Gathering planned next Monday at courthouse
Every child deserves to live in a safe, loving home, yet hundreds of thousands of children across the nation experience abuse and neglect.
Every April, the country celebrates National Child Abuse Prevention Month—and Sanpete County is joining to bring awareness and combat abuse in all its forms.
“Celebrate may seem like a strong word for a difficult topic,” said LuAnn Greenwell, executive director of the Sanpete County Children’s Justice Center (CJC). “But when communities come together to believe and support our children and keep them out of harm’s way, we believe it should feel like a celebration.”
Greenwell is asking residents to gather next Monday, April 11 from 5-7 p.m. on the front steps of the Sanpete County Courthouse in Manti. Everyone is encouraged to wear blue. The event will feature guest speakers and free information.
Statistics show that more than two-thirds of child abuse reports come from “mandated” reporters: community professionals who work with or care for children and who are required by law to report suspected abuse.
But in fact, under Utah’s mandatory reporting law, any person who has seen or has reason to believe that a child has been subjected to incest, molestation, sexual abuse, physical abuse, or neglect is required to report to law enforcement or the Division of Child and Family Services (DCFS).
The prevalence of child abuse in Sanpete County has fluctuated through the years, according to Sanpete County Attorney Kevin Daniels, but for the past two years, the number of cases has held steady.
“Very rarely do we see a biological father sexually abuse a biological child,” he said. “We see stepfathers; we see adopted fathers, unfortunately, but biological is quite rare.”
The Children’s Justice Center in Ephraim provides a comfortable atmosphere for abused children and families to report child abuse and begin the road to recovery, although many cases are handled without CJC involvement.
“In 2021, we assisted 89 primary victims of child abuse,” Greenwell said. “The primary victim is assisted along with caregivers and siblings who may also be victims of abuse, greatly increasing the number of individuals who benefit from our services.”
Of those cases, 38 of the children were victims of sexual abuse or sexual assault, 19 physical abuse, 19 domestic violence and 13 child endangerments.
The age range generating the most abuse cases seen at the CJC is 13-18. Those ages account for 56% of cases. Twenty-seven percent of cases are from the ages of 8-12, and 17% are seven and younger.
Females account for 66% of cases and males 34%. Greenwell said many of the children come in presenting post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms. Other problems the children exhibit are nightmares, feeling scared, feeling worried, having trouble concentrating in school, feeling lonely, not wanting to play, and having intrusive thoughts.
When police or Child Protective Services believe a child is being abused, a caregiver or other “safe” adult takes the child to the CJC. At the center, the child tells his or her story once to a trained interviewer who knows the right questions to ask.
Based on the interview, a multidisciplinary team, including medical professionals, law enforcement, mental health providers, prosecutor, DCFS, victim advocates and other professionals get together and make a group decision as to how to help the child.
“To understand what a Children’s Justice Center is, you must understand what children face without one,” Greenwell said. “Without a center, a child may end up having to tell the worst story of his or her life over and over again to doctors, police, lawyers, therapists, investigators, judges and others. They may not get the help they need to heal once the investigation is over.”
Imagine your child comes to you with a horrible story of sexual abuse.
That’s what one mother told the Messenger in an interview where names have been withheld.
The mother’s daughter came to her after months of being sexually abused by a cousin while she was staying at her father’s home during his weekends.
“I was shocked, and I didn’t know where to turn,” she said. “I myself had been a victim of sexual abuse, and I was only ever able to talk to my LDS bishop about it.”
The abuse stopped because the bishop spoke to the perpetrator, but the woman never got justice from the legal system. She said her pain never went away and said that is why she struggles to stay in a healthy relationship even at age 37.
She wanted different for her daughter. After visiting with the CJC, she noticed differences in the way her daughter behaved compared to in the past. She now realizes those differences were signs something wasn’t okay.
“As a mother, we are supposed to protect our children, and I feel guilt for not noticing the difference in her so that the abuse could have stopped earlier, and she wouldn’t have had to go through so much,” she said.
The CJC handled everything for their family. They helped to notify authorities, gave her daughter a safe place to talk about the abuse and gave her a chance to heal.
While the legal aspects of the abuse may be over, the mother said that her daughter will need therapy for the rest of her life as she battles panic attacks, nightmares, and trigger events.
The girl started counseling the week it was determined a crime had been committed. She attended weekly therapy sessions for a year and is now being moved on to less intensive therapy.
“She has struggled every day with effects of what happened to her,” the mother said. “It’s been very, very, very difficult,” not just for the daughter, but for the whole extended family.
But the daughter is working through it, the mother said, “and the support she’s had from day one with the CJC and family has made the biggest difference.”
One of the great things about Sanpete County is the supportive community, Daniels, the county attorney, said. “People are really willing to step up through whatever social structures that exist. Sanpete does an exceptional job.”
One of the most important tools to stop the tragedy of child abuse and neglect is prevention, Greenwell said. This requires that we, as individuals, support and uplift our communities, families, and individuals so that our children can be raised in safe, loving, and healthy environments.
“Look for the blue spinners throughout the county,” placed by the Friends of the Sanpete County CJC, throughout April, Greenwell said. “Join our celebration near the steps of the Sanpete County Building April 11 at 5.”
“Remember, when communities come together to believe and support our children and keep them out of harm’s way, we believe it should feel like a celebration,” she said.