Victoria County Bar Association hosts training about child sexual abuse

Jessica Priest By Jessica Priest

July 18, 2013 at 2:18 a.m.

About 70 people committed to rooting out child sexual abuse packed an auditorium at the Victoria College's Health Sciences Center on Thursday.

The event, which was hosted by the Victoria County Bar Association, armed area law enforcement, prosecutors and teachers with tools to identify both the victim and the perpetrator, among other things.

Sleep disturbances, change in appetite, irritability, fears about personal safety, depression and withdrawal or lost of interest in activities may all point to problems at home, said Shauna Holder, an education and training coordinator at the Gulf Bend Center.

She also dispelled the notion that sex offenders are uneducated and unemployed.

"Seventy-three percent of sexual assaults are perpetrated by a non-stranger," Holder said.

For them, it is more about power and control, not sexual gratification, she said.

The Texas Family Code Chapter 261 stipulates that teachers, doctors, nurses and child day care workers must report suspected child abuse within 48 hours. Failure to do so could be a class A misdemeanor.

Those professionals should include as many details as possible about the outcry, said Mark D. Daigle, a past Gulf Bend Center board chairman.

"'Student 1 claims they were assaulted by a family member. End of report,' is not going to cut it, and that is unfortunately what I've seen," Daigle said. "I mean, c'mon, how do you expect them to get a conviction off of a report like that? It may not be language you use every day, it may not be words you want to write, but it's got to be in there."

Victoria County's conviction rate for child sexual abuse was 50 percent from Sept. 1, 2010, through April 30. That is nearly 14 percent higher than the rest of the Lone Star State, Criminal District Attorney Stephen Tyler said.

While these cases do not get as much media coverage as gang or violent offenses, jurors usually levy hefty punishments.

Also from Sept. 1 through April 30, 27 of the 29 people convicted of child sexual abuse were sentenced to prison, Tyler said.

Eileen Van Baak, a special education inclusion teacher with the Victoria school district, sat up front. She hoped to earn a few training hours but never has had to report child abuse during her seven years as a teacher.

"I wanted to know what the symptoms were so I would know how to proceed," she said.

Other presenters were Glenn Mutchler of Child Protective Services special investigations; Jeffrey Lehnert and David Ruiz, Victoria Police Department detectives; and Johna Stallings, a Victoria County assistant criminal district attorney.



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