Ole Olson: A Special Prosecutor Defends Children
The children Ole Olson works with are people who almost never have a voice.
Olson, 34, is a special prosecutor in the Montana Department of Justice’s Children’s Justice Center. He focuses on child victims of sexual abuse, including many children who have been the subject of Internet-shared child pornography.
“Kids are the most innocent and defenseless portion of our society” said Olson. The children he sees are brave: They sit in a witness chair and tell their story to a judge and jury. They put their faith in adults when they first report abuse, even when their own experiences may have taught these children not to trust. They work with investigators and interviewers, often talking about difficult things they may not have the words for.
The Children’s Justice Center was created in 2009 to make every part of that process better for children, delivering justice quicker and more effectively, while paying special attention to Internet-facilitated crimes against children.
The center has many parts. It includes investigators at the Division of Criminal Investigations (DCI), another arm of the Montana Department of Justice. Olson was hired in the spring of 2010 along with a DCI Internet investigator who specializes in following the flow of child pornography on the Internet and creating a case against perpetrators in Montana.
“He investigates it and I prosecute it,” Olson said.
Both are part of the Sexual Predator Enforcement Unit in the Children’s Justice Center. The new unit includes state-level investigators and state-level training for local law enforcement officers on finding criminals who use the Internet to target or victimize children and convicting them when they are found.
Since its inception, Olson and others in the unit have launched 30 investigations into Internet-facilitated crimes against children, prosecutions that may not have occurred without state-level expertise and manpower. One of those is a case Olson said he’ll never forget: A man now serving a 25-year prison sentence for trafficking child pornography in Ravalli and Gallatin counties.
Olson also handles sexual abuse cases unrelated to the Internet. Much of the information he needs to convict a child sexual abuser comes from interviews forensic examination of the child and initial and follow-up interviews with the child victim. How authorities respond in those first moments with the child is very important.
The Montana Child Sexual Abuse Response Team (MCSART) is another element of the center. That team, headquartered at DCI, works with communities around Montana to bring first-rate training to the professionals who respond to a report of child sexual abuse: the police and sheriff’s officers, social workers and therapists. Those people are part of a “multi-disciplinary team.” MCSART works to build those teams around Montana and offers continuing training so when a child sexual assault victim makes a report, the community is ready to respond.
Many Montana communities have also built special facilities to handle all the interviews and exams in one roof. These child-oriented spaces are called “child advocacy centers.” Hamilton’s center is in a white clapboard house on a residential street. Helena’s is a series of offices in a larger building. While the specifics vary, each center is the same in that they are colorful, homey and designed with a child’s emotional and physical needs in mind.
Since the center formed, the number of trained multi-disciplinary teams has more than tripled, from five to 18. The number of child advocacy centers has doubled from five to 10, with three certified by the National Children’s Alliance, the gold standard accrediting agency in the industry.
MCSART also supplies state-of-the-art equipment to local teams and child advocacy centers to best capture interviews and evidence.
These efforts are not only gentler on the child; they result in a higher conviction rate.
In the last year, Olson worked on a case against a man in a small Montana town who had many young victims. The man got a 15-year sentence, Olson said, a lengthy term owing in part to the excellent cooperation with the victims and the child-oriented approach to the case from the beginning.
The center also includes a new, state-level rapid-response team that can deploy to help local law enforcement when a child is reported abducted. Finally, the center works with local law enforcement to ensure that offenders required by law to register with the state’s Sexual and Violent Offender Registry are accounted for. State law requires that all designated sexual and violent offenders be cataloged in a state-wide, public registry. The Montana Department of Justice built, maintains and improves the registry; however, local law enforcement agencies are responsible for reporting the address information of offenders to the Justice Department. The Children’s Justice Center has two compliance officers working with local agencies to ensure the registry is up-to-date and that non-compliant offenders are prosecuted.
Olson, a Helena native and father of three, said his job and the Children’s Justice Center is part of a longstanding interest of his in public service.
“It’s a privilege to go to work every day in public service, protecting Montana’s kids and holding offenders accountable,” he said.