Henry County sees more than 100 cases of child sexual abuse

A local advocacy groups wants to raise awareness for the survivors

CAMBRIDGE, Illinois - More than 100 luminaries line the steps of the Henry County Courthouse and each one represents a survivor of child sexual abuse. 

Braveheart Children's Advocacy Center provides therapy for child survivors of abuse. They serve five counties in Illinois, but last year almost 70 percent of the sexual abuse cases they saw came out of Henry County. 

Constance King, a coordinator at the agency, said public discussion of sexual abuse helps drive those reports. 

"Those things are often what make people feel like they can come forward and our children feel like they can be heard. So that's when our numbers go up," King said.

The way they see it, more reports mean more kids are getting help. Still the case load can wear them down, especially when they don't get the verdict they hoped for.

"Every time I testify, the children who I don't believe justice served sit there with me so in hopes that the next time I have to testify it'll help," said Johanna Hager, a forensic interview.

Henry County State's Attorney Matthew Shutte said sometimes it's a lack of evidence that keeps them pressing charges, but these are the cases that made him want to get into law in the first place. 

They prosecuted 12 cases of child sexual abuse last year. While that may sound like a small number, Shutte said it's a step in the right direction. 

"It's definitely frustrating because it's a never ending stream. I mean it's never going to stop. The best we can do is take it one case at a time and try to do the best for the kids that we do find out about," Shutte said.

As the sun sets in Henry County, King hopes her luminaries show child sexual abuse is a problem in every community -- not just here. 

"I'm just hoping that the more awareness that we'll have, someday maybe I won't need to have this job. No one will," she said. 

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