Agencies: Child sex abuse claims soar after Penn State

Local,Crime,Emily Babay

More people have been reporting and seeking help for child sexual abuse in the months since the national media frenzy over a former Penn State football coach being charged with sexually abusing boys.

Several agencies around the D.C. area said they've seen upticks in the number of cases reported and groups that work with victims say their hot lines and websites have been inundated with requests for help and information after the allegations against Jerry Sandusky came to light in November.

"When people hear about high-profile situations in the news, they sometimes look at their own lives and recall things that had happened to them," said Lucy Caldwell, a Fairfax County police spokeswoman. Fairfax police received 39 reports of child sex abuse in December; the agency typically gets about 20 in one month.

Lawmakers at work
Virginia lawmakers are working to ensure that the alleged tragedy at Penn State couldn't occur in the commonwealth.
The House of Delegates preliminarily approved a measure Monday that requires coaches and athletic directors at private universities to report knowledge of abuse or neglect of a child to local officials. That puts football coaches on the same level as police officers and teachers.
Lawmakers also moved to add law enforcement to the list of agencies such crimes can be reported to, and moved the reporting time to within 24 hours, up from 72 hours.
The penalty for a second offense would increase to $1,000 and could be a Class 1 misdemeanor if the individual knew the child was raped.
FBI: Rape definition
now includes male victims
The FBI has expanded its definition of rape. Revisions to the Uniform Crime Report formalized last month mean rapes of men and boys will now be counted in the bureau's statistics. The expanded rape definition also includes incidents when a victim can't give consent because of a physical or mental incapacity, including those due to drugs, alcohol and age. -- Steve Contorno

The D.C. Child and Family Services Agency received 208 reports of suspected sexual abuse between November and January, compared with 151 during that time last year. The agency has also gotten more requests for information about who is required to report suspected abuse, spokeswoman Mindy Good said. Two Penn State administrators were charged with failing to tell authorities when they learned about Sandusky's alleged acts.

The Center for Alexandria's Children received 24 child-abuse reports between November and January, up from 15 last year. And the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network's online hot line has seen a 50 percent increase in messages, hot line director Jennifer Wilson said.

Police in Montgomery and Prince George's counties reported no increase in child abuse cases.

Officials said the case has made people more alert to potential abuse, helped victims feel less alone and spurred organizations to take steps to prevent it. And the sports-world scandal has helped make men in particular more comfortable talking about and reporting abuse.

"I think some people may have briefly thought about male victims in the context of clergy abuse," said David Lisak, a founding board member of 1in6, which helps men who have been sexually abused. In the Catholic clergy abuse scandal, too, a flurry of new molestation reports surfaced after initial victims came forward. "A lot of men had not noticed or avoided the clergy coverage. But it's hard for them to avoid this."

Curtis St. John, past president of Male Survivor, said his organization's website has seen a 66 percent increase in visitors since the Penn State news broke.

"These numbers were out there before," he said. "Now they have permission to come get help."

Some victims say they fear their abuser has continued hurting others, and that's pushed them to come forward, said Mai Fernandez, executive director of the National Center for Victims of Crime.

But that means some recent reports are of decades-old abuse. Caldwell said detectives are investigating whether there's enough evidence to place charges in many of the new cases.

Local agencies are also increasing efforts to prevent abuse.

Giselle Pelaez, executive director of the Center for Alexandria's Children, said the organization conducted training for 55 public school staff members and is working with the Department of Recreation, Parks and Cultural Activities.

Safe Shores, a District nonprofit that coordinates child-abuse investigations, is using a similar program for training schools, day care centers, investigators and others who work with youth. Michele Booth Cole, the executive director, said it's crucial to train adults to look for abuse, rather than putting the burden on children to report it.

"Adults are much better positioned to protect children than children are to protect themselves," she said.

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