By Dawn M. Aerts
Iron County Today
Part I, We look at the issue of reported child sexual and physical abuse in Iron County with focus on the Children’s Justice Center (CJC) and a team of more than 32 partnering agencies who respond to those incidents. What does the CJC data show us about how the community is responding and ‘listening to children.’
You may hear little voices talk about their favorite cartoon character, or tell you about a special toy they like to cuddle. And sometimes, they might talk about the “scary man who touched them,” and made them cry.
Are adults listening?
“These are the voices we need to hear,” says Stephanie Furnival, director and spokesperson for the hundreds of children and families who visit her “home” at the Children’s Justice Center (CJC) in Cedar City. It’s Furnival, along with two staff members, who take time to listen to children and it’s their job to get others to listen too.
The Center is a one-stop trauma, investigation, and response site for children who need to tell someone.
“We really need our children to have a voice – the data tells us that one in four females will be sexually abused before they turn 18,” said Furnival, “And that Utah’s child-sexual abuse rate is roughly 3 times the national average.” With those numbers, the Center cites 388 new child-sexual abuse cases opened in Iron County in 2016 with 248 girls and 140 boys relating their own experience.
If we (the parents, relatives, neighbors and teachers) don’t listen to children – who will?
According to Furnival, Utahans can feel hopeful about response to those voices. In fact, the State of Utah is considered a leader in curbing these issues while establishing 22 Children’s Justice Centers (CJC) across the State since 1991. Those Centers include a multi-disciplinary team of professionals, and in Iron County, a team of 32 partnering agencies who come to the table to ‘listen’ and respond.
In comparison to other states, Furnival notes there were but five (similar) “Justice Centers for kids” in the State of Nevada in recent years.
“Frankly, I am so proud of our Iron County team — that is school staff, the Sheriff’s Office, the local Police Department, (CCPD) our Child & Family Services (DCFS) and many others,” says Furnival, to include professionals (Intermountain Medical Center) and other connective agencies. “With that, we’ve received numerous donations (private and through the State) to make this center – happen.”
Furnival describes a multi-disciplinary team of professionals in place ready to respond. We know there were 169 alleged and prosecuted cases of sexual abuse in 2016 – Of those, 81 cases of physical abuse; 60 cases of domestic violence, 96 drug-endangerment cases and 68 of other forms of abuse here. Of those reported incidents, explains Furnival, the suspect is usually someone a child knows, and knows well.
“What we see in the data is that 272 suspects were a parent or a step-parent – 23 were a parent’s boyfriend or girlfriend and 60 of those were another relative. In short, strangers or those unknown to a child were much less likely to be linked with 17 suspects being listed as ‘unknown’ (or distant acquaintances).”
According to Furnival, the Children’s Justice Center is designed to be a one-stop trauma investigation point for families and children that will continue to fill an essential role in the well-being of the Iron County Community. When a child(ren) and their family arrives here, it is because a “little voice” was finally heard by someone.
Children who have disclosed sexual or physical abuse are often brought to the Justice Center by