Santa Clara County symposium fights culture of silence
Each year more than 200 people in Santa Clara County are charged with child molestation, and prosecutors know that the actual number of people who are molesting children in the county is much, much greater.
“Research has shown that fewer than 10% of child victims actually ever have their cases reported to authorities,” Assistant District Attorney James Gibbons-Shapiro said.
Gibbons-Shapiro was one of the organizers of a daylong conference in Campbell that brought together law enforcement, social service agencies, victims’ advocates and nonprofit groups. The goal was reducing the amount of unreported and unprosecuted child sexual abuse in the county by confronting the culture of secrecy that surrounds this terrible crime.
The conference, hosted by the Santa Clara County Child Abuse Prevention Council is held annually on a different topic related to child abuse.
One of the biggest difficulties in prosecuting molesters, and in helping the victims, is that many children are reluctant to talk about what happened to them.
“For a child, it can be frightening. There are many new systems and people that children have to work with,” Susan Moan Hardie, president of the California Professional Society on the Abuse of Children said. “For children talking about the abuse, it can be difficult to have to talk to one person after another, to adults who are strangers to them.”
Santa Clara County is currently exploring whether a new model for child sexual abuse investigations might be more effective in encouraging victims to come forward and helping them deal with their trauma. The Child Advocacy Center model utilizes a multidisciplinary team. Law enforcement, medical and mental health professionals and other social service professionals work together in one facility designed to provide a safe and comfortable space where the victim is only interviewed once by a specially trained interviewer.
The conference also focused on how to prevent child sexual abuse from happening.
“We’re convening a leadership group among county agencies to work on prevention,” Gibbons-Shapiro said. “The Child Abuse Prevention Council of Santa Clara County has a grant that they are going to give to an agency that has some ideas about doing child abuse prevention in the schools. So we’re not just reacting once the abuse has happened. We’re thinking about ways to be proactive too.”
Olympic medalist — and victim
One of the highlights of the conference was a talk by Olympic gold medal-winning gymnast Jordyn Wieber, who testified in 2018 that she was one of the more than 250 girls who were molested by longtime USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar. She said that abusers such as Nassar are often aided by teams, coaches, schools and other organizations that try to cover up crimes and misconduct.
“(USA Gymnastics) clearly did not take the right measures or protect us enough. The fact that he was treating us alone in hotel rooms when we are on international assignments, competing in Japan, that is clearly their bad,” Wieber said. “They did not have the right policies and procedures in place, and a lot of times they still refuse to admit that.”
- Child Sexual Assault Team
70 W. Hedding St., West Wing
San Jose, CA 95110
Phone: (408) 792-2935
- Child Abuse Reporting and Investigation | If it’s an emergency, call 911. Otherwise, contact the Child Abuse & Neglect Center (24 hours) at (833) SCC- KIDS (722-5437).