Nov 142002
 
Authors: Megan Fromm

While reported cases of sexual abuse on children in Larimer County have increased in the past two years, the cause of the increase is yet to be determined, said Denise Suniga, Human Service Program manager for Children, Youth, and Family Services of Larimer County.

In 2001, 611 of 3,471 referral calls into the Larimer County Department of Human Services were for sexual abuse of a child, including incest and third party abuse.

Comparatively, 567 cases of sexual abuse on a child were reported within the first eight months of 2002 from January to August.

“It seems like we will probably surpass previous years (in the number of sexual abuses cases reported),” Suniga said. She said the average number of sexual abuse cases per month in 2001 was 50, while so far the average for 2002 has been 70 per month. However, Suniga said she could not pinpoint a specific cause.

“The population of Fort Collins and Larimer County has increased,” she said, which could account for a proportionate increase in cases. “There may be other reasons.”

According to the U.S. Census, between 2000 and 2001, the population of Larimer County increased by 7,978 people. In the same time period, Weld County grew by 14,013 people.

The number of reported cases of sexual abuse in Weld County for 2002 is also expected to exceed last year’s statistics.

Last year, Weld County reported 204 sexual abuse cases. As of October 2002, the county has already seen 198 cases, said Chris Dodd, executive director for A Kid’s Place, an extension of the Child Advocacy Center for Weld County, which helps to investigate cases of child abuse.

Sexual abuse of a child can include child exploitation such as pornography, incest, family member abuse, or abuse by a third party or acquaintance. Investigations into any type of child abuse are never easy, said Director of Larimer County Department of Human Services Jenny Riley.

Recently, former CSU student Jan Elijah Rogers was arrested on federal allegations of distributing and advertising child pornography. A Secret Service investigation traced a child pornography website back to Rogers in Fort Collins.

While at CSU, Rogers worked at the University Children’s Center, a CSU-affiliated day care. Local investigations resulted in 12 charges against Rogers from the Larimer County District Attorney for alleged sexual exploitation, sexual assault and unlawful sexual contact against minors. The local investigation stemmed from a videotape the Secret Service turned over to local officials.

“Sometimes we get reports from people in the community,” Riley said of how investigations begin, while other reports come from concerned family member or even the victim. Some professionals, such as doctors and teachers, are required to report to LCDHS if they suspect any type of child abuse.

Investigating a case of sexual abuse on a child is thorough and professional, Riley said, unlike the work of badge-toting social workers on television who bust down front doors to rip children away from abusive families during dinner.

The complex process involves workers who compile information from callers such as dates, names and addresses, into a report that is sent to a screener. Screeners then study the reports to determine if previous reports have been filed and whether or not an investigation is appropriate.

If an investigation is necessary, Riley said, social workers meet with those involved to gather more detailed accounts of the situation and then report back to superiors who decide an appropriate course of action. Occasionally, if there are concerns for the safety of either the social worker or the subject of the investigation, law enforcement officials accompany the worker during the investigation.

Every case is handled differently, and a course of action depends on the nature of the situation, Riley said.

“If there is an immediate danger to the child, law enforcement officials can remove the child from the home after reviewing the case,” she said. LCDHS can also offer services to the family, including assistance with life skills issues, financial issues or mental health treatment.

“There’s a lot of different options,” Riley said. “Sometimes we will offer services and monitor the situation.”

If a case does not seem to improve or risk toward a child increases, LCDHS can file a court action for custody of the child, she said.

In Greeley, A Kid’s Place specializes in creating a safe atmosphere in which investigations into sexual abuse can take place.

“We’re a neutral, child-friendly place where kids come to be interviewed,” Dodd said. A Kid’s Place is furnished with couches and toys to take the edge off an already disturbing experience for children.

While investigations into child abuse used to require up to 15 interviews and even visits to police interrogation rooms, A Kid’s Place conducts taped interviews in family-room-style offices. Instead of interviewing the child repeatedly, caseworkers and law enforcement officials can review the tapes later.

“We’re able to get better information because we have specially trained people, and it cuts down the trauma for children,” Dodd said.

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