champions of Children Award for her work with abused children -- and she is Mississippi Strong.
Mackey is often one of the first people to hear the story of a sexually or physically abused child.
“Allowing them to tell in their own words what they experienced,” said Mackey.
The 20-year clinical social worker is a forensic interviewer and director of clinical services at a children’s advocacy center.
In comfortable, quiet rooms equipped with cameras, forensic interviewers gather information which is recorded and ultimately used in court.
Experts report that one in four girls and one in six boys are sexually abused before their 18th birthday. Ninety-five percent of children know their perpetrator.
“Sometimes the forensic interview is the first opportunity that the child has to disclose what they experienced and so we want to make sure that that experience of the forensic interview is non-traumatizing, and there is a sense of compassion and empathy for the child,” said the child advocate.
During a session Thursday at the Children’s Advocacy Centers of Mississippi in Jackson, forensic interviewers reviewed techniques and protocol to handle cases of alleged abuse and trafficking.
“If a child who has been trafficked has multiple offenders to discuss we may not do that all in one interview,” said Mackey. “So we may talk about one offender, take a break and that break might be 30 minutes. It might be another day”.
The process includes building a rapport with the child and asking non biased non suggestive questions.
Forensic interviewers work with law enforcement, child protection services and the mental health and medical communities to get the child needed help following the trauma.
"It's important that when a child discloses that they have been sexually abused or that they've been physically abused that we believe them," added Mackey.
She is also a consultant for the National Children's Alliance on the use of evidence-based practices.
The Children’s Advocacy Centers of Mississippi also recognized Captain Tonya Madison and James G. (Bo) Chastain as 2019 Champions of Children Award recipients.