Child abuse cases in Summit County on the rise
When Christie Hind became the executive director of the Summit County Children’s Justice Center in September, she went two weeks without receiving a case of suspected child abuse. Her coworkers told her that was normal.
But, it wouldn’t be long before the calls started coming in at an alarming rate, with her caseload significantly increasing since that time.
“I was seeing six in a month in the beginning after that two-week lull,” she said. “But, now I am doing 12-15 interviews a month. I did five interviews in one week recently. And I’m seeing kids from affluent families and destitute families. But, mostly I am seeing kids from Summit County and a lot from Park City.”
Summit County’s Children’s Justice Center is part of the Utah Attorney General’s Office’s Children’s Justice program. It is one of 23 state-run facilities providing programs where victims can be interviewed and recorded by qualified officials as part of the criminal justice process in a setting aimed at preventing further trauma to the victims. It serves children and teenagers under 18 years old and operates under the auspices of the County Attorney’s Office.
Hind said there is no clear reason why her caseload has increased. But, she suspected it could be attributed to a number of factors.
“I think one thing is that we are back on the radar,” she said. “There has been a lot of media attention dedicated to us securing our new space and people know that we are a resource.”
Reports often go up when kids are not in school and their home environment is unsafe, Hind said. When there is more idle time, incidents of sexual abuse tend to increase, she said. She anticipates seeing another influx in June when school lets out for the summer.
“It could be the holidays or it could be that teachers and counselors now have a ton of things reminding them of the center and what our mission is,” she said. “It could be that people are feeling a comfort level of reporting.” In 2016, 84 child abuse interviews were conducted at the justice center, with that number increasing to nearly 100 in 2017. Hind suspects more than 120 cases will have been heard by the end of the year.
The biggest challenge, Hind said, is that child abuse will never be eradicated. She said it is inevitable to see higher levels of reporting.
“The good news/bad news is that it is terrible to imagine that I am seeing 12 kids a month,” she said. “But, it is good news to the extent that that child won’t suffer more at the hands of their abuser. Then it is actually a good thing that we are seeing an increase in reporting.”
Becca Ross, president of the Community for Children’s Justice, which was formed to secure a standalone facility for the Children’s Justice Center, said no one necessarily suspects that the prevalence of child abuse has increased. She attributed the rise in cases to an increase in reporting, adding “We are breaking down the walls and stigma of reporting in society as a whole.”
“It is the fact that people know who we are now,” she said.
One thing Hind hopes for moving forward is that the community continues to see the justice center as critical resource. She highlighted the Community for Children’s Justice’s recent accomplishment of securing a private standalone facility for the justice center. It currently operates out of the basement of the Sheldon Richins Center next to the Division of Motor Vehicles.
An additional $1.8 million is still needed to retrofit the new space on Silver Summit Parkway to be able to serve the justice center’s needs and create an endowment for the center’s operations into the future.
“We will be able to expand services once we are open in the new space and our resource guide is already being expanded,” Hind said. “When you look at these centers across the state, I think you will see that they are all really successful. But, we want to serve as an example to other centers in the kind of treatment and therapy we are able to offer to victims of abuse.”
A former Summit County victim advocate who was facing a felony count of misusing public money pleaded guilty Tuesday to a lesser charge in a deal with prosecutors.