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Understand signs of sexual abuse, child advocates urge parents, others

Updated Thursday, April 25, 2013 | 9:26 a.m.

The small room looks innocent enough, maybe even calming: a blue wall, a tiny table with chairs, an assortment of crayons and markers.

That’s the point. In here, forensic interviewers talk to children who have possibly suffered physical or sexual abuse. Next door, in another small room, detectives and case managers can watch the interview via television screens.

This is the Child Assessment Center, a special place housing law enforcement, caseworkers, family advocates and a medical team. The center is 13 years old.

“The purpose is to be a one-stop shop for kids — to make what is a very traumatic situation less traumatizing for a child,” said Faiza Ebrahim, program coordinator and forensic interview specialist. “We want them to come to a place where it’s child friendly.”

In light of April’s designation as sexual assault awareness month, officials want parents and caregivers to understand the signs of sexual abuse.

Most signs involve change, Ebrahim said. The child might become withdrawn, gain weight, wear different clothing styles or complain of itching.

“Anything that is out of the ordinary for a child, don’t ignore it,” she said. “Ask questions.”

That can be difficult given the sensitive subject matter, said Dr. Sandra Cetl, who specializes in child abuse pediatrics. Parents should make sure children know appropriate words for their body parts and keep communication open.

Last year, at least 6 percent of allegations within the Clark County Department of Family Services were related to sexual abuse, Ebrahim said.

Authorities say the number of child sexual abuses cases is increasing, but that could be the result of more people reporting abuse.

“We are getting more reports through the school and school counselors,” said Metro Police Lt. Dan McGrath, who oversees the department’s sexual assault section.

Many of the abusers are family members or acquaintances, McGrath said.

The Clark County District Attorney’s Office prosecutes hundred of cases related to child sexual abuse each year, officials said.

At the Child Assessment Center, the goal is to extract information and then help the child, if necessary, Ebrahim said.

“Our goal is not prosecution,” she said. “Our goal is not removal of a child (from a family). It’s just to gather information.”

Anyone who suspects a child might be suffering abuse should call the Child Protective Services Hotline, 702-399-0081.

CORRECTION: This version clarifies that at least 6 percent of allegations within the Clark County Department of Family Services are related to sexual abuse. | (April 25, 2013)

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