Although we didn’t plan it that way, it was fitting that Gazette-Times reporter Emily Gillespie’s story about the new book probing the heartbreaking Karly Sheehan case appeared on Sunday, the start of National Child Abuse Prevention Month.
It is true, of course, that the publication of the book, “A Silence of Mockingbirds,” by Karen Spears Zacharias, was timed to correspond with the national month. But regardless, the book and the news story provide a good opportunity to take stock of where we’ve made progress in battling child abuse, and where we need to keep pushing.
The good news is that we have made some progress since the horrifying 2005 case in which 3-year-old Karly died of injuries inflicted by Shawn Field, the boyfriend of the child’s mother – a case made all the more horrifying because of the missed opportunities to save the child’s life.
For starters, we have the law that bears Karly’s name that was pushed through the Legislature by state Rep. Sara Gelser. Karly’s Law requires that whenever child abuse is suspected, the vulnerable child is examined by a child-abuse expert within 48 hours – and mandates that photographs of suspicious injuries be taken. Either step might have triggered an intervention that could have saved Karly’s life.
Gelser reports that in the first year after the measure was signed into law, the number of abuse exams for children climbed 74 percent; over four years, she said, the number increased by some 180 percent.
That’s not necessarily because there’s more child abuse occurring, Gelser noted, but rather that we’re more attuned to noticing signs of abuse earlier.
That’s a good development. There is, of course, more that we can do – and nonprofit agencies and others are hard at work. At Monday’s City Council meeting, Maria Chavez-Haroldson, the executive director of Benton County CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates), and Toni Ryan, the executive director of the Center Against Rape and Domestic Violence (CARDV), talked about their efforts.
The Benton County branch of CASA, of course, makes sure that someone – a court-appointed special advocate – represents the best interest of some 100 children each year as cases involving those children wind through the court system.
CARDV offers shelter for women fleeing domestic violence – and, Ryan said, there’s a strong link between domestic violence and child abuse. CARDV is about a month away from the grand opening of its Advocacy Center in Corvallis, a facility that will offer hope for victims of domestic violence and child abuse. That will be a huge step for CARDV – and for the rest of us as well.
On the six-year anniversary of Karly’s death, her father, David, visited the gravesite, sat down on the ground, and read her a book. Maybe it’s too much to hope that we can wipe out the need for other heartbreaking scenes like that one. But we certainly can work toward that day.