More than 25 years ago, Grethe Petersen was serving as a juror in a child abuse case in Utah. She watched as two young boys had to again recount the story of their abuse in a courtroom, in front of dozens of strangers. The jury wasn’t able to find the alleged abuser guilty and those two boys left the courtroom further traumatized than when they entered.
According to the CJC, 1 in 6 Utah boys and 1 in 4 Utah girls will be sexually assaulted before the age of 18—higher than the national average. Only 2% of victims are abused by a stranger–98% are abused by someone they know and should have been able to trust. That is an outrageous number of children every year who have to work through the justice system, often before they even know what a justice system is.
Grethe felt if we can’t help our children in the most traumatic situations, we have failed. She knew there had to be a better way and so she got to work.
She found an organization in Alabama that used a home environment in which to conduct interviews with children who were victims of crime or abuse. She began lobbying the state legislature to do something similar and in 1991, the Children Justice Center opened three centers in Salt Lake City, Provo, and Ogden.
Today, there are 23 centers across the state—at least one in every county. The centers allow trained staff to interview children in a comfortable environment. Those interviews are video recorded and then used in court proceedings so the kids don’t have to recount their trauma again and again.
Here in Summit County, a team of Summit County and Park City Police detectives, caseworkers, prosecutors, victim advocates, and trauma-trained therapists and medical staff all help victims share their story and then move on with the healing process while criminal proceedings carry on.
The Summit County CJC is currently located in the Sheldon Richins Building in Kimball Junction–but the location is not ideal. The whole goal of the center is to help kids in a comfortable, homey environment, not an office building. And since it opened its doors in 2012, the center has seen more than 1500 children and the numbers continue to grow annually—meaning it needs more space.
The Summit County and Park City governments, the Utah Legislature, federal grants and private donations all help fund the CJC. Thanks to many donations, the nonprofit that supports the CJC, Community for Children’s Justice, has secured a new location to carry out the mission of the center. The new home for the CJC is the “zebra house” – on Silver Summit Parkway, adjacent to the southbound U.S. 40 on-ramp.
But as you well know, real estate in the Summit County area is not cheap. The property is also going to need some extensive renovations to make it fit the CJC’s needs. Community for Children’s Justice has seen great support from the local government but it just isn’t enough to provide this vital service to the community. So it is in the middle of a campaign to raise $2 million to secure the new property and keep it running.
This weekend, the center is hosting an open house so the community can see what the beginnings of the new center will look like.
It is Saturday, October 27th from 4 p.m.to 6 p.m.
Please click HERE to register for the event.
The CJC is a testament to the power of a woman with a vision. Grethe Petersen saw a need in her community and she did what it took to fix it. She said, “One person can make a difference. If you care enough and have the energy to do it, you do it!”
At this moment in our lives, it’s not possible to lobby the legislature to fix the problems we see in our communities. But what we CAN do is help those fighting the good fight. They can’t do it without our support.