Erin Lueker, the new First Assistant Prosecuting Attorney at the Lincoln County Prosecutor’s Office, has taken over the cases involving crimes against children, and sex crimes involving adults.
This position will allow her to collaborate with lots of different agencies to work on enforcement of the laws and prevention of these types of crimes.
“In the two weeks I’ve been here so far, agencies have been overwhelmingly supportive, they’ve been looking for opportunities to help and assist in these cases as much as possible,” Lueker said.
“We have a lot of really key players who are vital to the successful prosecution of these cases, who all have to work together,” she added. “These cases are difficult to prosecute, they’re difficult to get convictions on because there’s a lot of important factors at play when you victimize a child.”
Lueker has a few big bullet points in her job description, the first of which is to work on educating the different stakeholders in the county, as well as to build bridges with different county groups that can play a part in prevention.
Lueker said building a coalition to tackle the issue is “as important as I can emphasize.”
These Multi-Disciplinary Teams (MDTs) have traditionally included the Lincoln County Juvenile Office, forensic interviewers (such as The Child Center in Wentzville), counselors and therapists, law enforcement and medical personnel.
Now Lueker and Prosecuting Attorney Mike Wood want to include educators and the school districts in that group as well.
“Where we can have a coalition with our schools, and so that we can make sure that the people who are often on the front lines of our investigations really understand and have an ability to communicate with those agencies,” Lueker said.
Given the challenge of prosecuting such cases, being able to train the investigative partners in the correct steps is a huge part of tackling the problem, Wood said, adding that the Prosecutor’s Office needs to lead by showing these stakeholders what appropriate steps in an investigation look like.
“It’s not just enough to prosecute the cases and get convictions,” Wood said. “There has to be a preventative element as well. Prevention is going to come partly through education, and so what we’ve talked about doing is getting out with the schools most importantly, because that’s where we’re going to have a lot of disclosures.”
Goal number one would be educating teachers and administrators on signs and symptoms of abuse, and what steps to take once it is noticed. The second step would be a chance to speak to the students locally.
“You’d be surprised how many students, when given the opportunity after we discuss it, want to be in contact with counselors and therapists after we leave,” Lueker said. The third step in the outreach branch of things would be to do a specific, full-day MDT training for all the agencies that come into contact with children.
As trial attorney, taking sex crime and child abuse cases to the courtroom will be a main focus of Lueker’s role in Lincoln County as well.
Lueker said the best way to build confidence with different local stakeholder agencies is by showing results on the legal end of things. The office has to be willing to go to the courtroom and try these cases, Lueker said.
“And we need to see results, we need to see that the kids are being kept safe from their perpetrators, because there’s nothing that will more quickly jade an independent individual with any of these agencies than seeing them fight really hard for a child, and that child to be let down,” Lueker said. “We’re not going to let down these kids.”
Individual citizens looking to educate themselves further on the topic of child abuse can visit www.missourikidsfirst.org and oca.mo.gov; these are two resources with information and resources to help. The anonymous state abuse and neglect hotline is also available by calling 1-800-392-3738.
“Children’s Division is not the only agency who investigate crimes against children. Our law enforcement agencies are equipped to handle that, and so any individual who has certainly an emergency, I would recommend doing both a hotline and to contact law enforcement, just as you would if you saw any kind of other crime occurring,” Lueker said.