In a child sex abuse case that led to an arrest last week, local advocates saw a silver lining: The victims sought help and found it, showing the investigative process worked.
Eric Todd Crader, 33, of Pleasant Gap, was arrested Feb. 26 on 1,278 counts of various forms of child sexual abuse.
While Crader is now in Centre County Correctional Facility on $500,000 bail awaiting his March 12 preliminary hearing, the process that led to his arrest followed the trail that law enforcement and child advocates said they want to see.
According to court records, the first domino fell in May 2013. That is when one of the two children in the case stepped forward, telling a guidance counselor at school what was happening, what had been happening for two years.
The counselor contacted Centre County Children and Youth Services, who in turn contacted Spring Township police, who contacted the Centre County District Attorney’s Office. An arrest was made.
CYS cannot talk about the case specifically because of confidentiality concerns for the juvenile victims. Hypothetically, though, they could comment on the process.
“In the perfect world of doing an investigation, that is how it works. That’s the perfect investigation,” said agency liaison Mary Ann Zimmerman.
The protocols the agency follows for investigating cases follow the affidavit’s timeline almost to the letter. They have 30 days to investigate, with the possibility of another 30-day extension if necessary, coordinating with other organizations — such as police departments and prosecutors — to get the process done quickly and accurately.
In 2012, CYS handled 182 cases, including reports of physical and sexual abuse and neglect, according to the department.
Police investigations run concurrently, said Zimmerman, focusing on different aspects and sometimes running far beyond that monthlong deadline. The Crader case, for example, took almost 10 months for charges to be filed.
The region has seen plenty of criticism of reporting child sex abuse surrounding the highly publicized Jerry Sandusky case. Zimmerman has been holding training sessions with mandated reporters on what to look for and how to handle victims who come forward.
“You need to believe them. You need to take it very seriously. I think people are understanding the importance of that,” she said. “Kids will disclose to whoever they feel most comfortable with. It’s important to know how to react. How you react can impact the case. If you don’t believe them, it could reinforce what the person abusing them has said, that no one will believe them.”
Centre County is addressing the complicated issue of investigating the cases with the introduction of the Centre County Children’s Advocacy Center that opened last month, an approach that hopes to streamline the process and make it less stressful on victims by making it easier to interview children in a single setting.
“Upon receiving the referral at the CAC of Centre County, the staff coordinates with the multidisciplinary investigative-intervention team to schedule a child friendly and appropriate forensic interview and medical exam at the CAC. The representatives working with the child may include law enforcement, child protective services, medical examiners, prosecutors, victim’s advocates and mental health providers,” said CAC Executive Director Kristina Taylor-Porter. “This team approach to the investigation and intervention of child abuse ensures the child’s best interest are at the forefront of our services. With the CAC model in place, representatives from multiple organizations come together to hear from the child one time in a safe and child-focused atmosphere.”
“The Crader case truly speaks to the effectiveness of teamwork and a CAC approach. Anytime we put children first and rally around them at their most difficult times, the best outcome occurs,” District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller said.