by Maggie Judi
Imagine your child comes to you with a horrible story of sexual abuse. Amidst the pain of sadness and the horror of these circumstances, what do you do? To whom do you turn for help?
How does justice come for your child without further traumatization? Imagine the terror, the confusion. The challenge for law enforcement, parents, and social services is to return that child to a normal life via a safe place to land. A clean, safe, warm home is the most ideal setting.
When a child in Utah is finally rescued from an abusive situation, the traumatization and the terror is subsided somewhat at a local Child Justice Center (CJC). These refurbished homes contain safety, and caring professionals that help to ease the terror and give these special kids the calm normalcy they need to navigate the process of justice.
Children typically only spend a few hours in the center, where the prosecutors, counselors, police, doctors, and various agencies come to the child in an effort to find out what happened and give medical attention and emotional support to the victims and their families.
According to the CJC website, “Instead of a child having to go to all of the agencies involved in an investigation, the CJC model brings the agencies to the child – in one child-friendly setting designed to minimize trauma, increase access to services, and improve coordination during the investigative process.”
Tracey Tabet grew up in Monticello. She is the daughter of Mike and Pat Tabet and the grandaughter of Ernest and Thelma Harral.
Tracey is the Director and Program Administrator of the 22 CJC centers that are serving 28 Utah counties. And as such, has used her rural roots to serve the many small communities of Utah and bring the amenities of the big cities to the rural children of our state.
Having the immense benefit of growing up in a rural area, Tabet brings firsthand knowledge of small town life to her big city job.
In her 23 years at the office of the Utah State Attorney General, Tabet has worn many hats, and her talents and knowledge have allowed her to continue to don many more hats and responsibilities.
In 1992, Tracey Tabet graduated from the University of Utah armed with two degrees, one in public relations, the other in sociology. She later received a masters degree in communications from Westminster University.
Soon after graduating from the U, Tabet landed a dream public relations job with the Sundance Film Festival. Her vast background as a student of Becky Cochran’s Monticello High School drama class fueled her love for all things film.
She worked at Sundance for a year before a job at the Attorney General’s office at the state capitol opened up. It was a PR job with a focus on issues like child abuse and domestic violence. Tabet said, “It really appealed to me.”
So much so, that Tabet quit her dream job at Sundance and went to work for the State of Utah, where she met Attorney General Jan Graham.
The AG quickly became enamored with Tabet’s work ethic. So much so that one day in the Spring of 1995, when Tracey was 23 years old, Jan Graham walked into her office unexpectedly.
Tabet recalls what happened next, “She shut the door to my office, sat down and said, ‘I want you to run my re-election campaign.’
“I kept thinking, ‘I didn’t hear her correctly,’ so I said, ‘I don’t know anything about politics. I don’t know anything about that world.’
“She said, ‘That is exactly why I want you. I want someone who is organized and detail oriented and works really hard.’”
And so the novice political phenom aided tremendously in the re-election of a female Democrat candidate! AG Jan Graham was re-elected in November, 1996 and shortly thereafter Tracey Tabet, 26 years old from little Monticello, became her deputy chief of staff.
Tabet explains, “There were so many times where I found myself thinking, ‘How did a girl from Monticello get here? What am I doing in this room?’”
One of those times occurred at a meeting of AG’s in Washington, DC in which Tabet accompanied AG Graham. In the midst of the greetings and formalities of the beginning of the meeting, Tabet began to sense something odd.
“I noticed all these guys running around in suits talking into their wrists and checking bathrooms, and I’m thinking, ‘What is going on?’
“So they suddenly move us into the meeting room and in walks the President of the United States, Bill Clinton, and I’m like, ‘What’s this girl from Monticello doing here.’
“Those words come to me many times over the years because I have been blessed to have so many amazing opportunities that I never would have dreamed possible.”
Tabet credits much of her success to those good ole days growing up in Monticello in the 1980s. Her intelligence manifested itself early on when Superintendent Jensen sent a letter to her mother that informed her that Tracey’s scores and intelligence were of a caliber that would allow her to skip a grade.
Her tenacity proliferated and she graduated a year early. She remembers especially the women who taught her. “I’ve had amazing mentors along the way, and they were almost exclusively women, which I think has been wonderful.
“I’ve thought about these people who’ve influenced my life and it started with my dear grandma, who believed I could do anything.
“Then it was people like Becky Cochran and Judy Barton, who really helped me develop some of those core skills that I never dreamed I would end up using. When I stand up in front of 700 people, I draw upon those things I learned way back in debate class as a freshman.
“I showed up at the high school a few years ago and found Becky Cochran. I interrupted Judy’s class to tell her students how lucky they were to have her as a teacher.
“I am so glad I did that because when she died, I was just so glad I got to thank her publicly in front of her students.”
And then there is her career mentor, the woman who saw something unique in a very young professional. “AG Graham took me places I never dreamed I’d go. She put me in situations working on projects were I felt really challenged, and the fact that I was really young did not matter to her.
“There were times that I’d be in a room with all the Attorney Generals in the country and I’d think, ‘Why did she bring me here?’ but I listened, and I learned and I will always be grateful for that.”
Tracey has worked for a total of five Attorneys General. No small achievement when one imagines the juggling of various personalities and strategies for governance.
Tracey left the AG’s office when it was in turmoil in 2013 to work for Mayor Ben McAdams. When Governor Herbert appointed Sean Reyes as the new AG, that change became short lived for Tabet.
Reyes, who was fortunate enough to have people around him who knew Tabet, quickly scooped her back up, knowing well what she would bring to his office.
With a little coaxing, Reyes convinced Tabet to return to the AG office in a leadership role and as part of his transition team.
Of Reyes, Tabet states, “Sean has been incredibly supportive of me personally, of CJCs and of child protection issues generally!”
Tracey brings that knack for listening and implementation to her job working with the public everyday. She has a passion for helping children and women in desperate domestic situations, and that passion for her job has benefited the CJC in Utah as well as on a national level.
Tabet is working on several upcoming projects with one of her closest friends and Child Sexual Abuse advocates, Desiree and DeAndra Brown.
The Brown sisters, who are world renowned pianists and members of the 5 Browns, were themselves, along with a younger sister, victims of sexual abuse as children at the hands of their own father.
They work together with Tracey in further hopes of educating people about the proliferation of abuse and what to do to heal and help those who find themselves its victims.
Tabet’s enthusiasm for her job has had its rewards on a national level as well. She directs the Utah Chapter of the National Children’s Alliance (NCA), a national organization that promotes a comprehensive, coordinated response to child abuse.
The NCA gave her national recognition when it awarded her the Outstanding Chapter Leader award in Washington, DC in 2012.
She currently serves on the Utah Sexual Violence Council, the Utah Coalition for Protecting Childhood, and is a member of the Utah Women’s Forum.
Just this April, Tracey was recognized for her exceptional work with an award from Prevent Child Abuse Utah, which honors exceptional child advocates from across our beautiful state. The winners are awarded the Anne Freimuth Child Advocate of the Year Award.
Tracey Tabet is smart, courageous, hardworking, and kind. Her work ethic, her talents, her abilities have extended beyond rewarding her with success to helping more than 6,000 children a year.
Imagine those children; 6,000 of them who will be extricated from horrible situations and taken to a safe place.
She passionately quips, “My work on the Hill requires support from every corner of Utah – rural and urban legislators, Republican and Democrat.
“I am always so heartened when I’m testifying in a legislative committee hearing, and a committee member talks very passionately about the value of the CJC to the kids in their community.
“In those moments, I know I’m doing the work I was meant to do. When I received the Child Advocate of the Year award, I actually talked about my childhood in Monticello.
“I had this total sense of safety and security as a child growing up in the 1970s... That is the experience every child deserves.”
Every child deserves safety and love. Every child deserves a soft place to land, and thanks in part to the efforts of Tracey Tabet and the CJC, they can find it in our great state.