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Oakland County

February 19, 2014

Officers recognized for work on child abuse cases

By Cari DeLamielleure-Scott
C & G Staff Writer

OAKLAND COUNTY — Safe in a secure location, a child victim looks at the wall and sees only his reflection in a mirror. But hidden on the other side of the one-way glass are authority figures like Hazel Park Police Detective Janeen Gielniak, observing the interview from another room.

“A trained interviewer speaks with the children and gives them a chance to remove the burden of whatever abuse they’re suffering,” Gielniak said of the investigative work she conducts as a member of the Special Victims Unit at the Hazel Park Police Department. After that, Gielniak said, she seeks warrants or works with Child Protective Services.

“It’s challenging, and it can be difficult, but I try to focus on the positive aspect of it. I’m making a difference, changing the situation, doing whatever I can to help these victims to get through this,” Gielniak said. “I also work with a great group of people, from CARE House to Child Protective Services to the prosecutors and victim advocates of the Oakland County Circuit Court.”

Rick Trabulsy, a 35-year police veteran, works in community relations and crime prevention with the West Bloomfield Police Department. Trabulsy has dedicated his years of service to teaching kids and parents about the importance of safety — from “stranger danger” to Internet browsing.

“I always teach them that ‘www’ doesn’t stand for ‘World Wide Web.’ It stands for ‘Wild Wild West,’ and I tell them there’s no one looking out for them on there,” Trabulsy said.

With technology spanning across various devices — laptops, tablets and smartphones — Trabulsy teaches parents to not only set rules on Internet browsing, but to regulate and monitor cellphone usage, because the cellphone belongs to the parents, not the children, he said.

Through Internet Crimes Against Children, a federal program attached to the Michigan State Police Department, Trabulsy educates children on the consequences of sending inappropriate pictures and explains that children can be criminally charged with possessing or distributing child pornography for simply sending an inappropriate picture.

“Unfortunately, as a community, we send a mixed message. At 16 years old, a kid is of the age of consent, but if they send a picture of themselves at 16, they’re violating a crime,” Trabulsy said.

Recently, Gielniak, Trabulsy and 15 other officers from across Oakland County were recognized for their work on child abuse cases at the annual Circle of Friends luncheon, held by CARE House of Oakland County.

Gov. Rick Snyder presented each of them with a Certificate of Excellence.

“It was great privilege for him to take time out of his day to join us, and I’m certainly appreciative for CARE House — not just for me, but for all the other officers,” Trabulsy said.

CARE House, in Pontiac, is an extension of the Child Abuse and Neglect Council of Oakland County. Established in 1977, the council is a collaborative effort between law enforcement agencies, Child Protective Services, the Oakland County Prosecutor’s Office and more.

CARE House aims to address child abuse and neglect by prevention, education, intervention, treatment and support services for victims and their nonoffending family members. Services are provided for free.

The problem should not be understated, but it often is, according to Carol Furlong, executive director of CARE House.

“Sexual abuse (of children) is really an epidemic,” Furlong said. “It is estimated by the National Children’s Alliance that one in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually molested before they’re adults. People just aren’t aware. It is a huge problem.”

For children who have been neglected, CARE House sends home visitors to check on them once a week and make sure they’re receiving proper care. This includes making sure their medical needs are being met and that they’re on a proper feeding schedule.

To prevent abuse from occurring in the first place, CARE House has education efforts in the schools and within the mandated reporter community, helping doctors, teachers and other individuals who may be in contact with kids to recognize behaviors that are telltale indicators of abuse, and how to report it.

“And we teach the children the appropriate boundaries for interacting with adults — teaching them when they should say ‘no,’” Furlong said. “We also teach them it’s OK to tell someone if something does happen.”

And then there is the treatment and support for those who have suffered abuse, in the form of therapy that’s available.

“That’s just the first step,” Furlong said. “The emotional recovery takes a long time, but it’s worth it. Statistically, children are very resilient, if they receive treatment in the way of counseling. And our staff is trained in child trauma and (is) very well-equipped to handle those processes. It is a problem that is solvable.”

Furlong notes the cyclical nature of child abuse: If victims are left untreated, they themselves may abuse others when they’re adults, or they may be more prone to suffer abuse again.

“The only way to stop the cycle is for more people to report kids being abused,” Furlong said.

Gielniak said there are a number of warning signs people can watch for that may indicate something bad is happening in a child’s life.

“One of the key indicators is a change in behavior,” Gielniak said. “If this child originally really liked to do sports or really liked this teacher and now they don’t, or if they’re afraid to go to certain places, like grandma’s or uncle’s, it doesn’t necessarily mean there’s abuse going on, but parents should ask questions — open-ended questions so as not to suggest any specific act, which encourages them to tell what really happens.

“Kids are easily influenced, and part of forensic interviewing is to let the kid talk, rather than answering specific questions,” she said. “And the key thing is to let that kid know that they’re really safe.”

“I appreciate that the (police) chief put me into this. We’re not islands. We couldn’t work without the support of the department, the community and the chief,” Trabulsy said.