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Kids HOPE Center’s forensic interviewer is seeing more child sex abuse cases go to court

COOS COUNTY – Now that school has started, the Kids HOPE Center expects its caseload of reported child sex abuse to skyrocket by nearly 30 percent.

In The World's continuing series of looking at what happens at the center, forensic interviewer Scott Snyder sat down to talk about his part of the process.

Though only around 5 percent of cases go on to prosecution, due to lack of evidence, Snyder said more and more cases are going to court. In fact, he pointed at August as being one of the busiest months where he was required in court to testify.

“A forensic interviewer's job is gathering information from a child in a non-leading way, in a fact-finding way, and in a way that is legally sound so it can be used in court later,” Snyder said, describing it to be like an hourglass. “It starts out open-ended, if they know why they are here and if anyone talked to them about this. Once the child gives you information, you can narrow it down and ask more focused questions. Once you get that information, you go back to the open ended piece.”

Before finding himself at the center, he spent 20 years in law enforcement at the Coos Bay Police Department and nine of those years as a detective. There he dealt mostly with sex crimes for both children and adults. After retiring, he worked as a truancy officer for the school district and when the job as a forensic interviewer came up at the center, he took it because he wanted to keep helping people, especially kids.

The interview room at the center is welcoming, quiet, and warm, aesthetically comfortable for children. It gives them room to play with toys, books, and to draw, all while Snyder asks questions.

Above are two cameras. One is focused on the child and can zoom in to watch their hands, what they are drawing, and their tears.

The other camera records the room and can follow the child if they are walking around.

A representative of Department of Human Services (DHS) or law enforcement are usually always watching two doors down the hall in the viewing room, where video feed is being recorded to be used in court, ensuring that the child doesn't have to repeat themselves and relive the horror.

“The idea is to let them feel as comfortable as possible, that where they are is a safe place," Snyder said.

Toward the end of an interview, Snyder takes a break to speak with either DHS or law enforcement, depending on who is watching, to see if there were any questions they wanted asked.

“It's a good way to make sure I didn't miss anything,” he said.

Of course, it also gives them a chance to take people into custody if the offender brought the child to the center for the interview.

“It hasn't happened often, but there is a rule that the offender can't be here because it means the child is less likely to talk,” Snyder said.

Though it sounds like a quick process, it's not. It is difficult for victims to talk about what happened. If they don't divulge information in the first session with Snyder, he will see them a second or third time before recommending therapy. On one occasion, it took a child six weeks of seeing a therapist before the center was notified that he was ready to talk.

“It also comes down to the language you use with the child,” he said. “My personality is such where most kids feel I am a safe person to talk to, but you have to build a rapport. Every kid is different.”

Snyder described that difference when he interviews a 17-year-old, who knows why they are there and are ready to talk. However, when a 3-year-old comes in, their language is younger, sometimes they use different names for body parts.

Snyder has been trained to deal with both scenarios through attending the Oregon Child Forensic Interview Training (OCFIT), basic training in Portland, and advanced training in San Diego, Calif. His training is also ongoing, mainly through the Oregon Child Abuse Summit that takes place every April.

One of the more difficult aspects of the job is that if there isn't enough physical evidence, preventing it from becoming a he-said-she-said situation, then the case isn't taken to court. Of course, every victim and family is helped through therapy and any needs they may have, but Snyder recommends to parents who come across child sex abuse during or shortly after to hold onto the evidence.

“Hang onto those clothes and package them properly,” he said. “If there is blood involved, that needs to be packaged differently. Put that in paper, not plastic because plastic will develop moisture and rot out. Preservation of evidence is huge. If it happened in the bedroom, get the sheets. Also, if the child is opening up to you, listen and take notes after but don't ask leading questions because that can mess up a case very quickly.”

Even if evidence is obtained, it could take a child years before they talk about what happened. He had one case where a 17-year-old came to the center for something that happened when they were 10. Either way, he has a message for both the victims and family.

“There's nothing to be ashamed about,” Snyder said. “Mostly people don't come forward due to fear and shame, but they didn't cause this, they are not responsible. We have a safe place here and a compassionate group of people, we are under the umbrella of Bay Area Hospital, we are here to help kids and families and if something has happened, don't be afraid to make the call to law enforcement or DHS to get the ball rolling. And another thing . . . it's never too late to talk about it.”


Bethany Baker, The World 

Smoke from wildfires throughout southern Oregon lingers over Coos Bay on Wednesday morning.


Local
Wildfire smoke poses health risks in Southern Oregon

COOS COUNTY — Wildfires raging across Oregon have caused smoke to creep its way into Coos County, raising health concerns for area residents.

Rohit Nanda, emergency room physician at Bay Area Hospital, recommended that people stay indoors as much as possible.

“Unfortunately you can’t step outside without being surrounded by it (smoke),” Nanda said. “If you’re going out minimize that as much as possible.”

He added that people with inhalers should keep them with them.

“Be prepared and don’t be surprised if you’re using it more than normal,” Nanda said.

The ER physician said smokers will likely be having the hardest time with all the smoke in the air.

Wildfire smoke is a mixture of gases and fine particles from burning trees and other plant material.

Martin Abts, DEQ Air Quality specialist on the South Coast, said there are a number of air quality monitors in the valley, but there’s isn’t one in Coos Bay.

Roseburg, the closest air monitoring station, was rated as unhealthy Tuesday according to the website oregonsmoke.blogspot.com.

According to the Oregon Health Authority the duration of smoke exposure, as well as age, help determine whether someone will experience smoke-related health problems.

The most vulnerable population includes those with asthma or other respiratory diseases, people older than 65, pregnant women, smokers, infants and children.

Particulate matter poses the biggest health risk. Once inhaled, small particles can get deep into the lungs and cause serious health effects.

OHA recommends keeping windows closed, setting the air conditioning to recirculate when driving and drinking plenty of water.

It also suggests avoiding vacuuming which can stir up dust and reducing other sources of indoor air pollution such as smoking or burning candles.

For resident’s living in areas where air monitoring equipment isn’t available, DEQ recommends using the 5-3-1 index.

Area residents can look at familiar landmarks to determine visibility.

As a rule of thumb, if you can see the outlines of individual trees on the horizon it’s less than five miles away, according to DEQ’s website.

If visibility is under five miles the air is unhealthy for children, seniors over 65, pregnant women and people with respiratory problems. If it’s under three miles the air is unhealthy for everyone and locals should minimize outdoor activity. If the visibility is under a mile everyone should avoid outdoor activity.

Brian Nieuwenhuis, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said there are south winds developing that are pushing the smoke north.

Nieuwenhuis said there should be some improvements starting Thursday, but it’s expected to worsen again this weekend.

The meteorologist said expected showers should help a bit, but there aren’t going to be drastic improvements until the area gets heavy rainfall.

“One of the issues we have right now is that the smoke is so thick is that it’s one huge area of smoke, so it’s hard to tell what’s coming from where,” Nieuwenhuis said.

However, he said Coos County’s smoke is probably coming from the Horse Prairie Fire, with some contribution from the Chetco Bar Fire.

With the recent fires in the region, much of the local firefighting resources have been sent to help with the fires which have devastated much of our neighboring Curry County and significant portions of Douglas County.

Because of the limited resources to fight any local fires and with the severely dry weather conditions many of the privately owned lands and public lands which have traditionally been available to public recreational access have been closed. These conditions also necessitated a Level IV Fire Restriction.

What this means:

Many properties have closed public access to their properties. This includes those persons who have hunting/picking/firewood permits for the properties.

Recent public closures include:

  • Coos County Forest properties
  • All properties managed by Barnes and Associates to include
  • US Borax Properties (Curry County)
  • US Trust Properties (Coos and Curry County)
  • Nickel Mountain Properties (Douglas County)
  • Lone Rock Timber Properties (All)
  • Moore Mill Properties (All)
  • Roseburg Lumber properties and those managed by Roseburg Forest Products (Properties are closed at Fire Level II and above)
  • Weyerhaeuser properties (All)
  • Coquille Tribal Lands (All)
  • Rayonier Timberlands and all lands managed by Rayonier Timberlands

Restricted use areas include:

  • Elliott State Forest: use in compliance with CFPA fire restrictions

For the first time in over a decade, the City of Coos Bay is imposing a ban on open burning. Coos County has imposed restrictions on fires since June, but the cities of Coos Bay and North Bend have allowed burning until this Labor Day weekend. Typically, our marine air keeps fuel moistures high, but this year has been different.  With dryer than average conditions, poor air quality due to other fires around the state, and a limited resource pool, Fire Department officials have decided that it would be best to ban open burning.

Open burning includes the burning of yard debris, burn barrel fires, and open camp fires. The ban will be in effect until fire department personnel determine that conditions have improved. Notification of changes to the burning restriction can be found on the Coos Bay Fire Department’s Facebook page and website or by contacting the Department at 541-269-1191.

Current air quality conditions can be found at https://oregonsmoke.blogspot.com.