Silent horror: Cameron County Child Abuse Unit works to aid those in need

BROWNSVILLE — Often, the person who sexually abuses a child is someone the child knows or trusts.

When Cameron County Assistant District Attorney Patrick Rodriguez first started working for the Child Abuse Unit, he was surprised to find that many times, the sexual abuse is happening quietly.

“I always felt that sexual assaults were something loud and vicious, but a lot of what we see is a silent horror,” Rodriguez said. “It’s quietly an uncle (or another family member) molesting a child.”

Right now, the Cameron County DA’s Office is working on 50 cases pertaining to child abuse, but more are always coming in.

Not every incident that is reported makes it to court or even the Child Abuse Unit’s desk. Investigators may determine that there is not sufficient enough evidence for a case, or if the case does reach the unit, witnesses may drop the charges or change what they say, said Brandy Bailey, supervisor of the child abuse unit.

“We’ve had quite a few cases where the mothers or grandmothers will say that it didn’t happen. That’s why it’s so important we all have that relationship with the therapists and professionals,” Bailey said.

Law enforcement helps, too, with the amount of evidence and statements it is able to provide for a case, Rodriguez said.

Gabriela Cruz, the Child Abuse Unit’s paralegal, helps keep the unit running, too, said Yvette Vela, public information officer for the DA’s Office.

Melanie Paloma, ADA, said working these types of cases can be difficult because while the DA’s Office wants justice, the staff also recognizes the emotional stress it is putting on the families.

“It’s a balancing act. What is this child looking at when this ends?” Paloma said. “We have to level with the victim and let her know what could happen.”

Child abuse cases usually divide the family up until the end of a trial, said Eduardo Limon, an investigator for the unit.

The Child Abuse Unit works with many agencies during a case. Those include Texas Child Protective Services, the Child Exploitation Taskforce, and the different police departments in Cameron County. They also work with the Cameron County Children’s Advocacy Center.

“What allows us to do our job well is that we work well with almost all agencies in Cameron County. We respond quickly so everything that has to be done gets done,” Limon said.

If someone is going through child abuse, Bailey said it is important to find a safe person to tell them what happened.

“Don’t stay quiet until someone has to call the police or CPS. Every child has a voice that deserves to be heard,” Bailey said. “Tell us even if it’s been years, because another person may have had it happen to them.”

Cameron County Assistant District Attorney Patrick Rodriguez

‘I always felt that sexual assaults were something loud and vicious, but a lot of what we see is a silent horror.”