Kayla Voorhees is the Child Advocacy Center (CAC) program manager and forensic interviewer for Virginia's House here in Graham. Under this title, she has many jobs, but one of the most important is interviewing children who come to Virginia's House after an allegation or suspicion of abuse has come about. Voorhees says that the vast majority of cases that she and her coworkers handle involve sexual abuse.

In the state of Texas, the statistics for child sexual abuse are staggering, and groups like Virginia's House, in combination with government programs and law enforcement, are instrumental in helping victims and non-offending family members cope.

On an average day in the state of Texas, 185 children become victims of abuse, and on an average year, the number climbs to 65,000. Of the total number of children served by a CAC manager just like Voorhees in the year 2012, 73 percent were victims of sexual abuse, 95 percent knew their attacker, and 26 percent were under the age of five.

For Virginia's House, 185 children received primary and secondary victim's assistance in 2011. In 2012, that number rose to 296. 2011 saw 128 children served at one of their Child Advocacy Centers, and in 2012 there were 137. In 2011, there were 72 forensic interviews conducted at Virginia's House CAC's, and in 2012, there were 87.

Though it may seem like overall cases of child sexual abuse are on the rise, these numbers can be deceiving. According to District Judge Stephen Bristow, it could really signify that more people are aware of how to recognize signs of abuse, and that CAC's have helped immensely in providing communities with that awareness.

“Prior to 1988, if a child was molested or touched, the first place a person would go was to a police department,” Bristow explained. “So here's a policeman in uniform trying to talk to a ten or twelve year old, whatever age it is, which is not very good to do, intimidation-wise.
Just about every aspect of Virginia s House is designed to put children at ease, from the forensic interview room, to the lobby shown here.
Just about every aspect of Virginia s House is designed to put children at ease, from the forensic interview room, to the lobby shown here. (Brian Rash)
The next thing that would happen is that the child would be rushed to the emergency room.”

Bristow said that this policy was consistently problematic for many reasons. Now, the process is both more effective and less intimidating for victims.

Read the entire story in this Wednesday's edition of the Graham Leader.