“No words.” That statement was how Blount County District Attorney Pamela Casey began her opening remarks in a recent trial about the sex trafficking and sexual abuse of a 4-year-old girl by a 47-year-old man. Casey was right. There are no words that could adequately describe the offense. No words to explain the betrayal of a child. No words to express the trauma the girl has and will endure.
Yet Casey found enough words to convince 12 citizens to convict the defendant. I’m not going to discuss this particular case anymore because it is not finished. There may be an appeal and there is another defendant to be tried.
I’d like to tell you this recent case was an aberration. I can’t. I’d like to write these crimes seldom occur. Oh my, how I’d very much like to write that. I can’t. I’d like to tell you these atrocities happen elsewhere, but not here in Blount County. I cannot. They happen everywhere with too much frequency.
The Blount County Children’s Center is a child advocacy organization that works to prevent abuse and provides services like counseling to victims of this curse. They provide a multi-disciplinary approach that reduces the inevitable trauma suffered when children are asked to recall horrific events. They assist law enforcement with trained professionals to interview young victims. The center also provides the funding for a full-time investigator at the Blount County Sheriff’s Office.
The center’s executive director Jim Ed Clayton said they handle an average of 160 cases of sexual and severe physical abuse each year. In 2018, the number soared to 204 potentially criminal cases. As bad as that number is, it is only the reported cases. The Center for Disease Control estimates that one out of 10 children are abused. The hardest thing to understand is that perpetrators of these crimes are usually not strangers to their victims. Overwhelmingly, 9 percent are adults the child knows and should be able to trust. They’re neighbors, clergy, teachers, coaches, scout leaders, family friends, and yes, family. Most cases never get to trial. Some defendants are offered plea deals so the victim can avoid the trauma of testifying in open court. Sadly, some are never punished. Not in this life anyway.
Let all that sink in a minute. If 10 percent of our children contracted the measles or some other malady, it would be considered an epidemic. Task forces would be formed. Governments would be throwing money at the problem to eradicate the disease. Instead, we’re left with the limited resources local law enforcement, the state’s Department of Human Resources, and child advocacy groups have to carry on the fight.
It’s important to know the Children’s Center is not a government agency, but a non-profit. Clayton said it is funded by “various local, state and federal grants” and donations from groups and individuals. Individuals like you and me. The largest portion of its budget comes from the United Way of Central Alabama. Blount County is one of the lucky places because, according to Clayton, there are only 33 such organizations in the state. “That means that in more than half the counties in Alabama, child abuse victims do not have the services of a Child Advocacy Center located in their communities,” he said.
Having seen firsthand the work they do, it is hard to imagine how the unfortunate counties function without such a place. I hope Blount County never has to find out, so I encourage everyone that can support them financially to do so. The children they serve would all thank you if they could. The Children’s Center’s website is www.blountcountychildrenscenter.com and the mailing address is P.O. Box 906, Oneonta, AL 35121.
Clayton encourages people to be aware of the children in their lives. He said the biggest sign to watch for is a “marked change in a child’s normal behavior.” Of course, there is no indication that is always a giveaway. Unless you witness something yourself, you can never be sure, but a child’s life might hang in the balance. “If you see something, say something.”
Casey was right. There are no words. I know I wrote a lot of them, but I don’t think I was successful. Still, it is a subject that needs to be talked and written about. I know that good people should not have to discuss such a subject, but we must. It is only good people who shed light on this vile behavior who can stand between innocence and evil.