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Campaign aims to prevent child abuse

Dozens of child-sized plastic chairs sat empty Tuesday outside the State Capitol, each representing an Arizona child who has died from abuse.

Gov. Jan Brewer, joining law enforcement officials and representatives of child advocacy groups at a news conference, said each Arizonan has a responsibility to help keep children safe from abuse.

"We need to speak out whenever we see it, learn risk factors and report suspected abuse," said Brewer, who issued a proclamation marking the start of Child Abuse Prevention Month.

In 2008, the last year for which statewide statistics are available, 51 Arizona kids died from abuse.

"What we're hoping is that we can prevent future empty chairs," said Detective Frank Mendoza, a spokesman for the Chandler Police Department.

Mendoza's department is among more than 50 agencies and organizations making up the Child Abuse Awareness and Prevention Coalition, which was created after the death of 3-year-old Schala Vera in Chandler last year after a beating allegedly delivered by her mother's boyfriend.

Chandler Police Chief Sherry Kiyler said Schala's death "galvanized child advocates to say, 'We have to do something.'

"It's a renewed commitment for all of us so that no chairs remain empty," Kiyler said. "Make that call and help a child."

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Sara O'Meara, a co-founder of the Scottsdale-based nonprofit group Childhelp, said child abuse is a national epidemic.

"Our greatest tragedy across America is child abuse," O'Meara said. "It's up to us, ladies and gentlemen, to make it stop. And we can."

The coalition has launched a campaign featuring public service announcements, in English and Spanish, produced by Chandler police and providing numbers where people can report abuse and get help.

Mary Warren, statewide coordinator for Never Shake a Baby Arizona, a project of Prevent Child Abuse Arizona, said any opportunity to increase public awareness is a positive thing.

"It's critical that everybody does understand that this is a problem; it does need to be recognized and it does need to be prevented," Warren said. "We don't want to have those 51 chairs out there; we want to prevent any kind of child maltreatment."

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Yvonne Gonzalez/Cronkite News Service

Fifty-one empty chairs lined up outside the State Capitol on Tuesday represent the 51 Arizona children who died from abuse in 2008. Gov. Jan Brewer, law enforcement officials and child advocates marked Child Abuse Prevention Month by urging Arizonans to look for and report signs of child abuse.

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On the Web

Childhelp: www.childhelp.org