Polk County Publishing Company, P.O. Box 1267, Livingston, TX. 77351 - (936) 327-4357

Corrigan Times - Local News

Copyright 2013 - Polk County Publishing Company


Polk County takes on child abusers


Contributing Editor

LIVINGSTON — On Wednesday a group of 50 people representing a crosssection of Polk County met at Livingston Junior High School for an eight-hour brainstorming session on how the community can begin to address sexual abuse of children. The group split into fi ve sub-groups of 10 people and wrote down every idea they could think of. Nothing was eliminated and participants were even encouraged to be as crazy, ridiculous or out-ofthe box as possible. Frankly, in-the-box solutions have not done much to address the problem. Subgroups then voted on the ideas to prioritize suggestions and drew a picture to represent their ideas. Those suggestions and pictures were presented to the main group. When discussing "where we are now," the top vote getter was that the public resources allocated to combat child sexual abuse in Polk County remain inadequate. "There are too many incidents and not enough manpower to adequately confront the problem," the group statement said. The next four items the group focused on could be addressed by raising public awareness about sexual abuse and its consequences. The group expressed a wish for better coordination between schools, churches, community organizations and a pooling of their resources to share throughout the county for prevention efforts and supporting victims. They believe more education on the penalties involved would be benefi cial. "Abusers need to know their penalties and that they will last." The group also felt that there is general denial in the community about the extent and severity of the problem of child sexual abuse and most are unwilling to acknowledge that child sexual abuse actually occurs among the population at large. District Attorney Lee Hon addressed that misconception during one of the presentation sessions. He told the group many people believe that child sexual abuse occurs more frequently in the lower socioeconomic levels. However, that is not the case. "We just have more families in Polk County that fi t into the lower income levels so that's what they see most often, but we had an incident that proved that it happens to everyone. It doesn't matter what race, religion, level of education or ethic group you are or how much money you make," Hon said. Along with denial, the group believes acceptance among some segments of society has allowed some offenders to continue to prey on children. Finishing out the top six vote-getting suggestions was: CPS and law enforcement need more trained, qualifi ed staff for swift action. At the Polk County Sheriff's Offi ce, the primary agency that investigates child sexual assault, there only two investigators to handle crimes against persons. So they handle all sexual assault cases (adults as well as children), missing persons, murder, and rotate as on-call detective with the other investigators. On average, one sexual assault case is reported every day in Polk County. Childrenz Haven, the child advocacy center that serves Polk County conducts an average of 15 forensic interviews a month of potential child victims of sexual assault. Just those two statistics are clear indication that the workload on those two investigators must be overwhelming. The caseload for the municipal police departments and Child Protective Services is just as bad. The group of volunteers spent the second half of the day looking ahead: Where would we like to be with regard to child sexual abuse in two years? The top vote-getting suggestion was "zero tolerance" for the perpetrators, including those on parole in prosecuting sex offenders. Second, the group wants to initiate a law enforcement task force for crimes against children. To help young victims and their families heal from the traumatic experience, the group wants to launch a "Hope Fest" which would have skills to donate such as hair cuts, massage, a Diva Nite or other special treats that could give them a chance to reconnect with nonoffending family members for an enjoyable activity. The group would like to see Childrenz Haven in a facility of its own, possibly with partner agencies SAAFE House and CASA. Participants also believe that federal and state offi cials should prioritize child sexual abuse and sex education for additional resources. Incorporating public humiliation into punishment could provide further deterrent to committing an offense, the group decided. Recognizing that any signifi cant progress will require a major investment, the group decided that launching an event similar to the American Cancer Society's Relay For Life would bring provide funds and educate the public about the issue. Thoroughly screened mentors are needed for victims working through the trauma of the experience they have just survived. The group also would like to see the stigma of being a victim of a pedophile removed in the next two to three years. A child cannot be blamed for falling victim to a manipulative adult. They often outwit several adults in the process as well


Polk County Publishing Company