BENTONVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — The Children’s Advocacy Center in Benton County says in the month of January and February, they have seen more than 140 cases of sexual or physical child abuse come through their doors.
Recently, Benton County had two cases of caregivers accused of sexually assaulting minors.
A Siloam Springs public school teacher has been arrested for first-degree sexual assault after a report of “inappropriate activity” with a student.
Ethan Wells, 29, was taken into custody by Siloam Springs police and booked into the Benton County Jail on February 23. He is currently being held without bond.
The other case was with a former Bentonville youth pastor who has been sentenced to 60 years in prison after being charged with multiple counts of sexual assault and other crimes.
Keenan Hord, 32, was arrested on August 25, 2022, and charged with second-degree sexual assault and possessing matter depicting sexually explicit conduct involving a child. Prosecutors later added multiple additional charges against Hord, including more counts of sexual assault in the first and second degrees.
Melanie Halbrook, the director of community relations at the Children’s Advocacy Center in Benton County says she is happy to see more victims speaking out about sexual abuse.
“I think there’s a strong movement of trying to have child abuse not be such a taboo subject. So we’re talking a lot more about it. In our community, we’re talking more about it in schools, and we’re encouraging parents to have a lot of those,” Halbrook said.
Halbrook says she can’t say if she has seen an increase in more offenders being people that work with children but says it’s not uncommon.
“A lot of times our community has this misconception on what and who an offender might be. Sometimes we think of someone who might be like really socially awkward, who’s withdrawn from society. But, the reality is your sex offenders are charming people. They put themselves in positions of power and authority in our community. They put themselves in positions to have easy access to children, so it’s not uncommon to see offenders come up when they are teachers or coaches or youth pastors.,” Halbrook said.
Halbrook says her advice for parents and other adult figures is to make sure they pay careful attention to their children and notice the signs of abuse early.
“We always want to see any changes in mood or behavior, obviously, any injuries that child may have,” Halbrook said.
Halbrook says she knows abuse is not always preventable, but she wants people to know there is someone out there that will listen to them and make sure their voice is heard.
“The key piece of being able to respond to prevent abuse is that open communication, teaching our children those signs, but also letting children know that they can come to us and tell us when something happens and assure them that this isn’t their fault,” Halbrook said.