More children coming forward in child abuse cases

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DELAWARE COUNTY, Ind. (Nov. 20, 2015) - Investigators in Delaware County are crediting child advocacy programs for helping them arrest and lock up four people accused of sexual abuse this week.

The arrests follow a series of disturbing child molestation cases in Muncie. So far in November, more than 16 victims have come forward in different abuse cases, telling their stories to advocates at the Gresham Center at Meridian Health Services. The center sees about 150 children and teens each year suffering from physical and mental abuse-- 90 percent of them have been sexually abused of molested.

“The children feel so much safer to come in here. They feel like it’s a welcoming environment," said Delaware County Chief Administrative Deputy Prosecutor Judi Calhoun.

Children and teens are interviewed by advocates in a room designed to make them feel comfortable. Non-leading questions help the victims tell the truth about the abuse, but it's not always easy for children to come forward. Many times, young children feel they are going to get in trouble or that the abuse is their fault. There's also the fear of going back into a household where the abuse happened. Statistics show 80 percent of abusers are people the victims know and trust.

"We need to be more worried about those adults that are close to us and our family that may be potentially offending on our child than a stranger would be," said Patricia Duncan, Operations Manager at the Gresham Center.

While recent cases may paint of picture of increased and more disturbing abuse, investigators say there may not be an increase in cases, but an increase in the amount of children coming forward, thanks to non-profit child advocacy groups, like the Gresham Center.

“When they’ve grasped in their mind that there’s something that’s not right that’s going on, that’s when they come forward," explained Kris Swanson, investigator with the Muncie Police Department.

Since the center opened in 2007 under Meridian Health Services, they've served over 1,000 children and teens, providing services such as forensic interviews and mental health services after a victim has come forward. Advocates say, for many victims, telling investigators about the abuse is like a weight lifted off their shoulders. Victims can also testify from the center instead of appearing in court and facing their abusers.

While all cases can't be prosecuted, advocates say the result is worth the effort.

“Once that child has disclosed, whether we can prosecute or not, we can get help for that child, and that means everything," said Calhoun.