Child abuse is an ever growing problem, especially in Pennsylvania, where it’s believed to go vastly under reported.
The “Protect our Children” committee said the commonwealth has one of the lowest rates of reported child abuse in the nation.
“There are predators out there who have focused on children and had multiple victims. It was kept quiet,” Janet McKay, executive director of the Victims Resource Center in Wilkes-Barre said.
Advocacy groups allege Pennsylvania has developed a culture of cover-ups. High-profiles cases like in Altoona-Johnstown, where a grand jury found Diocese members abused hundreds of children, and a similar scenario involving Penn State’s football coach Jerry Sandusky highlight the issue.
In both cases, people high up in the organization allegedly knew of the child abuse and did what they could to conceal it from law enforcement and school administrators.
The cases have inspired a recent push for legislative change in the commonwealth. Advocates hope to change the statute of limitations on child sex-abuse claims.
“I think its time we start to think about the victims. It has not been a crime – sexual abuse – that victims come forward with immediately. Sometimes, not at all,” McKay said.
Activists argue child sex-abuse victims often don’t understand what is happening to them. If they do, they may not know where to go or who to talk to until later in life. By that time, the statute of limitations on their case may have expired.
“I want them to focus on the victims,” McKay said. “They need this at this time, because so many of them have been coming forward years after discovering the crimes happened.”
Other therapists, like Laura Jacoby who works at Children’s Service Center, believe child abuse is under reported in the state because not all signs of abuse are noticeable. For instance, emotional abuse and neglect can be just as damaging to a child as sexual abuse.
“Neglect is a child not having the appropriate clothes, housing, necessities or water,” Jacoby said.
Child abuse is more rampant in low income neighborhoods and areas with high unemployment. Those stressors go hand in hand with abuse.
“You talk about basic needs of a child and a family which are food, shelter, and water. If those basic needs aren’t being met, it increases frustration and intolerance for things,” Jacoby said.
But experts who see abused children every day said, regardless of what Pennsylvania lawmakers decide when it comes to the statute of limitations, the first emphasis of therapists and social work experts must be to focus on the victims.
“What they need has to be separate sometimes from what happens in the criminal justice system. We have to look at the whole person and what they need,” McKay said.