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Child abuse advocates urge community to learn signs of abuse, speak up

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SHREVEPORT - BOSSIER CITY, La. (KTBS) -

"Rizcheir Muskelly is my daughter and she was 3 years old."

She was in the world just 3 years, when police say Rizcheir Muskelly was brutally murdered by her caregiver, Tarika Wilson, in June 2013.

"There are children out here and they're being hurt, they're being killed, they're being abused, they're being taken advantage of," says mother, Debbie Muskelly.

Young Rizcheir is one of 43 other children in Louisiana who died last year due to abuse or neglect.

RELATED STORY: Tarika Wilson pleads not guilty in first degree murder of toddler

Thousands more make it out alive, but almost never stop suffering in some manner.

"This is not something that just happens once and then it goes away and they forget about it. This is something they deal with for their entire lives," explains Vickie Ricord, with Volunteers for Youth Justice.

Ricord helps train the people who see the abuse firsthand, the Court Appointed Special Advocates - or CASA.

These children, nearly 800 in the 6 parish region served by CASA, are in the foster care system, and are in desperate need of a voice.

"Most of the children we serve are going to be under the age of 4. They're the most vulnerable," says Ricord.

But simply noting the grim statistics isn't enough.

Ricord says it's up to the community to educate itself, know what to look for - and what to do - if you suspect abuse.

"Marks on the back, burn marks, cuts, bite marks, things like that."

Now, nearly a year after Rizcheir's death, her mother works to break the silence of abuse.

"We, as adults, as parents, mothers and fathers, aunts, uncles, brothers and sisters, doesn't matter who has to do it, need to reach out and we need to stop the violence against the kids."

700,000 children are placed into foster care every year in the U.S., and 7,500 of those are in Louisiana.

One 1 in 4 girls - and 1 in 5 boys - will be sexually assaulted by the age of 18, and Ricord says it's imperative parents listen to their kids, especially if the children hint that something may be wrong.

Over 80% of any type of abuse typically happens at the hands of a parent, or someone close to the family.

If you suspect abuse is happening, you can report it anonymously by calling 1-855-4LA-KIDS.

Those who are mandated by law to report abuse and neglect include health professionals, teachers, law enforcement, members of the clergy, coaches, and those who process photos or video.

A CASA Volunteer is a trained community volunteer appointed by a juvenile judge to speak for the best interest of these children.

For more information, call Volunteers for Youth Justice at (318) 221-2272.

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