Sean Reyes: 'One with Courage' initiative protects Utah children, families from abuse

We often limit the meaning of the word "courage" to the bravery of those on our front lines. Our soldiers, police officers, firefighters and other agents are certainly courageous as they stand up and fight to keep us safe from harm.

But in today’s world, we must expand our definition of "courage" to include the quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger and fear. It is critical to consider those who push stigma and discomfort aside to talk about tough issues that are often left in the shadows. Courageous people make it possible for the most vulnerable among us to find protection from harm.

Child sexual abuse is a crime of silence that thrives because not only the perpetrators, but often the victims, do not share their dark secrets. Sadly, many of these situations are based on trusted relationships, and the threat of exposure ignites instinctive reflexes to preserve familiar surroundings, even when they are damaging and destructive.

The Attorney General’s Office houses and administers the Utah Children’s Justice Center (CJC) Program, dedicated to helping local communities respond to allegations of child abuse in ways that are effective and efficient and that minimize trauma for the child. Each of the 22 centers in Utah is a child-focused, facility-based program in which representatives from law enforcement, child protection, prosecution, mental health, medical services and victim advocacy work together to conduct interviews and make team decisions about investigation, prosecution and treatment of child abuse cases. In an average year, Utah’s CJCs conduct 4,500 interviews, handle 5,500 cases and serve as many as 15,000 people.

Keeping families safe is a top priority in our office. In addition to our statewide CJCs, there are 36 Child Protection Division assistant attorneys general and the necessary staff to ensure safe living environments for children in every county throughout Utah. We work in tandem with our partners at DCFS and many of our attorneys work cases at all hours of the day and night to seek judicial protection for children who are in imminent danger of abuse or neglect, while also respecting parental and family rights.

Our office also administers the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force (ICAC), a statewide multi-jurisdictional task force that investigates and prosecutes people who use the Internet to exploit children. ICAC includes 32 affiliate law enforcement agencies, 80 officers and three full-time prosecutors. In addition, our SECURE Strike Force investigates and prosecutes human trafficking threats that often include children.

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