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Eagle Ford: Child sex abuse caseloads prompt need for more child advocacy centers
Wilson County NewsJanuary 2, 2013 | 2,094 views | 1 comment
Child victims of molestation need a caring, non-threatening setting that allows them to report their abuse without fear of shame or reprisal. In addition to deserving justice, these young victims also need counseling and other support services to aid in their recovery. Services such as these are offered to youngsters through child advocacy centers.
But yet, in the entire state of Texas -- which according to the 2010 U.S. Census was home to 25,145,561 residents living in 254 counties -- only 64 child advocacy centers exist. There are no such facilities within the state’s 81st Judicial District, which encompasses Atascosa, Frio, Karnes, La Salle, and Wilson counties, despite the rising number of reported crimes against children residing in those locales.
Within the five counties, there were 197 cases involving crimes against children that were presented to a grand jury from 2009-11. These cases involved crimes such as injury to a child, aggravated sexual assault, and indecency. Of those cases, 119 were indicted, with 76 resulting in a conviction.
“Most of the sexual and physical abuse cases involve a relative, someone dating a parent, or a stepdad,” said Assistant District Attorney Audrey Louis of the 81st Judicial District, who is the assistant district attorney for Karnes and Wilson counties. “Ninety-nine percent of the time [the perpetrator] is someone they know, someone they trust. It’s someone the family trusts.”
But with the nation’s ongoing economic roller coaster and caseloads that show no signs of decreasing, indications are that the district is in desperate need of its own center.
This is why Louis is among those attempting to establish such a facility within the district. She considers child advocacy centers as “the hub of an investigation into alleged physical or sexual abuse.”
“When we have a kid that has the courage to cry out, we want to put forward the best investigation possible,” she said.
Child advocacy centers, Louis said, question children in a “kid-friendly, non-leading manner” in a safe place, where they can share information that they might only have shared with one other person. The confidential statement is recorded, Louis said, so the story does not have to be retold over and over again. This forensic interview allows investigators to proceed with prosecuting the case, often resulting in a guilty plea or a trial.
Juvenile victims of such crimes often benefit from the services of child advocacy centers. These facilities serve as a liaison between the victim and officials, so that information about the alleged abuse can be gathered in a less traumatic manner than a police station. Children can provide this information to someone specially trained to assist them. The youngsters also can receive much-needed therapy.
To date, child molestation victims from the 81st Judicial District -- including those from Wilson County -- often have to travel to Bexar County, Seguin, Victoria, or Hondo, all of which provide their services as a courtesy, thanks to being funded by state grants and private donations.
Louis said if her office can raise $55,000 in donations, then the state will match those funds. From there, she said, the center would need a building and a minimum of two employees -- an interviewer and an executive director. The organization also could benefit from the donation of goods and services ahead of the goal of opening Sept. 1, 2013. The center already has applied to the Internal Revenue Service for 501 (c) 3 tax-exempt status.
Anyone wishing to provide financial assistance can make a donation at any Wells Fargo bank branch. Checks can be made payable to the “Children’s Alliance of South Texas, a Child Advocacy Center.”
For more information, call the 81st Judicial District Attorney’s Office in Floresville, at 830-393-2200.
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