For most Americans, sheltering in place is a sensible act of self-protection amid the coronavirus pandemic. But home can be a dangerous place for some ― like children in abusive situations.
Children face a heightened risk for sexual abuse during this time, child advocates told HuffPost. Scott Berkowitz, president of the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, said RAINN has seen an uptick in minors reporting sexual violence in March, the month most shelter-in-place orders were implemented across the country.
“Last month, for the first time ever, a majority of RAINN’s sexual abuse hotline users were minors,” he told HuffPost.
Just over half of the people who called RAINN’s hotline last month who identified their age were under 18. Of those, 67% identified their perpetrator as a family member and, within that group, 79% said they were living with that perpetrator. RAINN’s victim service programs help on average about 25,000 people every month.
Berkowitz said the reason for the increased calls from minors could be that children can’t access the safety net of other adults they usually see outside the home.
“So many minors are now locked at home with their abuser, in the same house,” Berkowitz said. “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.”
Berkowitz said he suspects the incidences of child sexual abuse will only increase as shelter-in-place orders continue.
An overwhelming majority of sexually abused children ― 93% ― are abused by someone they know and trust. While parents and other adults in the home can be the prime perpetrators, other children in the house ― such as older siblings or cousins ― can also be abusers, Dr. Janet Rosenzweig, executive director at the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children (APSAC), told HuffPost.