PROTECTING THE MOST VULNERABLE: Fighting for Child Sexual Abuse Victims


Child sexual abuse is a widespread problem. Every 9 minutes, child protective services substantiates or finds evidence for a claim of child sexual abuse[1]. And keep in mind that these crimes are vastly underreported. Child sex abuse cases are arguably the most difficult and challenging to prosecute. Having prosecuted every type of case, including homicide, I can attest to this fact. Many prosecutors refuse to handle these cases or burn out after a few years of doing so. There are many factors that contribute to this difficultly. First and foremost, they are heart-wrenching and emotionally draining. There are rarely eyewitnesses other than the victim and the perpetrator. These crimes are committed in secret. This means that almost all of these cases come down to the child’s word against the word of her abuser. Unfortunately, children are not the best historians or witnesses. They get confused about details—particularly with abuse that has been ongoing for a period of time. They are not very good at withstanding the rigors of cross examination by a skilled defense attorney, and may appear to be hesitant or inconsistent in front of a jury.

I tried my first child molestation case in front of a jury in Socorro over twenty years ago and I knew immediately that I wanted to spend my career fighting for abused children. I went on to head up the Crimes Against Children and Sexual Assault unit in the First Judicial District (Santa Fe, Rio Arriba & Los Alamos Counties) where I primarily prosecuted felony crimes against children and homicides. I have prosecuted countless child molestation cases before juries over the course of my 24-year career. The longest sentence handed down on one of the cases I prosecuted was 200 years. Due to my experience and passion, I have become recognized as one of the leading experts in investigation and prosecution of child sex abuse in the State. I have frequently taught prosecutors and law enforcement across the State on this subject, including at the New Mexico Law Enforcement Academy in Santa Fe. I co-created a Child Abuse Checklist which has been used throughout the State by investigators and prosecutors. I have also taught nationally to victims’ rights attorneys on the subject of children as victims and witnesses. I was honored by the Prosecutors Section of the New Mexico State Bar with the award of Child Abuse Prosecutor of the Year for 2015.

Of course, these cases do not always lead to convictions, and justice may seem to be denied to these children when a perpetrator is found not guilty. However, my experience prosecuting these cases has taught me that the main thing most abused children want is to be believed, for the abuse to stop, and for the perpetrator never to hurt another child. The prosecution team can be tremendously helpful in giving the child the courage to tell his or her story and to accept whatever happens, knowing that he or she has stood up to the abuser and told the world the truth. The single most critical aspect of successfully prosecuting these cases is developing and maintaining a rapport with the child victims and showing them how hard you are willing to fight for them.This ensures the best possibility of a successful prosecution and promotes acceptance and healing for the child—regardless of the outcome. There is nothing more rewarding to me as a prosecutor than earning the trust of a child who has experienced the worst kind of betrayal of trust at the hands of another adult.

Fighting for these most vulnerable victims has been my career long passion. As your District Attorney, crimes against children will be a top priority in my office. Only the best trained, skilled, and motivated attorneys will be assigned to these cases. I will work with law enforcement to provide ongoing training and guidance for investigating these crimes. I will work with schools and other community groups to educate both children and adults on child sexual abuse to help dispel misconceptions and empower children to find their voice to speak up. My wish would be that I never have to prosecute another child sex abuse case because the crime is eradicated. Until that time, I will continue to do everything in my power to fight for justice for these most precious and innocent victims.

[1] According to rainn.org/statistics/children-and-teens

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Barbara Romo

FOR DISTRICT ATTORNEY

13th Judicial District of New Mexico

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