Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes and Miss Utah Karlie Major came to Cache Valley on Wednesday to speak at the Child and Family Support Center’s annual “Steppin’ Up For Children” event, which raises awareness of child abuse.
Reyes noted that the event was important enough to him that he came home early from his mother’s funeral to attend.
“I love that you are giving a voice to these young people,” he said. “I so respect what you’re doing and this program ‘Steppin’ Up For Children.’”
On the steps of the Historic Courthouse, where the event took place, were sobering reminders of the toll of child abuse and neglect — 327 pairs of shoes, each representing a substantiated case in Cache Valley. Statewide in 2013, 9,233 children experienced child abuse, with Cache County ranking eighth highest in Utah. Of those cases, 38 percent involve children 5 years or younger, with 27 percent involving children ages 6 to 10.
On average in Utah, a child is abused every 52 minutes.
“Report abuse, even report suspected abuse,” the Attorney General said in his speech. “I’d rather have 10 reports that don’t turn out to be true than one case failed to be reported.”
He shared some other grim statistics: One in four young women and one in six young men, nationwide, will experience some kind of sexual abuse before they reach the age of 18. That abuse is perpetrated by someone they know 90 percent of the time.
The toll is great.
Victims of sexual abuse are three times more likely to suffer from depression, Reyes said, six times more likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, 13 times more likely to abuse alcohol, 26 times more likely to abuse drugs, and four times more likely to commit suicide.
“These are the effects of child sexual abuse on poor, innocent victims,” he said. “This needs to be one of our highest priorities as citizens.”
Communities need to come together to combat this, he said, by educating themselves and others about the signs of abuse.
When communities rally together, change can happen, he said.
Reyes said the Attorney General’s Office is focused on helping children in need and preventing child abuse of every kind, but it takes everyone getting involved.
He said Cache Valley is the best place to live, raise a family and start a business, but more needs to be done to protect children.
“We need everyone to come together to be that one voice with courage,” he said. “We need you to step forward and be an advocate.”
Miss Utah Karlie Major also spoke at the event, saying family and community support can make all the difference.
When collecting shoes for humanitarian work in Africa, she said she was overwhelmed with the prospect of getting 1,000 pairs of shoes to send there. After help from her family, she said she saw the snowball effect and soon she had over 12,000 pairs of shoes.
“I was seeing firsthand the importance and the influence that family and community involvement can make,” she said. “We can and do make a very large difference to those around us, our community and our world.”
This is the sixth year the Child and Family Support Center has held the “Steppin’ Up For Children” event, which closes Child Abuse Prevention Month.
“Preventing child abuse is one of those rare things that everybody can agree on,” said Esterlee Molyneux, the executive director of the Child and Family Support Center. “All of our efforts focus on the family system and on keeping children safe.”