Retired Champaign cop hired to interview child victims

The Children's Advocacy Center of Champaign County is looking forward to having an almost full-time forensic interviewer on staff starting this month.

Recently retired Champaign police Detective Mary Bunyard will continue to use her investigative skills to interview children who have been victims of abuse.

Adelaide Aime, executive director of the CAC, said Bunyard's position is being paid for by a settlement from Penn State to the Big Ten in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky sex-abuse case.

The CAC and three other agencies that work with abused children and women each received $44,586.

"That was a very memorable gift," said Aime. "Having a forensic interviewer on staff is going to be so great."

A forensic interviewer refers to one who is searching for information for use in criminal prosecutions against abusers. They are specially trained to ask open-ended questions that don't lead the child victims while ferreting out as much detail as possible.

Aime and State's Attorney Julia Rietz both said Bunyard has a broad base of experience. Aime said Bunyard told the agency's executive board during her job interview that she had done about 300 child interviews as a Champaign police officer. She joined the department in 1993 and became a detective in 2002. In that role, she handled most of the city's child-abuse investigations. She retired Nov. 15.

Before her career with the Champaign Police Department, Bunyard was a physical-education teacher in the Danville school district from 1980 to 1989.

Rietz said police departments are excited at the notion of having someone on staff doing the child interviews so they don't have to train as many of their own people to do them.

Aime said the other advantage is that Bunyard will be able to do the interviews at the convenience of the families involved.

"Mary will be available most of the hours of the week. We can schedule interviews rather than having to work around the many other things the investigators have to do," Aime said.

Rietz said when Bunyard isn't interviewing or testifying in court, she'll also do community education.

"She'll talk to schools, children and teachers, helping to educate teachers on their responsibilities when it comes to reporting child abuse," Rietz said.

"We get a lot of calls from churches who want education for Sunday school teachers" on how to report abuse, Aime added. "With her education background, she was a perfect fit for the education piece."

Rietz and Aime said the Penn State money was a one-time gift and is enough to keep Bunyard for a year. Rietz said the board will look for other funding to try to keep the forensic interviewer position going beyond that.

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