The way police and social service workers handle an initial report of sexual abuse of a child can make or break the state's case against an alleged abuser.
Maeghan Maloney, district attorney for Kennebec and Somerset counties, says a neutral, non-threatening environment is needed for a forensic interviewer to conduct interviews with a young victim - and not just from a therapeutic perspective.
"It's absolutely critical to the successful prosecution of the case," Maloney says.
Maloney's office relies on the Children's Advocacy Center of Kennebec and Somerset Counties to provide that first response in sexual assault cases involving children. Maloney says the three-year program centered in the Seton Unit of the MaineGeneral in Waterville has provided the kind of supportive atmosphere that traumatized children desperately require.
This month, the center was accredited by the National Children's Alliance, and is the only such center in the state with that distinction.
"And what this accreditation says is that this center has reached a level where they have professional interviewers," Maloney says. "So they're making sure that the child gives the information, that that interview is done correctly, and then they're also wrapping the services around the child to make it easy for the child to have all the services he or she needs to recuperate afterwards."
The Children's Advocacy Center also offers support to the child's family, and can include them as part of a team. Michelle Galego is a child and family supervisor at DHHS who worked to help the center achieve its national accreditation.
"We came to the table with a shared vision, and that was to develop a more comprehensive and collaborative response to child sexual abuse," Galego said. "We wanted to develop one that best served and supported not only the child victims, but also their families."
And there are other efforts underway to bolster the system. Just down the road from Waterville in Vassalboro, is the Maine State Police Computer Crimes Unit, where investigators are hoping for a mobile forensic lab to quickly begin investigations of child pornography cases - a crime that consumes about 80 percent of the unit's resources.
The non-profit group, Mainely Girls in Rockport, has pledged to help raise $100,000 toward purchase of that lab, says Executive Director Mary Orear.
"We actually have raised only 25 percent to date, but there has been a lot of interest the last few weeks and we have sent out proposals to five different foundations that we're waiting to hear back from," Orear says. "And we're going to begin going to businesses next week."
At the Computer Crimes Unit, Lt. Glenn Lang says the Maine State Police cannot solicit the kinds of contributions being sought by Orear's organization. Lang says it's humbling when Mainers take the initiative to make the state a better place to live.
"I applaud her actions," Lang says. "I mean she took this upon herself and, I mean, it's pretty incredible when individuals in the community step up and do these types of things."
Learn more about the group, Silent no More.