Sex assault cases triple from ’08-’13
GLENWOOD SPRINGS — According to figures compiled by the 9th Judicial District Attorney’s office, the number of cases filed in court alleging sexual assaults or abuse of children more than tripled from 2008 to 2013 to date.
A report requested by the Post Independent indicates that there were eight such cases in 2008, one of which involved a juvenile, two of which were dismissed, and five of which resulted in a guilty plea or a verdict of guilt by a judge or jury.
As of this month, according to DA Sherry Caloia, there have been 29 such cases filed so far in 2013, five of which resulted in plea bargains and one of which went to trial. Of the total, two led to a plea of guilty to a lesser, non-sex-related offense, four were allegedly committed by juveniles and ended up in juvenile court, six were dismissed or not filed with the court, and 16 are “pending,” meaning the cases continue to work their way through the courts system.
Two cases have recently made news, one when it went to trial and the other from a pre-trial hearing.
A Carbondale man of 54 was convicted on Nov. 8 on one count of sexual assault on a child when she was 8 or 9 nears old, and when he was 44. The jury exonerated the man on the remaining five counts initially charged against him.
And on Nov. 18, a 70-year-old man underwent a preliminary hearing to determine if police had sufficient evidence to warrant further prosecution on charges that the man had been repeatedly fondling a girl younger than 15. A district judge found the evidence warranted a trial on one of the three charges against the man but not on two others.
Caloia, asked for her opinion about the growing statistical incidence of child sexual assault cases, said she does not think it is related to population growth, noting that the population of the three-county district (Garfield, Rio Blanco and Pitkin) has declined over the same years as the caseload has tripled.
“Since our population has declined in these years, I would attribute it more to news media coverage of the issues,” Caloia said.
With increased awareness among the public of such cases, she reasoned, more families are coming forward with their accusations against strangers and family members.
And, she said, “Because we have the Internet [with its large number of pages devoted to pornography] the child pornography problem has manifested itself quite disturbingly.”
She expressed concern that greater availability of such images may be leading to a higher rate of occurrence of improper sexual acts committed by adults against children.
The report, Caloia noted, included cases involving sexual assault, child pornography and statutory rape.
She said the different crimes against children are “spread everywhere” in the district, noting, “It’s a big problem.”
Caloia reported that her office has been devoting more of its resources to such cases, including sending a deputy DA to a training session in Alabama, funded by federal grants, about pornography and computer crimes as they intersect with the abuse of children.
Plus, she said, the Garfield County Sheriff’s Office has put together a high-tech computer program for analyzing computers to detect pornographers and other offenders, as does the Colorado Bureau of Investigation.
And the Riverbridge child advocacy center in Glenwood Springs, Caloia continued, provides a place where forensic interviews with child victims can be conducted by special interviewers, with police watching from a distance.
“Riverbridge has come a long way,” Caloia said warmly, “and I believe it’s an absolute necessity.”
Another necessity, she said, is the revival of a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner program locally, one of the platforms she ran on when she was elected last year.
Currently, she said, there are two SANE nurses, in Summit County, Mesa County and in the upper Roaring Fork Valley that her department can call on when needed.
But a local facility, with local personnel, is her goal, along with a staff of local counselors to talk with the children, including some with Spanish speaking skills.
“When you have a child make an outcry, the best thing to do is get that child into an examination and an interview immediately,” she said, and not wait hours to either transport the child to a distant location or wait until the properly trained personnel can get here,
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