Luzerne County District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis calls the rising numbers “very disturbing.”
Child rapes reported to county authorities more than doubled in 2012 compared to the year before, negating a nationwide trend that rapes involving children have dwindled.
A U.S. Department of Justice report released March 7 says rapes involving females 12 years or older drastically decreased from 556,000 in 1995 to 270,000 in 2010.
The news is worse with the number of children referred to the Luzerne County Children’s Advocacy Center in Wilkes-Barre, where a child who is a victim of a sexual assault is interviewed by a specialist.
“In 2011, we had referred into the children’s advocacy center 320 referrals and we prosecuted 155 cases,” Salavantis said. “In 2012, there were 455 referrals and we prosecuted 228 cases. As you can see, the number of children being sexually assaulted has increased. It is very disturbing.”
Salavantis said she has a sexual victims unit in her office that consists of four assistant district attorneys and two county detectives who prosecute and investigate crimes against children.
On any given day during the week, the docket for county court and district courts includes cases of child sex crimes filed against defendants.
Recently, three men were sentenced in county court on the same day to lengthy prison terms for sex crimes against children.
John Wayne Butz, 42, of Hanover Township, and Ricardo Perez-Toleda, 30, of Hazleton, were separately convicted by juries on rape of a child. Jose Cruz, 37, of Hazleton, pleaded guilty to unlawful contact with a minor.
Butz, who maintains his innocence, and Perez-Toleda were each sentenced to 22 to 44 years in state prison, and Cruz was sentenced to five to 10 years in state prison. All were designated as sexually violent predators by the sentencing judge, the first time in Assistant District Attorney Jenny Roberts’ career that three men were labeled with the designation on the same day.
Nine search warrants recently filed by authorities in county court involve sex crimes against children, including two boys who say they were sexually assaulted by their biological father. Details of the alleged crimes are too graphic to publish.
“My number one priority, and I can say this for all police departments in Luzerne County, is to protect children and make sure they are not victimized again,” Salavantis said. “I can’t say why the numbers are on the rise here, but we do our best to protect children.”