Pennsylvania child abuse reports skyrocket after Penn State
Reports of suspected child abuse and calls from adult survivors of child abuse have inundated social service agencies throughout Pennsylvania in the wake of the highly publicized child sex abuse scandal at Penn State.
Anne Bale, spokeswoman for the Department of Welfare, said on Thursday that ChildLine, the statewide child abuse reporting hot line, logged 4,832 calls from Nov. 7-11 -- the week after former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky was charged with sexually abusing boys for a decade. That's more than twice the number of calls the hot line receives during an average five-day period, she said.
"Some people are having a real hard time with it," said Joan Mills, manager of A Child's Place at Mercy, part of the Allegheny County Child Advocacy Center. "They're calling, crying. People are feeling that now is the time they're going to deal with it."
Officials said the constant and sometimes overwhelming media coverage of the Sandusky case has led to a heightened awareness for parents, caretakers and adult victims.
"We've seen a marked increase in calls," Mills said. "We've also seen a significant increase in calls from adult survivors. They're coming forward and saying 'I had a case that was never prosecuted' or 'I was abused, and I've never told anyone.' "
At least five men who have called the Samaritan Counseling Center of Western Pennsylvania in Sewickley to schedule counseling for themselves referenced the Sandusky case, said Carl Baughman, the center's executive director and a licensed marriage and family therapist.
Baughman believes that because the case is linked to the male-dominated sports culture, it has had more of an impact on men.
"The Penn State event seems to be more significant than other instances where people come forward," Baughman said. "I think some of that has to do with the fact that it's in front of us constantly.
"Also, because it's sports-related, it's more likely that men will encounter it. It's not just on the news, it's during the Penn State game, as well."
Charles Johns, assistant director of Butler County Children and Youth Services in Butler, said he's fielded a few calls about who is required by law to report suspected child abuse. Mandated reporters include doctors, members of the clergy, school teachers and police officers.
"They said they called because of the Penn State issue to clarify the law," Johns said.
His office hasn't experienced a marked increase in call volume. Last November, 13 people called to report suspicions of various kinds of child abuse. So far this month, his office has received nine calls.
Kristen Houser, spokeswoman for Harrisburg-based Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape, said that whenever a high-profile case arises, it's not unusual for a larger number of people to come forward with reports of abuse.
Allegations of Sandusky's recurring sexual abuse of children, and in particular the descriptions of the alleged act in the Penn State locker room, could trigger traumatic memories, she said.
"The 24-hour media coverage is keeping the issue out in front of people with pretty graphic descriptions. It can be very upsetting and cause for somebody to need to seek support," Houser said.
If there is a silver lining in the scandal at Penn State, officials said it's that people have become more sensitive to recognizing signs of child abuse.
"Right now, we have a heightened listening ear. I think people are listening more now, which is leading them to call," Mills said. "It shouldn't take tragedy like this to have that ear open, though. We all have a duty to protect our children."
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