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Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock, right, announces the Montana Children's Justice Center on Monday with, from left, Yellowstone County Attorney Scott Twito, Sheriff Mike Linder, Child and Family Services administrator Sarah Corbally and Billings Police Chief Rich St. John.

LARRY MAYER/Billings Gazette

There's a reason child predators choose the most vulnerable among us, and it's not only because the young are most defenseless.

Child victims are also at risk of being traumatized not only by the perpetrator, but again by the justice system that steps in after a crime has been committed.

Multiple interviews over several months with different officials in the criminal justice system can break the will of even some adult victims.

Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock announced Monday a new statewide effort he said aims to both protect children from predators and ensure that hurt children are not victimized again by the legal system.

"Successfully protecting kids and prosecuting offenders requires all of us working together," Bullock said at a press conference in Billings announcing the creation of the Children's Justice Center.

While the name implies a brick-and-mortar structure, the new effort is focused on bringing specialists from state and local agencies together in a team approach when dealing with child victims and child offenders. The program is overseen by a former state child protective services worker in Helena.

To date, 17 teams of specialists have been created statewide to work under the umbrella of the Children's Justice Center. Participants include members from six state Department of Justice programs and other state and local officials who use a team approach to track child predators and work with child victims.

The programs, many of them started by Bullock in recent years, already exist so no new funding is required, he said.  

Bullock noted the examples of the state Sexual or Violent Offender Registry Compliance Unit and Montana Child Sexual Abuse Response Team as examples of how the program can bring together resources to not only protect children but capture and prosecute child predators.

Bullock said the compliance unit has reduced the number of registered sex offenders who hadn't updated their addresses from 272 last August to 106 as of Feb. 9.

In Yellowstone County, he said, 94 sexual or violent offenders who had not registered have been located in recent months through a joint effort by state, local and federal law enforcement authorities.

When working with child victims, Bullock said, the team approach brings state and local officials together to make sure the child is not subjected to numerous interviews by police, prosecutors, social workers and others. Instead, the team conducts a single interview in a safe and comfortable place.

"The most important thing for us is to make sure we get it right when dealing with kids," said Billings Police Chief Rich St. John, who said the city supports Bullock's efforts at consolidating resources when dealing with child predators and their victims.

"The shotgun approach is not the way to do it," he said.

Sarah Corbally, the Child and Family Services administrator for the state Department of Health and Human Services, said the agency also backs the new effort, saying "collaboration is critical" to addressing the needs of child victims.

"We need to do this together," Corbally said.