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"Safe haven" and "neutral environment" were words Hattie Allen with the Children's Advocacy Centers of Texas used to describe child advocacy centers Tuesday night during the West Texas Children's Advocacy Center's annual Child Abuse Awareness Banquet and fundraiser. She was the guest speaker for the evening.
"This is the one non-profit that serves children this way," she said. Allen explained that due to the complexity of child abuse cases, there are many agencies that have to get involved - like law enforcement, forensic interviewers and medical personnel. Children's advocacy centers help coordinate all agencies to make it easier to prosecute in such cases that prove to be real while helping the Child feel safe and comfortable.
Allen and Teresa Zarate, director of the West Texas Children's Advocacy Center in Sweetwater, said the numbers of reported child abuse cases continue to grow. Zarate pointed out that there were 244 forensic interviews conducted locally during the past year, compared to just over 160 the last few years.
This center serves Nolan County, Mitchell County, Scurry County, Fisher County and Borden County.
To get an idea of who they serve, Allen reported out of the 40,000 plus children that visit the 68 centers in the state, 73% of them were sexually abused. Over 90% of those knew their abusers and 26% of them were too young to be in Kindergarten.
Allen stressed that communities have to start openly talking about child abuse in order to eradicate it. "We have to push fear and discomfort aside to combat secrecy," she said.
She concluded by expressing gratitude for the staff members in centers and people who serve on the board, as well as donors. "We have to work together to eradicate child abuse." At the end of the banquet, Zarate recognized all donors attending and the Sweetwater Jaycees for cooking and providing the meal. Entertainment was provided by the Sweetwater Municipal Band and 12-year-old Kristen Smith.