‘One with Courage’ campaign aims to prevent child sex abuse
General Sean Reyes
“Courage” is most often expressed to describe the bravery of those on our front lines. Our soldiers, police officers, firefighters and others committed to public service regularly demonstrate degrees of courage to protect the rest of us from harm.
But, in today’s world, we must expand our definition of “courage” to include the mindset or spirit that enables the common citizen among us to face difficulty, danger and fear. It is critical to consider those who push stigma and discomfort aside to talk about tough issues that are often left in the shadows. Courageous individuals make it possible for the most vulnerable among us to find protection from harm.
Child sexual abuse is a crime of silence. This abuse thrives by the secrets kept by the perpetrator and the victim. Sadly, many of these situations are based on a trusted relationship. The threat of exposure ignites instinctive reflexes to preserve familiar surroundings, even when they are damaging and destructive.
The Utah Attorney General’s Office houses and administers the state-run Children’s Justice Center Program. CJC is dedicated to helping local communities respond to allegations of child abuse in ways that are effective, efficient and minimize trauma for the child. Each of the 22 centers in Utah provides a child-focused, facility-based program in which representatives from law enforcement, child protection, prosecution, mental health, medical services and victim advocacy work together in support of the victim. This comprehensive care and protection group conducts interviews and makes team decisions about investigation, prosecution and treatment of child abuse cases. In an average year, Utah’s CJCs conduct 4,500 interviews, handle 5,500 cases and serve as many as 15,000 people.
In Utah County from April 2014 to March 2015, there were 1,016 cases of child abuse according to CJC reports; 72 percent of the cases were attributed to sexual abuse and 6 percent to physical abuse. With suspects made up of mostly males (88.5 percent) versus females (11.5 percent), alarming statistics show that one in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually assaulted before they reach the age of 18. Current estimates show that more than 90 percent of child sexual assault victims know their perpetrators; many are known to the child as a family member, friend or acquaintance. Sadly, most of these children do not disclose abuse until adulthood, if ever at all.
Keeping families safe is a top priority in our AG office. In addition to our statewide CJCs, the AG’s office has 36 Child Protection Division assistant attorneys general and the necessary staff to ensure safe living environments for children in every county throughout the state. Utah County CJCs also serve Juab and Millard counties. We work in tandem with our partners at the Division of Child and Family Service. Many of our attorneys work cases at all hours of the day and night to seek judicial protection for a child who is in imminent danger of abuse or neglect while also respecting parental and family rights.
Our office also administers Internet Crimes Against Children, a statewide multi-jurisdictional task force that investigates and prosecutes individuals who use the Internet to exploit children. ICAC includes 32 affiliate law enforcement agencies, 80 officers and three full-time prosecutors. In addition, our SECURE Strike Force investigates and prosecutes human trafficking threats that oftentimes include children.
We are honored to team with DCFS to launch a new initiative, “One with Courage,” in Utah. This initiative asks each of us, no matter our situation, to have courage. Courage is necessary for a child victim to speak up. Courage is necessary for a survivor to remember and share a story. Courage is necessary for an adult to listen and act to help a child. Courage is necessary for everyone of us to vigilantly build awareness and engage in an open dialogue about child sexual abuse.
It is time for each of us to be One with Courage. You are invited to learn more about the unique role our Children’s Justice Centers play in providing comprehensive, coordinated and compassionate services to child victims of abuse. We welcome you to find out more about the Children’s Justice Center Program and our partnerships with counties throughout Utah. We are privileged to be part of the response that is designed to bring justice and healing to the children who come through our doors.
Most importantly, One with Courage is a compilation of the experiences of those living in Utah to inspire the courage required to take action against abuse. Start a dialogue about this issue, equip yourself with the facts or volunteer at a local Children’s Justice Center.
Please take time to learn how to join the fight at onewithcourageutah.org.
Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes