Procedurally in child sex abuse cases that result in the removal of a child from a home, an exam is performed to determine if the allegations can be substantiated. If so, that evidence at the very least can lead to a judicial order barring contact between the accused and the child victim while the investigation continues or it can culminate in criminal charges that result in prison time.
Because of the seizure of such a massive number of children and the absence of the accuser the early April raid has led to criticism of what some have called Nazi-like tactics perpetuated by Texas authorities bent on religious persecution.
Child protection officials have rejected that characterization, with Cunningham on Wednesday pointing out that every step along the way has had the stamp of judicial approval.
"This was not a decision (the Department of Public Safety) made in a vacuum. The removal itself was approved by the judge."
Patrick Crimmins, another spokesman for the department, said the agency is alternately criticized for acting too slowly especially if a child is harmed or should die or acting with too much haste if the arm of government is perceived as overreaching.
"We're generally criticized all the time," Crimmins said.
While Sarah's calls prompted the raids on the ranch, Cunningham said it was what investigators found while they were there that gave greater indication of collective abuse that went beyond one victim.
"It was the investigation afterward that led us to believe there was abuse happening in widespread fashion at the compound," he said. Cunningham said "Sarah" still has not been positively identified but officials believe "she is among the children in San Angelo with us."
"It is not what we have built our case on," he said. "In our case, what we have found is more than enough evidence that we believe will show that this abuse is happening and these kids are put at risk by returning there."Unlike criminal court where the burden of proof is "beyond a reasonable doubt," juvenile court proceedings in child welfare cases depend on a less stringent standard, that of a "preponderance of the evidence."
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