The overall number of abuse incidents locally in April, which was Child Abuse Awareness Month, dropped 13 percent from the same time last year. However, the number of child abuse victims went up.
More than half of the 195 victims served by Amberly’s Place in April were children, with the largest number of victims under the age of 12. Eighty-seven were younger than 12, and another 26 were under the age of 17.
"This give us a total of 113 reported children who were impacted by abuse last month in our county,” said Diane Umphress, executive director of Amberly’s Place, the only family advocacy center in Yuma County with a crisis team to assist abuse victims. “This data tells us that our youth are still the highest at-risk group we worked with last month.”
National statistics show that only one in 10 children ever report abuse, Umphress noted.
“Sadly some children who do report to a family member about the abuse, the family member chooses to not report, just to watch the child. This leaves the child feeling lost and hopeless. No one cares so why tell anyone else?”
She pointed out that society needs to understand “we can’t stop the abuser simply by removing our child. The abuser will find another child. The only way to stop the abuse is to report it to law enforcement.”
According to national statistics, most pedophiles average 118 victims over a lifetime. “When only one in 10 children report, you can see how this is possible,” Umphress said.
She also pointed out that studies have shown that adverse childhood experiences that are not dealt with have long-term impacts on a child. Amberly’s Place provides free training on mandated reporting of abuse to schools and groups.
The center also gives presentations to students on how they can report abuse and how to tell if it’s child abuse, teen dating violence or sexual assault.
“Crimes committed against a person are hard to report. This is why most law enforcement agencies have special detectives to investigate these crimes,” Umphress said.
A unit of investigators from the Arizona Department of Child Safety are housed at Amberly’s Place in hopes that by working together they can have “the very best outcome for all our children.”
Each month the multidisciplinary team, which includes law enforcement, medical personnel, advocates, the county attorney and mental health representatives, meets at Amberly’s Place to review cases and trends in the community.
“This helps us ensure we are meeting the needs of those we assist. Children need to know they are believed and cared about,” Umphress said.
“One of the things that makes Yuma County so great is the support for victims of abuse. To know your community believes in you and cares is the first step in healing.”
During the last session, Arizona lawmakers passed legislation outlining what the role of an advocacy center must be to quality for state Child and Family Advocacy Center funds.
“Now there is a foundation of success for advocacy centers to build on. This legislative session, Arizona became the 40th state to set aside funding for advocacy centers. The amount was small for a state budget, $100,000, but the message to victims is huge: You are cared about and you do matter,” Umphress said.
She thanked law enforcement officers for calling the center to assist victims of abuse. “We do appreciate you and the job you do,” she said, adding, “Thank you, Yuma County, for your support. Together we are making a difference.”
For help, call the 24-hour helpline at (928) 373-0849.