CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Law enforcement officials who worked to bring justice to a child victim involved in a child-exploitation case in Mercer County are among those to be recognized this year by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of West Virginia.

Will Thompson

U.S. Attorney Will Thompson on Thursday honored the Mercer County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, the Mercer County Sheriff’s Office and Child Protect of Mercer County as part of the Excellence in Victim Advocacy and Justice Awards.

A ceremony was held at the Robert C. Byrd U.S. Courthouse in Charleston.

“The case was investigated by Lt. (S.A.) Summers as part of the FBI’s Child Exploitation and Human Trafficking Task Force. It’s also indicative of the outstanding work done by the Mercer County Multi-Disciplinary Investigative Team which is charged with bringing justice and healing for the abused children in Mercer County,” Thompson said before he presented officials with the award.

In Nov. 2023, Eric Phillips, 43, of Princeton, was sentenced in federal court to 30 years in prison and a lifetime of supervised release for persuading, inducing, enticing and coercing a young girl to engage in sexual activity with him. Phillips admitted to sending sexually explicit messages to the girl via text messaging and social media messaging apps.

Mercer County Assistant Prosecutor David Pfeifer said they worked with local child protect advocates to bring healing to the girl.

“Child Protect not only provided an expert forensic interview, but they have worked for years with the victim in this case to make sure she can cope with what happened to her,” Pfeifer said.

Thompson said in addition to human trafficking, drugs and sex crimes against children, domestic violence remains one of the top issues in West Virginia.

“Approximately 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men will experience domestic violence in their lifetime,” he said. “Domestic violence abusers with access to a gun are five times more likely to kill their partner.”

YWCA Charleston Resolve Family Abuse Program Director Julie Britton knows a lot about helping domestic violence victims cope with their trauma. Britton’s staff was also recognized for their work Thursday.

“This work means everything to me,” she said. “I would love to be able to work myself out of a job, but I just want to make a difference in the community.”

A crime victims tree with messages of hope.

The YWCA program has been around since the 1980s, Britton said. In the last year their work has included some high-profile human trafficking cases. She said it’s important to meet survivors where they are and provide them with the resources to feel safe and secure moving forward.

“We are one of the folks that come in after domestic violence and human trafficking and we help the victim become whole again and sometimes that’s shelter, support services, housing and counseling,” she said.

The Operation Reach Out helped sponsor Thursday’s ceremony in coordination with National Crime Victims’ Rights Week which runs April 21-27.