Sex abuse often not reported

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Local,Crime,Emily Babay

Officials and victim advocates say a silver lining in the high-profile child sex abuse scandal involving a former Penn State football coach is that more people are now coming forward about the historically underreported crime.

Cases often aren't investigated because victims are hesitant to report the offenses and adults who suspect a child is being abused don't know what to do, experts say.

"I think it is underreported, and I think it always will be," said Capt. Kathi Rhodes, director of the Montgomery County police's family crimes division. She said children are often pressured not to tell, or are too embarrassed.

Boys often believe they should have been able to fight off their abuser, said Curtis St. John, past president of Male Survivor.

Another difficulty is that cases require children to make reports about someone close to them. In Alexandria, 95 percent of alleged perpetrators "know the child, and know the child very well," said Giselle Pelaez, executive director of the Center for Alexandria's Children.

Even those who seek help don't always pursue criminal charges. Just 50 percent of people who sought all types of sexual violence crisis services in Virginia in 2010 had reported the incident to law enforcement, according to a recent report to the state's General Assembly.

David Lisak, a founding board member of 1in6, said the outrage the public has expressed toward Jerry Sandusky and officials who didn't contact authorities has reassured victims, one upside of fallout from the scandal.

"That outrage is not being focused on them, it's being focused on the people who perpetrated this," he said. "For many of them, that's a novel idea." - Emily Babay

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