PRINCETON, WV (WVNS) — Child neglect, abuse and sexual exploitation is an ongoing problem all over the country. But in West Virginia, law enforcement agencies are creating task forces to combat the neglect and abuse of minors.
According to the West Virginia Child Advocacy Network, 1 in 10 children will be sexually assaulted before the age of 18. Every year in West Virginia, more than 4,000 children are assessed for abuse or neglect.
Det. Sgt. Steven Sommers with the Mercer County Sheriff’s Department said these cases are investigated unlike any other.
“The purpose of that is to diligently go over each case, the facts of each case and determine what needs to be done next, investigative wise or what needs to be done next in the civil side of it, abuse and neglect hearings in civil court,” said Sommers.
These cases are investigated through the Multidisciplinary Investigative Team, or MDIT. Multiple agencies make up this team, including law enforcement, child protective services, psychiatrists and prosecutors. Sommers said regardless of the type of abuse, the case quickly goes to MDIT for a full investigation.
“It’s a two prong investigation,” Sommers said. “Child protective services and law enforcement determine criminal liability.”
Sommers said having a team like MDIT for this realm of crime is important to not only those investigating, but the victims too.
“For that child to have a singular voice and not be drowned out by other voices… these teams are a segue to have a voice and have their moment to be heard,” Sommers said. “It’s extremely important that these teams exist and that they cohesively work together. We’re very fortunate in this county.”
Sommers said each victim processes trauma differently, but the use of MDIT gives victims a chance to begin the healing process. He said in all of his years of working on child neglect and abuse cases, victims getting their chance to speak up is one of the main ways to heal.