We must listen to our children.
Almost every week, it seems a new, horrific case of child abuse shocks the conscience of New Mexicans. I commend the local media and the community for refusing to turn a blind eye to the unacceptable levels of abuse in our community. What is even more devastating is that with almost every gruesome account of child abuse that becomes known to us, there is a follow-up story revealing that someone missed a point of intervention that could have saved a child’s life or prevented further abuse. Even worse, this unacceptable pattern typically involves unimaginable abuse, often resulting in the death of a child, and indications of abuse were already known by adults or law enforcement authorities. We are failing to do better for our children.
As attorney general, I am committed to aggressively investigating and prosecuting the most complex cases of child abuse. My prosecutors regularly encounter the tragic reality of delayed disclosures; teenagers or young adults who finally have the language, knowledge or courage to understand, articulate and report their abuse. In some cases, my office has been able to charge for conduct that occurred over a decade prior to a cry for justice. In all instances, we support all courageous survivors of abuse who come forward to bring their abuse to light, whether or not someone can be held criminally responsible. As such, we have been careful not to ignore or dismiss child abuse survivors. We cannot expect a child to understand the terminology of abuse when they are not taught by the abuser that the acts are abnormal, abusive or exploitative. This is compounded by the fact that in most cases, the abuser is someone whom the child trusts, such as a family member, coach or priest.
A number of courageous APS teachers and staff recently stepped up for a child in need. They understood the disclosures and behavioral language of the child and took action because of training provided by my office. They reported suspected abuse, and I listened. The result was a criminal investigation, detention and indictment charging two parents with sex trafficking. We must listen to our children and other members of our community when it comes to concerns of child abuse. Sadly, this is not what occurred in other recent cases, including Victoria Martens and Jeremiah Valencia, where information from law enforcement and community members came far too late. We must not let the claims of child abuse by anyone in our community be delayed or ignored. As we have learned in such cases, failing to listen and failing to act inevitably results in tragedy.
We are not giving up on the children of New Mexico. Last week, my office began providing back-to-school training to teachers to identify signs of trafficking in children. As a community, we cannot ignore systemic failings and must demand improvements in abuse notification. We must close statute of limitation loopholes that prevent charging for crimes involving children, which continue to put our kids at risk. We must make it a responsibility of every single New Mexican to report child abuse suspected by anyone when they see it. And in addition to these reforms, as a threshold, we must be mindful that it is paramount to listen to children and concerned citizens in order to protect New Mexican children for generations.