Making dent in child abuse one case at a time

Their perpetrators are among the hardest to identify, their victims the most innocent and vulnerable.

And as April marks Child Abuse Awareness Month for Kaua‘i, statistics show that child abuse doesn’t discriminate: It reaches all demographics, and roughly 140 cases happen annually on island.

Statewide, that number jumps to 1,500.

Child abuse can take emotional, negligent or physical forms, and can be inflicted by adults spanning all relationships that can possibly exist with children, including parents, teachers, pastors and neighbors.

The statistics are hard to nail down, however, as it is estimated that only 33 percent of child abuse incidents nationwide are reported.

That’s according to data from the Children’s Justice Center, which held its open house last week.

The center’s main focus is to make the interview process between abused children and officials less traumatic, as those who are victims usually have to interact with law enforcement, sex assault nurse examiners or child protection workers.

As if being a victim of child abuse weren’t enough, victims also are tasked with the difficult responsibility of helping put an end to the abuse by recounting the details to strangers.

Those details often involve betrayal, as roughly 85 percent of child-abuse victims know their abusers.

Also difficult is the task officials face in trying to make a dent in child abuse while simultaneously providing comfort to the innocent.

Dean Pigao, a board member of the Friends of the Children’s Justice Committee and retired detective and lieutenant, who served the Kaua‘i Police Department for 25 years, knows first-hand what children go through when being interviewed for a case.

“You may interview many kids, and this is a place where they can feel safe,” Pigao said.

In an effort to reduce the amount of trauma a child experiences, the CJC has a recording facility for forensic interviews with a tinted window and neighboring viewing room, in which only trained investigators or psychologists specialized in child abuse are allowed, Director Tom French said.

“This center is here for victims and the parties involved,” French said. “We’re impartial.”

Though the viewing area is somewhat sterile — it houses a camera and several monitoring devices — the room where the victims are recorded is plush in contrast.

The center’s Rosie Carrillo said furniture, donated by Jeanette Otsuka Chang, president of Otsuka’s Furniture, as well as toys given by the community and local businesses, have made all the difference.

Each child who goes through the Lihu‘e center gets a stuffed animal or Borders gift card to keep, as part of yet another effort on behalf of the CJC to help ease the interview process that can occur at any hour of the day or night.

Because the CJC hasn’t had much of the spotlight, Pigao said, it is crucial for those who can to support the outlet.

The nonprofit will have a fund-raiser June 15 at the Kaua‘i Lagoons Resort.

For more information, or to make a tax-deductible donation, visit: www.friends-cjc-kauai.org.

• Amanda C. Gregg, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 252) or agregg@kauaipubco.com.

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