Advocates talk about fight against child abuse - Brownsville Herald: News

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Advocates talk about fight against child abuse

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Posted: Wednesday, April 13, 2016 10:56 pm

The month of April is National Child Abuse prevention month, and the Cameron County District Attorney’s child abuse prosecution unit is dedicated to prosecuting cases of child sexual abuse.

Brandy Bailey, unit supervisor for the Cameron County District Attorney’s Office, heads the child abuse prosecution unit, which includes prosecutor Omar Saenz.

The unit established by Cameron County District Attorney Luis V. Saenz in July 2013 focuses on the most egregious sexual abuse cases within the county, including any child sexual abuse case with a child under the age of 14, Bailey said.

Bailey explained that the unit specializes in dealing with children, because dealing with a child in the court system is different than dealing with an adult.

“We take the time to meet with every single child involved in a case we are prosecuting to make sure that we lessen the trauma of what has already happened as much as possible,” Bailey said.

Bailey said sexual abuse cases involving children are especially difficult to prosecute due to a number of factors.

“The majority of the time the perpetrator is someone within the home, and someone else in the home wants to keep it silent because they’re afraid Child Protective Services may get involved, their children may be removed from the home or losing income if the perpetrator is jailed,” Bailey said.

These factors can affect the collection of evidence, Bailey explained.

“By the time we find out about the case, we don’t have DNA evidence or proof of physical trauma or injury because the child’s body has healed,” Bailey said.

In many cases, Bailey said, “Kids recant because they saw the chaos it created in the home, and they feel bad for speaking up in the first place.”

According to Bailey in 2015, 971 children were interviewed at the CameronCounty children’s advocacy center. That number includes victims of sexual abuse, physical abuse, neglect and children that witnessed violence in the home. However, the majority are victims of sexual abuse.

Bailey said the unit frequently works with law enforcement officials and with Court Appointed Special Advocates of Cameron and Willacy counties volunteers.

 CASA Executive Director Richard Alaniz said the organization recruits and trains community volunteers to be sworn in by the court and speak on behalf and in the best interest of children victimized by abuse and neglect. Volunteers get to know the child and speak to everyone involved in the child’s life, including family members, teachers, doctors, lawyers, social workers and others, Alaniz explained.

“No child should grow up being scared of the people raising them, but we can all help in the effort to break the cycle of abuse, one child at a time, “Alaniz said.

Alaniz said CASA is assigned cases from the court involving children from infants to age 18, with the responsibility of representing the best interests of one child or set of siblings while they are in foster care.

“The new CASA volunteers become an independent voice for children who have been removed from their homes because of abuse or neglect. The focus of CASA is to find a safe, nurturing and permanent home for these children as soon as possible,” he said.

Bailey said the community can help reduce the number of cases of abuse by recognizing the signs and helping a family that might be stressed out.

“If you are feeling overwhelmed, seek out help, or if you see parents or caregivers who are overwhelmed, provide relief for that parent, and if you see children with signs of abuse report it,” she said.

Bailey said CPS keeps reports of abuse confidential.

“When these children become adults, that is when you see the repercussions. Unfortunately, some children that have been abused go on to be abusers and create a cycle of abuse if they don’t get help,” Bailey said.

cgarza@brownsvilleherald.com

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