A pre-teen girl was sexually assaulted by an adult she knew, but prosecutors said her comments and the behavior that followed the assault were ignored until she wrote something at school that concerned a teacher.
After the case was investigated and charges were filed, the victim told a mental health professional that she was not scared of the offender and wished that he would be allowed to return to his home. As a result of that request and recommendations from a caseworker with the Department of Human Services, the man walked out of the courtroom and back to his life.
Christopher Scott Barr, 33, of Vilonia stood before Judge David Reynolds last month after pleading guilty to sexual assault in the second degree and received 60 months of probation. A $2,500 fine was suspended as long as he completes sex offender treatment and abides by all of the orders from the court and the rules given to him by a DHS caseworker. He has been allowed contact with the victim.
The Central Arkansas Children’s Advocacy Center, a group that helps children who have been victims of crime navigate through the justice system, was not involved in this specific case. Tess Fletcher, director of the center, said her agency generally would not recommend that a sexual abuse victim be placed into a situation where he or she would see the abuser on a regular basis.
“What the Children’s Advocacy Alliance works hard to do is create an environment where the child feels safe,” she said. “Although it is looked upon on a case by case basis, we are most frequently dealing with children who have recently suffered trauma and are not in a position where contact with the offender in any way is in the best interest of the child.”
Fletcher went on to say that her agency would only recommend contact if a mental health professional believed contact would aid in the child’s healing process.
While Fletcher’s agency deals with victims throughout the duration of the court proceedings, caseworkers with the Department of Human Services have contact with victims even after their court cases are over. However, their recommendations may be a determining factor in what sentences the offenders receive.
According to Amy Webb, DHS director of communications, the main goal of the agency in any case is to make sure the child is safe.
“Our No. 1 priority is the safety of the child,” she said. “If we feel a child is not safe, we will remove the child from his/her current environment. A lot of factors are reviewed to determine safety. Each case is looked at individually as there is no one formula that fits every situation — even situations that may seem clear-cut. In general, when DHS gets involved, the child may receive counseling and therapy as well as other services.”
Still speaking in general terms, Webb went on to say that when a judge is deciding whether to keep a child in close proximity to the person who was being investigated or to keep the child in foster care, the judge may take into consideration information from DHS caseworkers, recommendations of therapists and what the child wants to happen.
During Barr’s sentencing, his attorney, Frank Shaw, requested probation because “it was the right thing to do.” Shaw stated that he believes prosecutors are being too hard on sex offenders. The following excerpt was taken from a transcribed record of the court proceedings.
“Apparently the State presumes that no good can ever come out of a bad situation and I disagree with that not only here but as a general theory,” Shaw said. “If the State is going to be hard on sex offenders and homicide, well, that’s great, but you need to look at each case on an individual basis and not paint everyone with the same broad brush and that seems to be the situation of the State at this particular time. Sex offense, you go to prison, in spite of the counselor’s recommendation, in spite of the victim’s pleas and those of the mother. In spite of the counseling and anger management, in spite of the fact that DHS is recommending” a return to regular contact.
(Candie Beck is a staff writer and can be reached at 505-1238 or at firstname.lastname@example.org)