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Local

Kane County State’s attorney tackles child abuse, gang activity

ST. CHARLES – Lawsuits against Fox Valley gangs are helping curb their activities, Kane County State’s Attorney Joe McMahon said at his monthly press briefing, which also highlighted the work of local agencies during Child Abuse Prevention Month.

The state’s attorney’s office has filed four lawsuits since 2010 against gangs in Aurora and Elgin. A recently won 2013 lawsuit successfully has placed an injunction against an Elgin gang, prohibiting members from congregating and wearing gang colors, as well as having weapons or cans of spray paint used for graffiti.

McMahon said it gives gang members a way out of the group if they are looking to escape and also curtails recruitment. “It strikes at the heart of gang activity,” he said. “I’m hopeful this injunction will be one more tool that the Elgin Police Department and the community have to push back against gang activity.”

Joining McMahon at the briefing were Gloria Bunce, executive director of CASA Kane County (court appointed special advocates), whose trained volunteers represent the best interests of abused or neglected children in the courts; and Lori Schmidt, an assistant state’s attorney and the interim director of the Child Advocacy Center, a branch of the state’s attorney’s office.

Those organizations – along with the Kane County Regional Office of Education – make up a three-year-old partnership whose goals include encouraging people to report suspected incidents of child abuse.

“If you see something, say something,” Bunce said. She emphasized it’s up to everyone, not just the mandated reporters, among whom are members of the medical and legal professions, along with educators and school employees.

“These children deserve to feel loved and valued and to be safe,” Bunce said.

Because children often do not disclose the abuse they are experiencing until they are older, McMahon said it is vital for others to make a call to the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services hotline or local police.

“Many cases started with a phone call, not a cry out from the direct victim,” McMahon said, noting the abusers frequently are people the children thought they could trust.

Schmidt said the delayed disclosure makes the cases more difficult because it brings into question whether a judge will believe that child years later. “It shows a tremendous amount of bravery when they walk into the courtroom,” Schmidt said.

On April 20, the Child Advocacy Center will conduct a balloon launch outside its offices, releasing one balloon for each of the 330 cases it handled in 2016. The public event will begin at 3 p.m. and will feature a guest speaker.

She said everyone should consider themselves a mandated reporter. And McMahon said there are no exceptions in the obligation to notify authorities of suspected abuse, adding that there is no legal liability for making a report in good faith.

He said people can make anonymous calls to report their suspicions, and if there is an innocent explanation upon investigation by the Department of Children and Family Services, the case will be resolved quickly. “Trust your gut – make the call,” Schmidt said.

Bunce said signs bearing the DCFS hotline number of 800-25-ABUSE are available to post at businesses and outside of homes to increase awareness. There were nearly 4,000 hotline calls last year in Kane County alone, according to CASA.

For information, call CASA at 630-232-4484 or visit casakanecounty.org. Details on mandated reporting, including a podcast, are offered at www.casakanecounty.org/MANDATED-REPORTING.

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