(TMU) — As the United States and the entire world become enveloped in the worst pandemic in a century, many have embraced self-isolating and sheltering in place as a basic responsibility to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus. However, for many of the most vulnerable—such as children—home can be the most unsafe place due to domestic violence and abuse
Nothing is more important for the development of children into well-functioning, responsible, and healthy adults than a secure and nurturing home. But the crisis unleashed by CoViD-19 has posed an acute risk of sexual abuse to children, child advocates told Huffington Post.
Since March, the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) has noticed a sharp increase in minors reporting sexual violence, according to RAINN President Scott Berkowitz. The rise in sexual abuse coincides with the period in which most state governments implemented shelter-in-place measures.
“Last month, for the first time ever, a majority of RAINN’s sexual abuse hotline users were minors.”
Child Sex Abuse Reports Spike As Country Shelters In Place, Advocates Say
In March, for the first time, the majority of RAINN’s sexual abuse hotline users were minors.https://t.co/iOPWK9CpRV
— Yashar Ali 🐘 (@yashar) April 8, 2020
Much of the problem is due to the fact that children who normally rely on other adults as safety insurance against abusers simply can’t escape their homes.
“So many minors are now locked at home with their abuser, in the same house … The safety net that they had―the parents and teachers and coaches that they would see every day who were likely the first people to notice signs of abuse―children no longer have contact with those people right now.”
Over half of those calling RAINN’s hotline in March were minors under the age of 18. Of those children, 67 percent accused a family member of sexually assaulting them while 79 percent of that group said that they lived with the perpetrator. The group’s victim service programs assist 25,000 people per month, on average.
#DoDSafeHelpline supports survivors of sexual assault in the DoD community today and every day. Connect with Safe Helpline anytime, anywhere at https://t.co/svDMXfqd8S or 877-995-5247 #SAAPM2020 pic.twitter.com/D76nFJ4z2k
— RAINN (@RAINN) April 8, 2020
The group fears that cases of child sexual abuse will trend upwards as people indefinitely stay at home during the fight to curb the pandemic.
Over 93 percent of sexually abused children face sexual violence at the hands of someone close to them. While the perpetrators are often older relatives or adults, other children such as siblings or cousins can also be the abuser, according to American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children (APSAC) Executive Director Dr. Janet Rosenzweig. Over one-third of child sexual abuse cases involve a minor committing the abuse.
“By now, people have all heard about the pedophiles that groom children and that’s a very true way to describe adult offenders. But with kids, it’s usually predicated by sexual arousal meeting poor impulse control, and an opportunity.”
However, with many parents preoccupied with their Zoom meetings and other online home office tasks, potentially abusive minors can often be put in charge of taking care of their younger peers.
On Tuesday, independent human rights monitors from the United Nations issued an urgent appeal for governments across the world to safeguard the welfare of children who are vulnerable to violence, sexual abuse, trafficking, and exploitation amid the CoViD-19 pandemic.
In a statement, Special Rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children Maud de Boer-Buquicchio said:
“Globally, confinement measures and the disrupted provision of already limited child protection services exacerbate the vulnerability of children living in psychiatric and social care institutions, orphanages, refugee camps, immigration detention centers and other closed facilities.”
Additionally, the rights experts warned against online pedophilia, live-streamed sexual abuse, and the distribution of video depictions of child rape—a problem requiring the collaboration of law enforcement and private companies.
The UN experts added:
“We should all make significant efforts to support frontline operators in the child protection services, neighborhood and community watchdogs and law enforcement.”
But with state budgets and agencies stretched to paper-thin capacity by the pandemic, child protection services have largely been disrupted and there is very little consistency on a state-to-state level, APSAC officials said.
For now, advocates are hoping to include provisions that specifically address child protection needs in the next Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act—which won’t be presented to Congress for some time, if ever.
Kiersten Stewart, the director of public policy and advocacy for Futures Without Violence, told Huffington Post:
“Additional resources to help vulnerable children and families is our number one ask for the next CARES bill. “
In the meantime, APSAC head Rosenzweig stressed the need for healthy adults to play a positive role in the lives of children they are close to. She said:
“If there is a child or parent you love, call those kids and spend a half an hour on the phone or FaceTime. Give the kids another grown-up to talk to.
If all of us do that, we’re going to give parents a break and we may find a kid out there that needs our help.”
However, the positive intervention of civil society and social services remain important in addressing the problem. Stressing the important of a new CARES bill that supports the prevention of sexual violence, Stewart said:
“There was a mistaken view that if we just handle job loss and health care that it would solve all of the potential child abuse problems and that’s just not true.
More still needs to be done and it needs to be done intentionally to support families and children.”
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