170 Cases of Child Sex Assault Reported in Mesa County This Year

By: Tim Ciesco Email
By: Tim Ciesco Email

In just the past four weeks, 11 News has told you about five separate cases where someone has been accused of sexually assaulting a child. Child advocacy groups say those are just a handful of the hundreds of reports they receive in Mesa County each year.

From January 2008 to June 2008, the Western Slope Center for Children has interviewed 140 children that may be victims of sexual abuse. This month, they say they've already received 30 reports. It's a problem officials say doesn't seem to go away.

"On a yearly basis we see three hundred or more children," said Shari Zen, Executive Director of the Western Slope Center for Children. "They come to the Western Slope Center for Children to be interviewed by all the professionals involved in a sexual assault investigation."

And it's a problem that law enforcement admits is hard to combat. Of the 170 cases the Western Slope Center for Children has received, only 18 are in the hands of the District Attorney.

"It's fairly rare that we actually have physical evidence of the sexual assault, so it's usually the kid's word against the adult's," said Mesa County District Attorney Pete Hautzinger. "We have to persuade the jury the kid's telling the truth."

It's a battle Hautzinger says is worth fighting.

"In my humble opinion, any of these cases is too many of these cases," said Hautzinger. "There's no excuse for a child ever being harmed."

Child advocacy groups say too many cases is exactly right -- especially when you compare Mesa County's numbers to the rest of the state.

"Our numbers are comparable to Jefferson County," said Zen. "That's a big, populated area."

But even more alarming than the number of cases reported, officials say, are the number that go unreported.

"We know that one inf four girls and one in four boys will be sexually abused before the age of eighteen," said Zen. "The sad part of this is, only one in ten children come forward."

Officials say that's where the most can be done to stop the problem.

"If you suspect that, you need to report it," said Zen. "That is our duty, to protect the children in our community."

The District Attorney's office says the more victims that are willing to come forward, the more they can do to put offenders away for good. It's for that reason Hautzinger says, next to murders, child sex assault cases are the most important.

"It is very important to bust these people and stop them from victimizing more kids," said Hautzinger.

If you suspect that a child is being abused, you are asked to call authorities immediately. The county also has a 24 hour child protection hotline where reports can be made. That number is (970) 242-1211.

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