A disturbing child rape case in Rhea County is highlighting the need for a Children's Advocacy Center in their jurisdiction. Special Victims Investigator Rocky Potter says the department has recognized the need for years, and hopes it will help solve more cases like this one.
An anonymous tip came into DCS in Nashville in February about a couple who were suspected of sexually abusing children.
"The possibility of two young girls being sexually assaulted by husband and wife that had been caring for the girls, both girls are under the age of 12," Potter said.
Charles Johnson is now charged with two counts of rape of a child, and six counts aggravated sexual battery. His wife, Mary Nichols-Johnson is charged with child neglect because police say she knew about the abuse but did nothing.
"Their names were familiar to us," Potter said, "We had a couple referrals over the past few months, but the girls wouldn't disclose anything."
It wasn't until the two girls were removed from the couple's care and placed with family members that they felt comfortable enough to talk about what happened.
"So they started to open up to these family members, and when they did it was just like the flood gates, I mean it was like boom, boom boom," Potter said.
Rhea County is part of the 12th Judicial District, the only one in the state of Tennessee that doesn't have its own Children's Advocacy Center.
Investigators rely on resources in nearby counties, like the center in Chattanooga, to solve many of its cases.
"Everybody's getting together and they know, look we need this here, and it's time to get something done," Potter said, "So, we're taking the steps and they're baby steps but we're just about there."
The Department already has leadership in place for its own advocacy center but still needs to secure a location and funding.
They're hoping to open one in Rhea County within two years.
Investigator Potter says he needs children to feel comfortable enough to talk about their abuse in order to make an arrest, something children advocacy centers provide.
"I think that's the whole thing, like the advocacy center, they feel safe down there, they felt safe with these family members and they gave very good detailed interviews," Potter said.
The victims in this case are now safe and in the care of family members.
Both suspects are expected to appear in Rhea County Court Friday.
Johnson is being held on a $150,000 bond and his wife has a $50,000 bond.
Hundreds gathered at Coolidge Park, protesting the violence that happened in Charlottesville Thursday night.
900 Whitehall Road
Chattanooga, TN 37405
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