What is child abuse?

Child abuse is an action or lack of action (in the case of neglect), that creates a risk of physical and/or emotional harm for the child. Sexual abuse is a form of child abuse. Sexual abuse can include manipulation and threatening of the victim by the abuser to engage in sexual acts and/or contact. Anyone in the child’s life may inflict this risk, including family members, friends, peers, and/or authority figures. KRS 600.020 provides the legal definition of child abuse, neglect and dependency in Kentucky.

How to make a child abuse report

Reporting abuse is one of the most important steps you can take to protect children. If you believe a child is being abused, neglected or is dependent, you should call the Child Protection Hot Line number below, Centralized Intake in Northern Kentucky or your local police department. 

If you think a child is in immediate danger, call 911. 

Northern Kentucky Centralized Intake: 859-292-6550
Kentucky protection hotline: 1-800-752-6200 

How do children tell about sexual abuse?

Children disclose sexual abuse in different ways, depending on their age, developmental capacity and many other factors. Young children may not always realize that what they are experiencing is abuse or have the words to describe it, and may, therefore, disclose accidentally, through their behaviors or in conversation. As children grow older, their desire for the abuse to end may encourage them to tell a person outside of the family, such as a best friend, teacher or sports coach. No matter how or when the child discloses, it is essential that professionals are able to investigate and assess the situation.

Why wouldn't my child tell me?

Abusers often use threats and manipulation to keep their victims silent about the abuse. Children may also fear that their families will be broken apart, that there will be negative consequences for the abuser (who is most often someone the child knows), or that he/she did something wrong and will be in trouble for the abuse. Very young children may not know that what they are experiencing is abuse, so they may not tell until they get older. Older children are often given privileges, attention or gifts by the abuser and may not want to lose those special things. Also they may love or like the person abusing them, even if they don’t like the abuse. There are many reasons that a child may not disclose abuse, but that does not mean that the disclosure is not truthful when the child does tell.

Isn't it better not to talk about it? Maybe he/she will forget.

Although many adults would be more comfortable not talking about sexual abuse with the children in their lives, it is essential that they do. By not talking, the adult is sending the message that the abuse should be secret and that the emotions surrounding it should be kept inside. By talking about the abuse calmly and openly, the adult can let the child know that he or she is not alone, that the adult can care for the child, and that the abuse was not the child’s fault.

Will my child need counseling?

Each child will react to abuse in a different way. A child’s development, relationship to the offender, nature and duration of the abuse, level of support felt, and level of responsibility the child feels for the abuse are all factors that affect how the child will process the abuse and the events after disclosure. Because of many factors, it is suggested that each victim is individually assessed by a therapeutic professional who will consider each of her/his needs carefully. The scope and length of treatment will depend on the needs of the child, assessment by the professional and the opinion of a counselor. It is extremely important that the victim understands that the actions of the abuser were wrong and not the fault of the victim.

As the protective caregiver, what about my feelings?

Caregivers of victims also have a variety of emotions following a disclosure of abuse. Common emotions experienced by caregivers are guilt, sadness, shock, anger and even depression. If the abuser is also a caregiver, there may be worries about housing and economic issues that must be considered. Although the caregiver’s emotions may be strong, it is important that the child does not believe that the caregiver cannot handle the disclosure or the results. If the child feels that the emotions created by the disclosure are too intense, he/she may withdraw, thinking that this will lessen the strain on the caregiver. It is vital that the caregiver speak to another competent adult, NOT the child, about these complex and strong feelings. It may be helpful for the caregiver to seek treatment with a counselor who is experienced in working with the families of victims. 

Caregivers also must separate their own emotions from those of the victim. Caregivers can help the victim express his/her own feelings about the abuse. This can be especially difficult for caregivers who experienced abuse themselves as a child. Watching a loved one go through abuse may bring up old emotions. It is important that the caregiver resolves these feeling with a competent adult or counselor and NOT the child. 

Support groups with other caregivers of victims can also be very helpful during this time. Information on groups is available at the Northern Kentucky Children's Advocacy Center

How should a caregiver choose a therapist?

Child Protective Services or the Northern Kentucky Children’s Advocacy Center will work with you to identify counselors for your child who are specially trained and have experience in child sexual abuse treatment. It is also important that the caregiver ask the counselor questions to ensure the quality of care for the victim. Some of these questions could be:

  • Does the counselor have training in the area of child sexual abuse (workshops, classes, publications)?
  • Does the counselor have access to supervision and/or consultation?
  • How many survivors has the counselor treated?
  • How long has this counselor specialized in sexual abuse treatment?
  • Is there a plan for the counselor to update caregivers on progress without telling them what the child is disclosing in counseling?
  • Where does the counselor place all of the blame for the abuse - on your child? On the caregiver? Or on the offender?

What is the legal process, once charges are pressed?

District Court Arraignment: The defendant is officially notified of the charges against him/her. The defendant is asked whether he/she pleads guilty or not guilty to the charges. The judge will set a date for a preliminary hearing, generally within two or three weeks. If the defendant is released on bond, ensuring his/her return to court, the terms of release may be discussed. It is not essential that the victim or witness be present for the arraignment. 

Preliminary Hearing: In district court, a preliminary hearing is held to determine whether there is probable cause to believe that a crime has been committed and that the defendant committed the crime. The prosecutor is required to present the evidence to the judge. He/she may do so by either requesting the arresting officer or the victim of the crimes to appear to testify. If the judge believes that there is sufficient evidence (probable cause), the case will be referred to the Grand Jury. If it is necessary for the victim or witness to testify, he or she will receive an official subpoena.

Grand Jury: The Grand Jury is a group of 12 individuals from the community. The Grand Jury typically hears evidence from the investigating officer, and if necessary, the victim or other witnesses. Hearings conducted by the Grand Jury are closed to the public. All evidence is presented by the prosecutor, and the Grand Jury determines whether or not there is enough evidence to return an indictment against the defendant. An indictment may result in a jury trial in Circuit Court. If it becomes necessary for the victims and/or witnesses to testify in front of the Grand Jury, they will be notified and receive a subpoena. 

Circuit Court Arraignment: During the Circuit Court arraignment, the defendant appears in open court and is notified by the Circuit Judge of the charges contained in the indictment returned by the Grand Jury. He/she is asked again whether he/she pleads guilty or not guilty. If a not guilty plea is entered, the Circuit Judge sets a pre-trial conference and trial by jury date. It is not necessary for the victim or witness to be present for this court hearing.

Family Court: Family Court gives cases involving families and children the highest priority, which means they do not compete with criminal and civil cases for judicial time. Family Court is a division of Circuit Court, Kentucky’s highest trial court level, and employs full-time judges with the same qualifications as those who serve the other divisions of Circuit Court. Family Court jurisdiction is defined by KRS 23A.100and 23A.110 and includes the following: dissolution of marriage, spousal support and equitable distribution, child custody, support and visitation, paternity, adoption, domestic violence, dependency, neglect and abuse, termination of parental rights, truancy and beyond control. 

Pre-trial Conference: A pre-trial conference is a meeting between the prosecutor, the defense attorney, and the defendant. At this meeting, the prosecutor generally advises the defendant and his/her attorney of the evidence he/she intends to present at trial. Plea negotiations may take place at this conference. The prosecutor will generally discuss the possibility of a plea negotiation with the victim prior to finalizing any agreement with the defendant and the attorney. 

Plea Negotiation: This aspect of the criminal justice process allows speedy disposition of the cases without the necessity of a trial. Under a negotiated plea, a defendant will plead guilty to one or more of the charges, or an amended charge, and the prosecutor will recommend a penalty to the judge. According to Kentucky State law, victims are to be consulted before a plea offer is made to the defendant. 

Guilty Plea: After hearing the evidence presented by the prosecutor at the pretrial conference, the defendant may chose to plead guilty, thereby avoiding the necessity of a jury trial. The prosecutor or advocate will notify the victim of the intention of the defendant to plead guilty, and the date that is set for the defendant to appear in open court to enter the plea. When the guilty plea is entered, the Circuit Judge will set a sentencing date. The defendant may be placed in custody pending the sentencing hearing or the judge may allow the defendant to remain out on bond. The presence of the victim or witness at the guilty plea is not necessary. The victim or witness will be notified of the final sentencing date. 

Jury Trial: If it is determined that the case will be tried by a jury, the prosecutor and defense attorney will present evidence to 12 county residents who make up a petit jury. It is the duty of that jury to determine the guilt or innocence of a defendant. The jury is also responsible for recommending a penalty. The investigating officers, victims, and witnesses will be subpoenaed to appear in open court to testify before the jury. Prior to the trial, the victim should be contacted by the prosecutor to help prepare them for trial. 

Sentencing: After the defendant has entered a plea or been found guilty by a jury, the Circuit Judge sets a final sentencing hearing. This hearing is usually held within 30 days. Prior to imposing a sentence, the judge will consider a Pre-Sentence Investigation and Victim Impact Statement. At the final sentencing hearing, the judge will impose a penalty and decide whether the defendant should be incarcerated or placed on probation. 

Pre-Sentence Investigation: This is a document submitted by the Department of Probation and Parole. Its primary objective is to focus on the character and personality of the defendant. It includes information such as any prior criminal record and the personal history of the defendant. The Probation Officer conducting the investigation may make a recommendation concerning probation and/or incarceration. 

Victim Impact Statement: This is a document submitted to the Circuit Judge by the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office, or the victim’s advocate, on behalf of the victim. It is usually prepared by the victims or with young children, by their caregiver, and contains, but is not limited to, a description of the nature and extent of any physical, psychological, or financial harm suffered by the victim as a result of the crime committed by the defendant. It is possible for affected family members to submit Victim Impact Statements. The Victim Impact Statement will also be submitted to the Parole Board if the defendant is committed to the penitentiary. A copy of the Victim Impact Statement is usually provided for the defendant.