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Child sex abuse victims urged to come forward in Utah, report crimes

Posted at 5:45 PM, Apr 24, 2023

SALT LAKE CITY — A quarter of a million cases of child sex abuse were reported in 2021, according to the Child Advocacy Center, and Utah isn't immune to the problem.

During a joint press conference held at the Salt Lake County District Attorney's office Monday, officials addressed what they're doing about the issue and resources that available to victims who they encourage to come forward.

"I was terrified to talk to anyone about it because I felt guilt," said Ella, who was sexually abused by someone she knew when she was just 15 years old and said it was terrifying to tell someone. "Some parts of society push this idea that victims of abuse don’t tell the truth."

Ella spoke out as a part to urge others like her to come forward, and for adults to believe someone when they tell you about something like sexual abuse.

"Talking about this is scary and it’s scary for every survivor but because people of all the believers who helped me, I am doing much better now," she said.

Ella's story isn't necessarily unique.

Sadly, last year alone, the district attorney's office filed in 307 charges of child sex abuse, 179 charges of physical abuse and 932 charges of domestic violence in the presence of a child in district court, which does not include the 924 similar charges filed in justice court.

"What you don’t see with the cases listed here are those that we don’t know about. Those that don’t come to our attention," said Laurie Ann Thorpe with Prevent Child Abuse Utah.

Thorpe added that on average, a child will disclose abuse three times before they get help.

"That requires the person who is receiving the information believes and listens and then intervenes," she said.

According to Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown, his detectives are trained to be advocates for children and families, and he believes they are some of the best in the country in this field.

"Child abuse has no place in our community," the chief declared.

Salt Lake County Sheriff Rosie Rivera added that people need to realize abuse takes on many forms. It can be physical or sexual in nature, but also exists when a child witnesses violence or become victims of neglect or malnutrition,

"Please get involved and help us help these children," Chief Rivera pleaded. "It's important for our community to know that if you report it, we will investigate it."

Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill says after prosecution, the story doesn’t stop there. His office connects victims to resources in the community, so the traumatizing event doesn’t define the rest of a victim's life.

"We understand through research that there is a trauma that the survivors need to be able to work through so they can break the cycle of violence before it becomes intergenerational trauma," said Gill.

That cycle is the reason behind the creation of something called Camp Hope,

"We used trauma-informed practices to not only help these kids have fun but to work through their trauma caused by the crime that brought them to our office in the first place," Gill added.

The DA also applauded the work of the Children's Justice Center where Ella said she felt heard and helped.

"Everyone there was so wonderful and treated me with so much kindness and respect," Ella said. "If you are struggling, there are so many people out there who want to help."

A 24-hour Utah hotline at 855-323-3237 has been created to report child. Or if there is urgent danger to a child, anyone can call 911. For crisis support, the family support center can be reached at 801-995-9110, while the SAFEUT app is also a resource, as is Hope4Utah Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988.