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FILE PHOTO: DAILY PRESS
Television reporters photograph a photo distributed by a child abuse victim's family after a scheduled arraignment was postponed for Amanda Sorensen. The 2-year-old girl died after ingesting chili powder, and her father's girlfriend, Sorensen, was charged with murder.

Child abuse shakes local areas

Statistics on child abuse:

29% decline in physical abuse from 1993 to 2005

10.9% increase in children under 1 admitted for physical abuse from 1997 to 2009

26% decline in child homicide (under age 5) from 1993 to 2007

68% decline in crimes involving households with children from 1993 to 2010

Source: Crimes Against Children Research Center

The High Desert saw horrific news headlines involving physical child abuse during the past month. A father and his girlfriend were charged with the murder and torture of his 4-year-old daughter, whose body was found in a shallow desert grave. A 2-year-old girl died after ingesting chili powder, and her father’s girlfriend was charged with murder.

San Bernardino County Sheriff's officials arrested teen parents on Jan. 17 after their 5-month- old girl was found with injuries and weighed just 9 pounds. Two days later, investigators arrested a Victorville man on suspicion of abusing a 2-year-old boy.

“I review a lot of child abuse cases every week, every month, but it does seem like there are quite a few serious cases to start the year off,” said Deputy District Attorney Kathleen DiDonato, who prosecutes major crimes against children in the Victorville court. “We started 2013 with a lot of child abuse cases.”

She’s seen an increase in the number of cases involving severe injuries to children, DiDonato said. To help curb the problem, the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s office formed a Major Crimes Against Children Unit in December.

“This is a proactive approach toward improving not only the investigations that go into these types of crimes, but a means in which to strengthen the procedures and policies already in place,” District Attorney Michael Ramos stated in a news release. As a trial lawyer I learned that these cases are also particularly difficult to prosecute because frequently there are no witnesses and the child is unable to testify.”

His office filed 53 cases in 2011 that would fall into major crimes against children, up from 40 the previous year. In 2012, county prosecutors filed 32 by Nov. 15, according to the DA’s office.

Nationwide surveys present conflicting results about the trends in physical child abuse, whereas sexual abuse has declined since the early 1990s, according to a recent study by the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire.

David Finkelhor, author of the study, was at a conference and couldn’t immediately be reached for comment Monday.

Even after prosecuting child abuse cases for seven years, DiDonato said she’s still puzzled by how perpetrators could hurt vulnerable victims.

“Frequently, abusers are the ones who were supposed to be taking care of these kids,” she said. “These kids can’t get out of that situation. A 2-year-old can’t get out of the house or pick up the phone and call 911. They are at the mercy of the abuser.”

Child abuse committed by parents and other caretakers makeup nearly a fifth of all violent crimes against juveniles up to age 17, according to the Crimes Against Children Research Center website.

DiDonato said the key to preventing child abuse is for the public to report such incidents.

“When a child is left in a car when it’s hot outside, you don’t walk away. You call law enforcement,” she said. “A lot of time, people are afraid to get involved, but you can call anonymously. That can make a difference in people’s lives.”

To report child abuse, call the 24-hour hotline at (800) 827-8724 or local law enforcement. Those who wish to remain anonymous can call WeTip at (800) 78-CRIME or leave tips at www.WeTip.com.

Tomoya Shimura may be reached at (760) 955-5368 or TShimura@VVDailyPress.com. Follow Tomoya on Facebook at facebook.com/ShimuraTomoya.

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