Attorney General David Wilkinson says child sex abuse cases have multiplied and taken increasing amounts of his prosecutors' time since his office won a high-profile case last year.
The attorney general's staff now is assisting in 15 such cases. "The number continues to grow almost weekly," Wilkinson said in remarks prepared for a speech Tuesday in Cedar City and obtained Monday by the Deseret News.And, although it is unusual for his office to handle such matters, Wilkinson said he intends to continue doing so until local prosecutors become better trained.
"Hopefully the role we are currently playing in child abuse cases is a temporary one," he said.
County attorneys normally prosecute such crimes. But child sex abuse was not widely reported until this decade, and most county attorneys do not know how to handle the investigations, he said.
Wilkinson said the recent conviction of Lehi resident Allan Hadfield on nine counts of sexually abusing his two children has prompted a flood of similar cases.
"Since our involvement in the Utah County investigation, we have received requests from all over the state to help local prosecutors handle these very complex and unusual cases," he said.
Most recently, the attorney general filed two cases in Grand County, one involving sexual abuse and other involving the abuse-related death of a 3-year-old. More charges also may be filed in the Lehi case.
Wilkinson said his staff, particularly Assistant Attorney General Rob Parrish, has spent the past five years studying how to handle such cases and instructing law enforcement officers, prosecutors, social workers, educators and others how to handle the problem.
"Although my office rarely will substitute its judgment for that of a local prosecutor, in the area of child abuse if a clear miscarriage of justice would result otherwise, I feel we must take such action," he said.
But the crimes are becoming a burden for his staff. Wilkinson hinted he would like state lawmakers to grant more money so his office can devote more time to investigating child sex abuse.
"I have only three full-time prosecutors in my office and only one of them is available for work on child abuse cases and has the expertise and experience in this area," he said. "It is rapidly becoming a full-time job for him, although his primary assignment is to prosecute economic crime cases."
Although reports of child sex abuse have risen more than 300 percent in Utah since the early 1980s, Wilkinson said, the crime is not necessarily more prevalent than in the past.
"When this problem was little known and all too easily ignored or dismissed, there was little reporting of the crime," he said, noting victims may now feel they have a better chance of being believed when they go to authorities.
The average abuser molests between 70 and 100 children before being caught, Wilkinson said.