This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Twenty-five years ago, Utah's response to child abuse wasn't exactly first rate. Investigations seemed to further traumatize child victims, agencies did not coordinate with each other and families struggled to navigate a complex criminal justice system with little to no guidance. The problem was daunting. Utah officials sought an answer and found it in Alabama, in a breakthrough concept called the Children's Advocacy Center (CAC).
The CAC is a child-friendly facility where victims can be both interviewed and supported. There are warm rooms with bright colors and toys. Interviewing techniques are victim-sensitive and open-ended. At the CAC, the focus goes beyond investigation. A multi-disciplinary team of law enforcement, social services and medical and mental health professionals meet to collaborate on each case and to help both the family and the child. Incidents of traumatization to victims were drastically decreased under the CAC model. It only made sense to bring the model to Utah.
In Utah, CACs are called "Children's Justice Centers" (CJC). There are 22 CJCs serving 28 counties. A network of more than 800 centers provides similar victim-focused services throughout the United States to more than 300,000 victims annually. But as remarkable as this is, there's still a threshold problem: Reporting.
The numbers are shocking: one in four girls, and one in six boys, will be sexually abused before age 18. When compared with what reports are being made, it is clear that most abuse is not being reported. This is not surprising. Most abuse occurs at the hands of someone the child knows, making the child feel isolated. That isolation works to the perpetrator's advantage by creating more opportunity to abuse the child and discouraging disclosure. Two out of every three adults who were abused as children never told anyone. Most perpetrators were family or friends.
April is national Child Abuse Awareness Month. It is a time to reflect and redouble our efforts for these victims. We invite everyone to evaluate what they can do and lend a hand. This is not a government-only effort. For example, Intermountain Healthcare, a valued partner in providing medical services to victims, has also donated homes, land and time to CJCs. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has made several donations and tries hard to train its leaders to recognize and report abuse. Zions Bank both through the company and its employees has donated significantly to CJCs. We are deeply grateful to these and others who are helping.
As a community, we are responsible to assist these victims and stop abuse. Here are some ways to help:
Listen and believe • Make it easier for victims to come forward. Show support and caring. Don't question. Don't judge. Let them know you care and what happened to them was not their fault.
Report child abuse • If you know or even just suspect a child has been abused, immediately contact your local police department or call the 24 hour child abuse hotline at 1-855-323-DCFS (3237).
Volunteer • Contact your local CJC (or CAC if out of Utah) to do a service project or to volunteer your time. http://www.onewithcourage.org/find-a-center
Donate • All donations to the CJC are appreciated and contribute to supporting vital services that help child victims and their families. http://www.razoo.com/us/story/Friends-Of-The-Utah-Childrens-Justice-Centers
To locate a Utah Justice Center in your area, visit http://www.onewithcourageutah.org
Deondra Brown, Rebecca Martell, Susanne Mitchell and Tracey Tabet work with Utah's Children's Justice Centers.