Valley Authorities Credit More Sex Crime Charges to Joint Effort

Posted: Updated: 7/31/2013 12:02:17 AM

The numbers speak for themselves. Augusta County investigators are seeing an increase in sex crime charges compared to last year. So far in 2013, more charges have been issued for sex crimes than for all of 2012.

It's impossible to know every factor that could be involved here, but authorities credit a joint effort.

Since January, 69 counts have been handed down for offenses like rape and sexual battery.  

Rosendo Ernesto Juarez will spend the rest of his life behind bars for raping a teenage girl. A grand jury indicted Darby Powers last week on hundreds of child porn and online predation charges. This month, the courts convicted Carlos Ortiz-Perez of rape, strangulation and object sexual penetration - to name a few. 

Investigator Paul McCormick with the Augusta County Sheriff's Office has taken on about 600 sex crime cases over his career. Before becoming an investigator, McCormick worked in mental health and at group homes.

"I just got to a point where I sort of got tired trying to fix the broken pieces and go after the ones victimizing other people," said McCormick.

Now, investigators and other agencies in the valley are working more closely than ever to seek justice and help survivors get their lives back. McCormick credits the uptick in arrests to this coordinated effort.

"There was a time, and it wasn't that long ago, that agencies were kind of like 'This is my case. I'm hesitant to share information with you.' And now we're really kind of in an environment where we're all working together," said McCormick.

The 69 counts for sex crimes already in 2013 is up from 57 in all of 2012.

"What I think society is seeing is an increase in the prosecution because of the multi-disciplinary team approach," said McCormick.

Agencies are using a national model called the "Sexual Assault Response Team."

"One of the things we want to make sure is that it doesn't stay hidden. That there can be help," said Dennis Baugh, executive director of the Valley Children's Center – a nonprofit designed to reduce trauma and help in recovery of abused or neglected children.  

The Valley Children's Center in Staunton often works alongside the sheriff's office. Baugh has also seen a rise in the number of visits each quarter over the past year.

From 33, to 35, to 42 and in the last period - there were 53, but that doesn't necessarily mean more abuse is taking place.

"Don't judge what happened 10, 15 years ago by this system. The system has greatly changed," said Baugh.

Now, child survivors and their families can meet with law enforcement, trained interviewers and child protective services together in a soothing setting. Children even designed the rooms at the center. Every detail aims to reduce stress.

"We'll sit down with the victim, and let them tell their story," said McCormick.

Because in the end, they say, it's about empowering the survivors and guiding them along the healing process.

The Valley Children's Center is also a resource for victims not interested in going through the justice system.

There are also other programs with the purpose of spreading awareness to uncover abuse, including school programs to teach kids about inappropriate touching.

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