Yuma County experiences 31 percent increase in child sexual abuse
Total victims served by Amberly's Place in 2012: 1,975
Number of cases: 794
Type of crimes
Child abuse, physical: 108
Child abuse, sexual: 421
Domestic violence: 1,234
Adult sexual assault: 172
Elder abuse: 1
Forensic exams: 57
Source: Amberly's Place
Among the over 145,000 children served by Children's Advocacy Centers around the country from January through June 2012.
•54,529 children were ages 0 to 6 years
•53,179 children were ages 7 to 12 years
•36,921 children were ages 13 to 18 years
•100,649 children reported sexual abuse
•25,381 children reported physical abuse
•99,613 children participated in on-site forensic interviewing at a Children's Advocacy Center
Among the over 145,000 alleged offenders investigated for instances of child abuse from January through June 2012.
•74,897 were 18+ years old
•13,285 were ages 13 to 17 years
•9,041 were under age 13 years
•43,482 were a parent or step-parent of the victim
•25,011 were related to the child victim in another way
•39,078 were an unrelated person the victim knew
Source: Amberly's Place
Too many children are ending up in the hands of abusers, and much too often abusers target the most vulnerable, those too young to voice their horrific experiences.
Nationwide cases of child sexual abuse are up, and Yuma County is no exception, according to Diane Umphress, executive director of Amberly's Place.
Yuma County experienced a 31 percent increase in child sexual abuse from the previous year, with a reported 421 cases in 2012.
“One of the things we are noticing is a dramatic increase in child sexual abuse in children birth to 4 years old,” Umphress said.
“They're the most vulnerable, they're not very vocable, they're very trusting and very dependent upon their caretakers.”
Overall child abuse is up 17 percent. Adult sexual assault went up 13 percent from 2011, with 172 reported cases in 2012.
Domestic violence is slightly lower than last year, with 1,234 cases reported. However, more cases were felonies, which meant the violence increased.
Although there are more incidents of abuse, Umphress gives another reason for the higher numbers.
“People are reporting more, which we are very, very thankful for,” she said. “The sooner it's reported the better, and the child will be on the path to healing, not victimized over and over again. And they will realize they didn't do anything wrong. That's our goal.”
Five children a day are abused in this country, and 80 percent are kids age 4 and under. And they come from all social groups, Umphress said.
The highest number of abusers are parents and stepparents, followed by a family member, she said. “This is the group of people kids look up to,” which makes it more unlikely that a child will report it.
“Parents think that if they have a good relationship, their children will tell them, but if it's a friend or family member, they love that person. They're embarrassed, they're afraid they won't be believed,” Umphress said.
She recommends parents pay close attention to their children. “You're your own child's best advocate,” she said. “If child says something, don't brush it off. ‘You must have taken it the wrong way.'”
Every parent is a mandatory reporter and is required by law to report suspected abuse, even when it involves family members.
But Umphress noted that the responsibility extends to every member of the community. “Each and every one of us has a responsibility to be their voice.”
This is the message Amberly's Place is trying to convey with this year's campaign, “Who is going to be my voice?”
People should report suspected abuse, even when they're not sure. “Follow your gut feeling if it's telling you something is wrong,” Umphress said.
If they are intimidated by police, parents and concerned community members are welcome to report suspected abuse at Amberly's Place. In case someone worries that they're mistaken, Umphress encourages them to leave it up to police, who will conduct a thorough investigation.
Some people are afraid the public will find out, but Umphress reassures them that both Amberly's Place and law enforcement will treat the report with the strictest confidentiality.
Umphress recommends that parents pay close attention especially if a child is behaving abnormally, such as wetting the bed, having a hard time going to sleep, has falling grades and knows or talks about things he or she should not know about, for example, sexual matters.
And children should never be forced to do something that makes them uncomfortable.
“Sometimes we make the mistake of telling our kids, ‘Go give grandma or grandpa a kiss,' and they say no. A parent should never insist. It reinforces the message that they should do something they're not comfortable with, so don't force them,” Umphress said.
The “saddest” cases for Umphress is when families suspected abuse and thought they could solve the problem by keeping the child away from the abuser.
“They don't understand that the person will find another victim. You protected your child, but not your child's friend. Keeping quiet and keeping the kids away is not the answer,” she said.
Another thing to keep in mind is children's access to phone and computers with Internet access.
“Before, only older children had access to phones and the Internet. Now younger and younger children are getting cell phones and access to the Internet,” Umphress explained.
“The Internet opens up a whole world of pedophiles. We have 7-, 8-year-olds thinking they're playing games with someone their same age.”
She recommends sitting down with kids and explaining the dangers of the Internet and always supervising them when they surf the Internet.
Umphress also notes that catching and stopping abuse early on will impact other social issues.
“Abused kids have a higher rate of teen pregnancy. We have to start at the beginning if we want to take care of this,” she said.
Some kids turn to drugs to help them deal with abuse. “If we can stop it at the beginning, so many other social problems can be taken care of,” Umphress said.
For more information or questions, call Amberly's Place at (928) 373-0849 or the local police department.