Utah is just like any other place when it comes to sexual abuse of children, said speakers the first day of a two-day conference on abuse.
"Everyone thinks this is `Happy Valley,' and child sexual abuse doesn't happen much here," said Dianne Warner-Kearney, a child-protection investigator in Provo for the state Division of Family Services."Well, most of the families I deal with are churchgoers. Terrible things do happen here. It is time to take the blinders off."
Warner-Kearney was one of six panel members who spoke to police officers, attorneys and mental-health specialists Thursday in the State Office Building. At a seminar sponsored by the state, professionals discussed how their agencies can work to ease trauma to children whose cases go to trial.
Specifically, the group discussed techniques for getting children to tell their stories while therapists videotape the interviews, a tactic that often spares children the trauma of having to testify in court.
"We all have the same goal," Warner-Kearney said. "We need to network and work together to protect the kids."
But some parents block attempts to help their children by denying the problem, officials said.
Orem Public Safety Detective Ralph Crabb said he knew of a 4-year-old girl who told her mother the woman's boyfriend was abusing her. The mother thought the girl was lying, and the abuse continued for several months until the woman walked in during a molestation.
Crabb mentioned a father who had told friends he wanted to molest his 13-year-old daughter. The man said it was his right to do so, Crabb said. The child installed a dead-bolt lock on her bedroom door, but her mother insisted there was no problem - the girl merely wanted privacy from her brothers.
Another problem, Crabb said, is that false reports of child sexual abuse are often inspired by custody battles. Parents sometimes start investigations in order to ruin a spouse's reputation.
"Determining credibility is a major roadblock," he said. "You have to examine everyone's motives."
And many victims do not begin to talk about an incident until years later when "evidence is gone, in most cases," Crabb said.
Therapists are developing models of what symptoms are normal at different points in a victim's recovery, said Karen Knight-Eagan, law professor at the University of Utah.
"You can gather evidence a child has moved through various levels of disclosure," she said. "The model gives the judge and jury something they can understand."