When a child is a victim of physical or sexual abuse - and the crime becomes a matter of legal action - the youngster can be placed in a strange and frightening position. He is removed from a familiar home environment and questioned repeatedly by different adults, all strangers.
A child can be particularly intimidated since the criminal justice system is geared for prosecution of offenders and the gathering of information to carry out that function. The needs of the victim may be easily overlooked in this process and the experience can be particularly traumatic for a hurt and confused child - one who has already been betrayed in a fundamental sense by an abusive parent.A child may be confronted by a variety of strangers and asked to repeat again and again the story of the abuse in several different and frightening surroundings - hospital, police station, psychologist's office, prosecutor's office, etc.
It may be more than some children can bear. The whole system is made for, and run by, adults.
This unhappy situation has long been acknowledged by those who work in the field and is the compelling reason behind the Children's Justice Center sought by Gov. Norm Bangerter.
A bill in the Utah Legislature would place under one roof all the services - social workers, psychologists, prosecutors and other assets - to help and protect the young victim, not just from the offender but, as one observer put it, "from the criminal justice system itself." Every effort would be made to produce a homelike atmosphere where a child is intimidated as little as possible.
Such a move is sorely needed in the light of growing numbers of abuse cases coming to light in recent years. At least 40 other such centers have been established in other parts of the United States.
Trial centers would be set up in Weber, Salt Lake and Utah counties in the next fiscal year. This week the Utah Senate unanimously allocated $300,000 for the program and sent the measure on to the House of Representatives, where it deserves equally solid support and quick approval.