AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage and the top officer in the Maine State Police gathered with reporters and child sex abuse prevention officials Thursday to highlight the positive effects of increasing efforts to speed along investigations and provide services to young victims.
Advocates estimate that nationally, one in four girls and one in six boys will experience sexual abuse before they reach age 18 and that only a fraction of those cases will ever be reported.
“It is the most heinous crime on the face of this Earth,” said LePage during an impassioned speech at the State House on Thursday. “Sometimes you’d rather be dead. It’s that simple. It leaves scars that are just unbelievable for a lifetime. The work is superhuman work for those who dedicate their lives to working with children and sexual abuse. … I sometimes wonder how they can do it year round.”
In recent years, the professionals doing that work have been collaborating more. Children’s Advocacy Centers were first established in Maine in 2005. There are two Children’s Advocacy Centers serving Androscoggin, Franklin, Oxford, Kennebec and Somerset counties. On the heels of the passage of LD 1334 last year, the state is in the midst of efforts to expand them, including one that’s in the works for Cumberland County, according to Angie Bellefleur, associate director of the Maine Office of Child and Family Services.
The centers focus on streamlining investigations of child sex abuse and the delivery of support services by collaborating the efforts of prosecutors, law enforcement officers, health care providers, mental health providers, victim advocates and child protective case workers.
Maine State Police Chief Robert Williams said that the centers take significant pressure off young victims through the investigation process by consolidating it.
“The beauty of these teams is that everybody’s needs are met in a single interview,” said Williams. “Because of that, the prosecutions in the areas that have these centers has increased, and not only have prosecutions increased, they’ve increased without a trial, which is very important to families.”
Elizabeth Ward Saxl, executive director of the Maine Network of Children’s Advocacy Centers, said that last year, the centers served nearly 400 victimized children and the children’s families, and in the first three months of 2014, has already interviewed 150 children.
“We’re really on pace for a significant increase over the 400 interviews we conducted last year,” said Ward Saxl.
Three law enforcement officers were recognized during Thursday’s event for their work to develop Children’s Advocacy Centers. They were Sgt. Joseph Bradeen of the Lewiston Police Department; Detective Ryan Brockway of the Maine State Police and Lt. Don Foss of the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Department.
LePage said the value of the officers’ work can’t be overstated.
“The encouraging thing is that there are more calls [reporting abuse],” said LePage, whose history as an abused child is well documented. “People are recognizing it, and that’s how you eradicate it. … [Being a victim] is not a one-time effect. It’s a lifetime effect. It’s serious stuff. It prevents them oftentimes from being the person they want to be because they’re haunted.”
LePage was criticized earlier this month for vetoing a bill, LD 1685, which would create a group to study ways to strengthen the protection of children from abuse and neglect. The veto was overridden over LePage’s objections to the Legislature ordering the Department of Health and Human Services to do work it has already committed to doing.
LePage strikes back in his weekly radio address, which will be broadcast over the weekend.
“Now, liberals say I don’t care about abused children. It’s outrageous,” said LePage. “In my veto message, I clearly explained DHHS is already working on this, and they are doing so without an election-year mandate from lawmakers.”