In criminal cases where children and teenagers are the victims, the best strategy for prosecutors is to build their trust, according to Assistant District Attorney Jamie Turnage.
Recent toy donations from local business and the community will help prosecutors in the District Attorney’s Office for the 13th District do just that. In April—a month to dedicated to the awareness of crime victims, including children—Turnage spearheaded a toy drive to supply toys for their children’s room.
“I was floored. I was truly humbled…I never expected what we got. And that’s very reassuring,” Turnage said. “We often see the worst in people [when dealing with cases]. And so it was just nice to see the good in the community.”
Children and teens are not familiar with the court system, but Turnage said the children’s and teen rooms will offer victims something consistent through an often lengthy process.
“It’s, to me, so tragic that a child even ends up in this office for a reason like what they do. I recently started working sex cases in the past year…and it never ceases to amaze me, some of the things that I read, some of the facts [of the cases] that you read…they’re shocking.”
In those cases, there are typically two types of victims.
“You have the younger victims who don’t know any different and then you have teenage victims who do know it’s wrong and you do have to handle them a little differently,” she said.
And getting victims to trust and open up to prosecutors is often difficult.
“You’re very fortunate for them to even disclose to you what’s happened to them,” Turnage said. “They don’t know you. So for them to come in a meet you and start talking about those things is not natural. [We] get to know them, get down on the floor and play with them, be their friend…we just bond with them. And then they are excited to come back to see us again. And we start to build some trust with them.”
In the end, most of the victims—young children and teens—are going to face a court room, which is an environment foreign to most at a young age.
“We’re going to put them in front of a bunch of strangers and we’re going to ask them to talk about something that’s really uncomfortable. And they need to be able have that trust with you, in order to help get them through that process.
“That’s the premise behind the children’s room…It gives me a better tool to make a decision about whether a victim is going to be able to be prepared for the courtroom experience. And it’s something that we can do and have something to talk about that’s not related to the case or the reason why they’re here,” Turnage said.
While the District Attorney’s office had toys and the space for their child victims, many of the toys were old and worn, which is where they toy collection drive came into play.
“We had a lot of stuffed animals that were really dirty. We would try to use these spaces the best we could, but we desperately needed some help,” Turnage said.
The outpouring of support supplied toys and furnishings for not only the District Attorney’s office in Brunswick County, but the offices in Bladen and Columbus counties, as well. The children’s space in Brunswick County has since been set up and put to use.
A young boy, whose sister was a victim, was recently overwhelmed by the children’s room, Turnage said.
“It was the most precious thing. And he had touched almost every single toy. It was like Christmas in here for him,” she said.
Donations came from New Hanover and Brunswick County Toys for Tots, Home Depot, Brunswick Electric and the community, as well as victims in former cases.