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‘We need people to believe us,’ child sex abuse survivor says

SHARE ‘We need people to believe us,’ child sex abuse survivor says
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Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill joins others, including Ella, a teen who has benefited from the services provided by Salt Lake County’s Children Justice Center and Victim Services, at a press conference to recognize National Child Abuse Prevention Month at the district attorney’s offices in Salt Lake City on Monday, April 24, 2023.

Scott Winterton, Deseret News

When Ella was 15, she was sexually abused by someone she knew.

But even though it wasn't her fault, she was scared to tell anyone about what had happened.

“I was terrified to talk to anyone about it because I felt guilt. Why did I feel guilty when I had done nothing wrong? Because some parts of society push this idea that victims of abuse aren't telling the truth. I don't know why anyone would think that I would lie about something that had caused me so much pain, but I did know some people would think that,” she said.

On Monday, Ella — who asked that her last name not be used — joined Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill, Salt Lake County Sheriff Rosie Rivera, Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown and Laurieann Thorpe, the executive director of Prevent Child Abuse Utah, to share her story.

As part of National Child Abuse Prevention Month, Gill held a press conference to raise community awareness that child abuse is still an issue — whether it be physical or sexual abuse, abuse from domestic violence or online bullying — and the best way to combat child abuse is for a community to collectively work together to hold abusers accountable.

“It is important for our community to know that if you report it, we will investigate it,” Rivera said.

Recently, Unified police were alerted by concerned citizens of a possible child abuse situation. Rivera said her officers went to a home where seven children under the age of 12 were living.

“One of the children handed the officer a note that said, ‘Help me,’” she said.

After 70 hours of investigation, the sheriff said her officers were able to remove all the children from the home and place them in a safe location.

Thorpe says her group will go to schools and talk to children to help them understand what abuse is and let them know that it is OK to tell a trusted adult about it.

“They don't talk about it because they feel responsible,” she said. “They feel ashamed. They think it’s their fault when something like this happens to them. It is unequivocally an adult’s responsibility to protect a child. It’s not a child's responsibility to protect themselves.”

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Ella, who has benefited from the services provided by Salt Lake County’s Children Justice Center and Victim Services, speaks as she joins Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill and others at a press conference talking about National Child Abuse Prevention Month, at the district attorney’s offices in Salt Lake City on Monday, April 24, 2023.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Ella says she remembers the day when she finally got the courage to tell her parents about her abuse.

“I was shaking, I was crying, I was so scared. Not because I thought they wouldn’t believe me, but because I knew there was going to be a process once I talked to them about it,” she said.

Ella’s parents took her to the Children’s Justice Center where she was worried that “I’d have to talk to countless people about it, even though I barely mustered up the strength to tell my parents.”

But once she was there, workers at the Children's Justice Center made her feel comfortable, they were kind to her, didn't make her tell her story over and over, and most importantly, “never once doubted what I said.”

“Talking about things like this is scary, and it’s scary for every survivor. But because of all the believers that helped me, I am doing much better,” she said.

Ella now wants to help other survivors like her by being a counselor at Camp Hope America-Utah, a weeklong summer camp for survivors of child abuse. It’s a program the district attorney’s office has partnered with.

“We just don't thank the survivors and send them on their way (after their case is resolved). We understand through research that there is a trauma that the survivors need to be able to work through so they can break the cycle of violence before it becomes intergenerational trauma,” Gill said.

In 2022, Gill's office filed 179 child abuse charges in 3rd District Court for physical abuse, 307 child sex abuse charges, and more than 1,800 cases of domestic violence in the presence of a child.

Ella says one of the biggest things the public can do to help victims of abuse is to believe them. She is a “firm believer that society is moving in the right direction, but it's not there yet.”

“It took so much courage for me to talk about this because I felt pressure, guilt, shame, and like it was my fault. It's not my fault. It's never the victim's fault, and we need people to believe that. We need people to believe them. We need people to believe us.”

Child abuse resources:

  • Utah Domestic Violence Coalition operates a confidential statewide, 24-hour domestic abuse hotline at 1-800-897-LINK (5465). Resources are also available online: udvc.org. The statewide child abuse and neglect hotline is 1-855-323-DCFS (3237).

Help with Children

Those who feel stressed out with a child, who need a break or who feel like they need counseling or training can reach out to one of the following agencies:

  • The Family Support Center has 15 locations throughout the state and offers a free crisis nursery for parents who have to keep appointments or who are stressed out. They also offer counseling and family mentoring. Call 801-955-9110 or visit familysupportcenter.org/contact.php for more information.
  • Prevent Child Abuse Utah provides home visiting in Weber, Davis, and Box Elder counties. Parent Educators provide support, education, and activities for families with young children. Their statewide education team offers diverse trainings on protective factors, digital safety, bullying, and child sex trafficking. They are available for in-person or virtual trainings and offer free online courses for the community at pcautah.org.
  • The Office of Home Visiting works with local agencies to provide home visits to pregnant women and young families who would like to know more about being parents. Home visitors are trained and can provide information about breastfeeding, developmental milestones, toilet training, nutrition, mental health, home safety, child development, and much more. Find out more at homevisiting.utah.gov.
  • The Safe Haven law allows birth parents in Utah to safely and anonymously give up custody of their newborn child at any hospital in the state, with no legal consequences and no questions asked. The child's mother can drop off the child, or the mother can ask someone else to do it for her. The newborns should be dropped off at hospitals that are open 24 hours a day. Newborns given up in this manner will be cared for by the hospital staff, and the Utah Division of Child and Family Services will find a home for the child.For more information, visit utahsafehaven.org or call the 24-hour hotline at 866-458-0058.

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Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown speaks as he joins Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill and others at a press conference talking about National Child Abuse Prevention Month at the district attorney’s offices in Salt Lake City on Monday, April 24, 2023.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News