When it happens to you: When a child is abused
|Updated: 2/26 9:51 am
||Published: 2/15 7:00 pm
Across America, a report of a child is abused every five seconds. "It was inappropriate touching you just don't do with children,” said Myrtha Mikel.She is the former school counselor for Skelly Elementary School in east Tulsa.This is her first media interview since she reported her suspicions about former Assistant Principal Robert Yerton Jr. who was suspected of inappropriately touching a boy at Skelly Elementary in 2009. "That was my main focus, protecting children. I knew this could not continue in this manner," said Mikel.Child abuse often goes unreported but in 2012, the Tulsa Police Department Child Crisis and Sex Crimes Unit were assigned to 1,108 cases involving children.These do not include the 683 cases referred to DHS that were non-criminal cases. However, many cases of abuse go unreported and victims and even parents are scared or unsure of what to
do next. The moment you suspect or witness a child is being sexually, physical or verbally abused or even if you see something you might think looks inappropriate, police recommend you need to do something. If you fail to report child abuse you could be criminally charged with a misdemeanor or if you are a caretaker you could be charged with felony enabling child abuse. Nearly every night, FOX23 News reports a case of child abuse involving child molestation, sexual abuse and the suspects are relatives, pastors, coaches or someone they trust. "Almost every time you turn on the TV," said Mikel. When she witnessed the principal’s inappropriate behavior she knew it wasn’t right."Caressing of the boys, bear hugs of the boys, massaging their chest and rubbing their face,” said Mikel. The first thing she did was intervene. "It just needed to stop, it needed to stop,” said Mikel. "Of course he told me what he was doing wasn't wrong. And I told him it was wrong and he said he wasn't going to stop."Then she reported to the school’s principal. "She told me she would check into it," said Mikel. Mrs. Mikel says she refused to let her suspicions rest and wants people to remember if you think child abuse is happening to protect the child. "I knew everyone was mad at me, everyone was upset with me and I had to continue on. I had to continue
on until something was done,” said Mikel. "I was ignored, yes, I was ignored."The reporting started in the fall 2009, by spring 2010 she says action wasn’t being taken so she took her concerns to the next level. She went outside of Tulsa Public School’s policy and reported her suspicions to the Assistant Superintendent. "I know I was putting myself on the line, I know I was putting my job on the line," said Mikel. Then she went to the campus police and Department of Human Services. "Nothing came out of that,” said Mikel. She said she went straight to the parents of the alleged child."I wish it hadn't taken so long. I wish I would have called a parent earlier but I kept trying, I kept trying to get it to stop,” said Mikel.As FOX23 News followed the Yerton case more allegations of abuse surfaced, something that may not have
happened without Mrs. Mikel’s persistence. Two and half years later a jury convicted Yerton of three child abuse counts.
"I am glad I did because of where he is now," said Mikel.
Yerton was sentenced to 20 years in prison and seven years of supervised provision."If you don't do anything you are just as guilty as the perpetrator," said Mikel. "You are responsible, you are responsible."
Remember if you suspect child abuse, physical or sexual, inappropriate contact with a child, you need to report.
Police say failing to do so could mean criminal charges against you including a misdemeanor or a felony if you
are the caretaker of child and convicted of enabling child abuse. Call the DHS hotline at (800) 522-3511. Also remember during the investigation child sex abuse experts recommend you do not ask too many questions and let the child do the talking.Pay attention to what a child is saying about someone in particular such as the child may want to avoid someone. That could be a clue that a child is being abused.
Most importantly, let the child know whatever he or she is feeling is okay. In Tulsa, police do not do the initial interview but a professionally trained forensic interviewer with the Child Abuse Network will interview the child.
In 2012, TPD Child Crisis and Sex Crimes detectives said they were assigned to 483 child physical abuse cases, 481 child sexual abuse, 79 child neglect, 27 child deaths and 38 cases categorized as “other.” Although, reports of child abuse reach 1791 in Tulsa, the number of cases investigated by police there is a huge difference in the number of cases prosecuted by the District Attorney. Tulsa police Child Crisis Detective Cpl. Greg Smith says if police receive a report concerning lack of supervision, poor environment, unsanitary conditions, etc, where there is a danger to the child but no harmful effects to the child at the time of the report the case is referred to DHS for investigation of the family to prevent future harm to the child.
In those cases the incident does not meet the elements of a criminal act and they are not investigated further by police.The Tulsa County District Attorney reports in 2012 there were 277 cases forwarded to his office, 133 were approved for prosecution and 127 were declined because there wasn’t enough evidence. To learn more about how to report child abuse and getting the child visit the Child Abuse Network, Oklahoma Department of Human Services and the Parent Child Center of Tulsa.
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