Several recent sexual assaults committed by local minors

The Sweetwater Police Department has recently handled a spike in sexual assaults of children -- committed by minors.On Thursday, March 22, 2012, Sweetwater Police arrested a 14 year-old male for aggravated sexual assault of a child. According to Detective Sam Cunningham and Detective Ray Cornutt, the department began working on a case the week before, in which other juvenile witnesses claimed that an underage person was engaging in sexual activity with someone much older. "The reason it was classified as an aggravated sexual assault was not necessarily due to someone being forced into sexual activity, but because of the age difference," said Det. Cunningham. "Legally if you are under the age of 14, you cannot consent to sexual activity in Texas," he stated. "If you are over 14, you cannot consent to sex with someone with at least three years in age difference without it being considered for prosecution, as a defense attorney could possibly claim that the sex was consensual. This causes many cases to not be prosecuted."In the case of the 14-year-old male offender, the victim was at least three years younger than he was, making the offense an aggravated sexual assault. "He admitted to us that sex had actually happened between he and the victim," Det. Cunningham said.There have been several other arrests within the past few weeks involving minors as the offenders, including one juvenile male, age 14, being arrested for aggravated sexual assault on Friday, March 23, 2012.Another male juvenile, age 15, was arrested for sexual assault on Tuesday, March 27, 2012.Over the past weekend, a 10-year-old male was arrested for indecency with a child.Det. Cunningham reminds the public that April is National Child Abuse Awareness Month and National Sexual Assault Awareness Month. "The West Texas Children's Advocacy Center is a great help to the Sweetwater Police Department and wonderful advocates for child abuse victims," stated Det. Cunningham. "I look back at the time before the WTCAC was established and wondered how we did our jobs without them," he said.Each year, countless children suffer from abuse and neglect. All too often they are victimized by the very adults charged with protecting and providing for them, adults these children love and need. Unfortunately, in an effort to come to the aid of abused children, child abuse professionals may unintentionally cause additional suffering to child victims and their families, as civil and criminal justice systems were generally not created with child victims in mind. The West Texas Children's Advocacy Center, serving Nolan, Mitchell, Fisher, Scurry and Borden Counties, strives to bring sensitivity, responsiveness, unity and efficiency to investigations of child abuse through the use of a multidisciplinary team by coordinating investigations and sharing information and resources. The team is comprised of law enforcement, the Department of Family and Protective Services, medical and mental health professionals, prosecutors and other individuals and disciplines as necessary. The Center and its partners work together to provide the best possible services to restore the lives of victims of child abuse, their families and the community.Established in 2000, West Texas Children's Advocacy Center works with children and teens age 0-17, conducting forensic interviewing on an average of 25 children and providing ongoing services to victims and their non-offending family members. In 2007, Nolan County was ranked seventh and Scurry County was ranked 14th in the state of Texas for confirmed child abuse victims per capita. "We are in a critical state of possible funding cuts for the future, so we are asking for the community's continued support for the Center," said WTCAC Executive Director Teresa Zarate. The WTCAC conducted 163 forensic interviews and reviewed 478 cases in fiscal year 2010-2011.Located at 317 Oak Street in Sweetwater, Texas, under Executive Director Teresa Zarate, the Center operates on the belief that the best interests of the child should be protected above all else. "The Center also offers a child-friendly environment where children and non-offending family members can feel safe and comfortable during traumatic times," says Zarate.Interagency partners include the 132nd District Attorney's Office, 32nd Judicial District Attorney's Office, Borden County Sheriff, Colorado City Police Department, Fisher County Sheriff's Office, High Sky Children's Ranch, Mitchell County Sheriff's Office, Nolan County Sheriff's Office, Roscoe Police Department, Scurry County Sheriff, Snyder Police Department, Sweetwater Police Department and Texas Department of Family and Protective Services.The West Texas Children's Advocacy Center is a recognized member of the Children's Advocacy Center of Texas and the National Children's Alliance and is a not-for-profit 501 (c) 3 organization.This year's board of directors includes David McDonald, President; Glynis Gotcher, Vice President; Mark Garcia, Treasurer; Lori Dockery, Secretary; Jackie Hackfeld, Member at Large; and Melinda Moncada, Past President. Also on the board are Barrett Thomas, Rosa Best, Christi Warner, Ricky Womack, Lita McEachern, Kerrie Blair and Norma Torres.