Editor’s Note: The Children’s Justice Center (CJC) responded to more than 790 (total) reported cases in 2016 with 32 local partnerships who tackle the challenge…to have children’s voices heard. A recent Federal grant awarded to Iron County CJC will provide funding for an on-site mental-health therapist who will be available to local children during school hours. This is part two of our series on the CJC.
By Dawn M. Aerts
Iron County Today
CEDAR CITY–Yes, there are trends in child physical and sexual abuse that we need to pay attention to, says Angelica Judd, a children’s advocate who works for the Children’s Justice Center (CJC), a safe, welcoming home in Cedar City. It is Judd’s role to hear those children and families tell their story and to get other adults to listen too.
“The criminal justice and judicial system families navigate through is sometimes overwhelming for children and their families,” said Judd, “and the process can be long, and complex.”
But Judd, along with Director Stephanie Furnival, find themselves on the front line of efforts to listen – “Utah statistics show us that child sexual abuse is up to 3 times greater than the national average,” said Furnival of her role. “At this center alone, we opened up 388 new child-sexual abuse cases in Iron County, in 2016.”
Judd and Furnival credit Utah’s progressive effort to strengthen a CJC model that provides a safe, home-like setting where victims of abuse can begin to access counseling, resources and family support. The CJC safe home is designed to be a welcoming environment, equipped with a playroom, a kitchen, an interview room and a medical exam space with a health care professional available on call.
Since 1991, the State of Utah has opened 22 (CJC) sites serving 28 counties — all designed to curb and respond to reports of child abuse. In Iron County, that includes a multi-disciplinary team of professionals who come to the table to both listen and respond. Furnival, who has 15 years working in this field, notes that while cases may vary, the patterns and trends are similar.
“So we know that drug and alcohol are being used in many of these circumstances,” she said. “We know that of 388 cases in 2016, 272 suspects were identified as parents or step-parents — another 23 were a parent’s boyfriend or girlfriend, and 60 cases focused on the actions of another relative in or around their home.”
Note: Of 447 suspects identified in abuse reports, 266 were male, 181 were female, 52 were under the age of 13 and 367 were ages 18 or over.
“This is an issue that requires a ‘line of sight’ strategy,” said Furnival of children. “We live in a wonderful community, but as parents and adults, we need to realize that much of this (abuse) happens ‘behind closed doors’ – or away from presence of others. So when I go out, to any number of functions or at home with invited guests or friends, the children are kept in my ‘line of sight.’”
According to Furnival, the people we know, we love, or care about are often the ones who emerge as offenders.
“Is there an adult that shows an extreme interest in one of your children – are they invited to sleepovers with adults who have no children or their kids are grown and gone? Does your neighbor ‘go out of his way’ to pick up or provide rides to and from home?”
Both Furnival and Judd believe that parents are on the front line of protection and that means keeping a line of sight and being aware of odd or offbeat scenarios.
According to a Probable Cause report filed in July by one detective, “A Cedar City man was arrested this summer after he allegedly assaulted a 7 year old hundreds(of) times.” In the report, it was a child who brought it to the attention of her mother first, and later explained the incident through a language interpreter.
In a second statement filed last summer, a Cedar City police officer reports, “An 18 year old was charged and pleaded guilty to sex crimes involving three children under the age of 8; the child-victims described the incident to authorities who later discovered that (other) residents had previously reported ‘odd encounters’ with the suspect”.
Furnival said when you look at the statistics, there is plenty of reason for parents and adults to pay attention. That data shows one out of four girls, and one out of five boys will be the victim of sexual abuse. Unfortunately, says Furnival, cases opened through (CJC) often take years to pursue through the court system, while families wait for closure.
“So we know that there are generational aspects to the victimization issue – it can and does ripple through the family, because it’s generally someone they know or have trusted. So those effects are felt, sometimes for years, within that family, in their neighborhood, at the church they attend, and within the community too.”
Caption: Stephanie Furnival, Director; Angelica Judd, Child-Victim Advocate; and Stephanie Rainey, (coordinator) listen carefully to the voice of each child with a team of professionals who have responded to 388 cases involving children who arrived at the CJC home-based center in 2016.