SALT LAKE CITY — Tears filled the eyes of Sister Rosemary M. Wixom as the LDS Church's Primary general president delivered a $100,000 check Tuesday to make it easier for children to speak up after they've been abused.
"We've all been touched by what we've seen here," she said after she and 10 other auxiliary leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints joined Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes and Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill on a tour of the Avenues Children's Justice Center in Salt Lake City Tuesday.
"The church takes this matter very seriously," said Sister Wixom, who for five years has led the church auxiliary that serves 1.1 million LDS children around the world. "We all love children, and we have to do everything we can to help the child that may be suffering."
Utah's 22 children's justice centers provide child-friendly atmospheres for children when they are interviewed by investigators and caseworkers regarding alleged abuse. The center also provides referrals for support services for children and their parents or guardians.
Children's Justice Center program director Susanne Mitchell and program manager Jodi Fait conducted the tour. They shared a scenario of a 10-year-old girl sexually abused by an older male cousin to walk the tour group through the steps of a child's visit to the center with one of her parents.
The idea, Mitchell said, was to show how the center can help a child move from fear and anxiety to hope.
The fictional girl played with toys in the front room, then she and her parent got a tour of the facility. After paperwork, the child got to choose which of three interview rooms she preferred.
About 70 percent to 80 percent of children open up to investigators because of their training in forensic interviews. The interviews are videotaped. Children who aren't ready to share their story receive referrals for therapy, and when they are ready, they return to the center.
The Avenues Children's Justice Center has been located in a home in Salt Lake City's Avenues neighborhood since 1991. Utah's children's justice centers saw 5,500 child victims last year. Parents and siblings are considered secondary victims. Including them, the centers helped about 13,000 people in 2014.
A website, onewithcourageutah.org, has a flowchart that walks parents through the process of what happens at the centers.
Reyes and Gill expressed appreciation for what Mitchell called the church's "extraordinary" donation.
"The significance of your presence here is incredible," Gill said to the LDS leaders. "Your taking an interest speaks volumes."
Other LDS leaders on the tour included Sister Wixom's counselors, Sister Cheryl A. Esplin and Sister Mary R. Durham; Presiding Bishop Gary E. Stevenson and Elder Gary B. Porter, an area Seventy and secretary to the Presiding Bishopric; the Young Women general presidency of Sister Bonnie L. Oscarson, Sister Carol F. McConkie and Sister Neill F. Marriott; Brother M. Joseph Brough, second counselor in the Young Men general presidency; Sister Linda S. Reeves, a counselor in the Relief Society general presidency; and Brother Tad R. Callister, the Sunday School general president.
Bishop Stevenson said the church funds came from the humanitarian offerings of Latter-day Saints around the world.
"As we consider the most fundamental social responsibilities, nothing surpasses protecting our children and preserving their innocence," he said. "This issue cuts across politics, across ethnicity and across religion. It's really the highest priority at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints."
As she left the center after Tuesday's tour, Sister Wixom said she felt honored just to carry the envelope with the check.
"I felt the spirit in that home," she said. "It was a spirit of love, purpose and caring."
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