written by Emily Buckley, Editor in Chief
FOURTEEN YEARS AGO, “Katie” and her son “Johnny” (names have been changed to protect privacy) were introduced to the Cache County Children’s Justice Center (CJC) after Johnny was sexually abused by a relative.
“As a mother, I felt horrible guilt that the abuse ever happened,” Katie said. “A whole year went by before we knew the abuse had occurred, and we had no idea what the process for reporting or prosecution would entail, but my mama bear instinct came out and I wanted to protect my son from any more trauma, being embarrassed, or feeling inferior in any way.”
When detectives told Katie about a safe place her son could go to report his experience once, and have it recorded, so he wouldn’t have to relive the experience again and again, she was very grateful.
“You can image how nervous we both were when we went to the CJC to be interviewed,” Katie said. “But I was surprised how inviting it was. It didn’t feel sterile or like an office or police station, it looked and felt like a home.”
Johnny completed his interview in about an hour before he and Katie went home. “They listened to Johnny and that was it,” Katie said. “Later, they followed up to see how we were doing. We didn’t want to broadcast what was going on, so it was nice to have someone to guide us. They helped me know what to do as a mom. I couldn’t be more grateful for that guidance and the reassurance that I wasn’t alone and that my son wasn’t ruined; that there was hope.”
Johnny’s recorded testimony was eventually used in court, so he didn’t have to be present to testify, and the perpetrator went to jail.
“This was a really hard thing for our family,” Katie said. “I am super grateful for the CJC. I hope no one else would ever have to go through it, but unfortunately there is a growing need. They helped make this horrible situation a little more tolerable for us.”
ABOUT THE CHILDREN’S JUSTICE CENTER
The CJC is a home-like facility that serves children and families from Cache, Box Elder, and Rich counties experiencing crisis or chaos in relation to physical or sexual abuse of a child.
The focus and function of the CJC is to reduce the trauma of a child abuse investigation, provide medical services, and help children feel safe to reveal the truth.
At the CJC, specially trained professionals talk to children about abuse allegations. They also have an on-site medical room staffed by professionals from Primary Children’s Medical Center who have specialized training in diagnosing and treating physical and sexual abuse of children and teens. This service safeguards children’s health and collects evidence.
There are 23 similar facilities around Utah, all operating under the Utah Attorney General’s office, with the local program tailored to community needs. In 2018 the Cache County CJC conducted approximately 450 interviews. “Unfortunately, that is just the tip of the iceberg,” CJC executive director Joan Liquin said. It is a team effort between the CJC, law enforcement, and the Division of Child and Family Services, Joan said. “We are neutral, with primary focus on giving children a safe place to tell their stories. Kids often leave happy. It is a dark and difficult subject, but children are most often relieved to be believed, get it off their chests, and feel safe.”
The CJC receives government funding, but relies on the support of a volunteer board and community donations for office supplies, comfort items, and snacks to help children feel more at ease when they are there. “We appreciate any and all support we receive on this end,” Joan said.
IF YOU SUSPECT ABUSE
“We want people to know that if there is ever a suspicion of abuse you don’t need proof to report it,” Joan said. “A lot of people are scared of what might happen, but we are here to be a safe, neutral place, and to find out the truth. If it turns out there is nothing going on, the investigation can offer reassurance, and if there is abuse, we can offer help.”
Joan also encourages parents to be very cautious. “Most abuse happens with people the child or family knows,” she said. “Believe your children. Watch for red flags. I can’t over emphasize how many times it is someone they know — be aware and selective about who has access to your children.”
Katie agrees. “I always felt something weird about our perpetrator,” she said. “I actually made a mental note to never leave my children alone with him, and the worst part is that I was in the same house when it happened. Trust your intuition.”
Additionally, Joan says it is imperative that parents talk to their children about body safety, what their rights are, and who to talk to if they ever have a problem or feel threatened. “People who hurt children will try hard to hide it. Make sure your kids know they can talk to you.”
If you suspect child abuse or neglect, call the Utah Department of Child and Family Services 24-hour intake hotline at 1-855-323-3237. In an emergency dial 911.