Canine advocacy program sought
CRYSTAL FALLS—To even try to comprehend the terror that victims of child sexual assault must feel when asked to testify against their perpetrator is really more than most of us can imagine.
Many victims can’t do it. Because of that, criminal sexual assault cases can fall apart, letting predators go free.
That was the point Prosecuting Attorney Melissa Powell and Canine Advocacy Program founder and director Dan Cojanu made at the regular meeting of the Iron County Board of Commissioners on Feb. 10.
As a means of confronting this reality, Powell and Cojanu offered a presentation detailing the benefits of using trained dogs to help comfort not only child victims of sexual abuse or domestic abuse but also elderly crime victims in the process of obtaining vital testimony.
“Imagine telling anyone about your most recent sexual encounter in explicit detail,” Powell said. “Then imagine telling that to 13 strangers on a jury. Then imagine you’re a 6-year-old who has to describe that.
“In child sexual assault cases, you have the most vulnerable victims. And we’ve had cases that we haven’t been able to bring to court because the children are just incapable of testifying. We’ve had cases where the child has blown up on the stand because they are so anxious.”
After hearing from Powell and Cojanu, the board unanimously approved moving forward with the program, but some details will have to be worked out—specifically, who will own the dog and what the liability costs will be.
Presently, there are 12 dogs doing this kind of work in Michigan through Canine Advocacy, a nonprofit agency from Novi that began in 2009. There are none in the Upper Peninsula and thus the need.
“Frankly, these kids are terrified going into a court room,” Cojanu said during a Skype presentation. “This is an adult system we’re pushing children into, and they have to sit 20 feet away from somebody who may have assaulted them or abused them. And it’s just too much.