This story was written by CHILD USA Board of Directors member Elysse Stolpe, Esq.
J.R.R. Tokien was writing about Hobbits, not children, when he declared that “even the smallest person can change the course of the future,” but his statement also applies to the brave children I encounter every day in my work as a prosecutor specializing in child abuse cases. Prosecutors and law enforcement can only stop known predators, and in many circumstances, predators only become known – and can only be stopped – if a child victim speaks up and cries out. Little do these children know that in doing so they are changing the course of the future. That is a weighty responsibility to place on a child’s shoulders.
But a child crying out for help is often not enough to stop abusers – my career is a testament to the fact that justice can only be achieved with the help of adults working in the civil and criminal justice systems. Luckily, I am not fighting this battle alone because I have a secret weapon in the form of my partner, Clue the Crime Fighting Corgi. Clue is a certified therapy dog, and she joined me in my mission to prosecute child abuse cases when I first joined the Waynesboro, Virginia, Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office six years ago.
Clue’s diminutive size belies her impact on the children she encounters. She sits with child victims while I explain the criminal justice process, she comforts them in the courtroom, and keeps them company while they wait to testify. Clue gives these brave children a reason to smile, and a reason to look forward to coming to my office instead of dreading talking about the worst traumas of their young lives.
The first child Clue helped in her career was a young girl who was sexually abused and exploited by a woman and her boyfriend – who also happened to be a retired magistrate. The girl wanted to be present in the courtroom during the sentencing hearing and she asked that I read her victim impact statement to the court. As I read her heartbreaking words, I looked over and saw Clue sitting in her lap, licking her tears as they streamed down her face. This small girl, with the help of this small corgi, changed the course of the future by stopping the two predators responsible for inflicting the scars she will bear for a lifetime.
Though partners like Clue help make the criminal justice system a little more bearable for children, the system is far from child friendly. After six years working as a prosecutor I often find myself imagining a world in which we did not have to rely on our smallest and most vulnerable citizens to stand up and cry out in order to stop their abusers. What if we shifted from a reactive mindset in which we battle to prosecute predators after they have already abused a child to a proactive mindset in which child abuse is prevented altogether? A mutual friend introduced me to CHILD USA founder and CEO Marci Hamilton in March of 2021, and I quickly realized that CHILD USA is working to make this collective vision a reality.
After working for the last 10 months on CHILD USA’s Game Over Commission studying the systemic failures in the Larry Nassar case, I am thrilled to continue my work with CHILD USA by serving on the Board of Directors. The Game Over Commission is but one example of CHILD USA’s mission to shift society’s perspective toward protecting the civil rights of children, instead of focusing so exclusively on protecting the civil rights of adults. This revolutionary vision is crucial to ensuring survivors of child abuse have access to the criminal and civil justice systems and to protecting children from future abuse. By serving on the Board I hope to help synergize the ideas of big-picture thinkers like CHILD USA’s staff attorneys and social scientists with the experience of attorneys and prosecutors working in the trenches on individual cases across the country. CHILD USA is the perfect change agent to help leverage this collaboration and ensure the impact of this revolutionary work is felt on a national level.
Just as Clue the Crime Fighting Corgi shows that even the smallest creature can help change the course of the future for children, so too does CHILD USA’s size belie its influence. CHILD USA’s impact extends far beyond its core group of dedicated professionals and is a testament to the fact that even the smallest organization can change the course of the future for children. I am honored to join their mission.