HAMPTON ROADS, Va. - Staying home throughout the pandemic could be a horrific experience for children who are being sexually abused.
For some, kids home is not a safe place. The YMCA teamed up with the non-profit Darkness to Light, that aims to stop and prevent child sexual abuse to provide resources and information to the community.
“Honestly, COVID has made us all stop sleeping,” said Katelyn Brewer, the President and CEO Darkness to Light. She said her team has been working since March to figure out how to deal with COVID and the impact it is having on victims.
“We’re all learning at the speed of light on how we can reach out to these children,” she said.
That’s why they’ve teamed up with the YMCA for a virtual event called 5 Days of Action.
Maureen Savage is the YMCA Association Program and Volunteer Director on the Peninsula.
“It gives parents valuable tools, how to keep their child safe on the internet, what are signs of abuse and how to respond if they suspect abuse,” said Savage.
Darkness to Light provided statistics that found one in 10 children are sexually abused before their 18th birthday and 90% of kids know their abuser.
For the first time ever, this past April it was reported by that minors made up half of the calls to the National Sexual Assault Hotline, according to the non-profit RAINN.
They said of minors who discussed coronavirus-related concerns, 67% identified their perpetrator as a family member and 79% said they were living with that perpetrator.
“Many minors are now quarantined at home with their abuser. Meanwhile, these kids are cut off from their safety net ― the teachers, coaches, and friends’ parents who are most likely to notice and report suspected abuse,” said Scott Berkowitz, RAINN’s president. “As a result, abuse reports to many state authorities have declined — not because there is less abuse taking place, but because children have less contact with adults outside the home who could potentially spot and report abuse. Sadly, it is likely that the risk of children being sexually abused will increase as shelter-in-place orders continue — one more tragic consequence of the public health crisis the country currently faces.”
Fairfield Psychological Associates Director and License Clinical Therapist Gary Rotfus said abuse can have lasting impacts on people.
“If a child is abused or witnesses to abuse, their fight or flight mechanism is stimulated at an early age and that is part of what causes physiological changes and causes a lot of anxiety and ongoing problems into teen years and adulthood,” said Rotfus.
Experts said signs to look out for include behavioral problems, physical aggression, and rebellion along with anxiety, depression, withdrawal, and suicidal thoughts.
They say the child could be experiencing nightmares, bed-wetting, or bullying.
They may have a lack in interest in friends, sports, or other activities.
“Adults need to know that they don't have to have proof that abuse might be occurring to make a report just really a reasonable suspicion,” said Savage.
“What we’re trying to do an advocate with the Y is to make sure that everybody knows there are ways to prevent this,” said Brewer.
Darkness to Light provided information on what to do if you believe a child is being abused:
You do not need to have proof that abuse is occurring to make a report, only reasonable suspicion. Reasonable suspicion means that you have witnessed maltreatment or boundary violations, either in the child or adult, or both. Or, you have received a disclosure from a child about abuse, neglect, or boundary violations towards them.
Child sexual abuse reports should be made to the police and/or state child protective services. In Virginia, the hotline to report suspected abuse is 800-552-7096
A local resource is Virginia’s 211 helpline (800-230-6977 or 211)
Contact the Darkness to Light Helpline at 866-FOR-LIGHT or text LIGHT to 741741 to have questions answered by trained counselors at no charge.