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For some children “stay at home” does not mean “safe at home”

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In March, half of visitors to the National Sexual Assault Hotline were minors. 

This grim statistic is a historic one. It’s the first time in the hotline’s history that minors have accounted for half of the people asking for help, according to a statement from the anti-sexual violence organisation, RAINN, which runs the hotline.

That figure can be traced to the implementation of shelter-in-place orders amid the new coronavirus pandemic, which came into effect across the U.S. in March. 

“Unfortunately for many, and especially for children experiencing sexual abuse, ‘stay at home’ doesn’t mean ‘safe at home,'” said Scott Berkowitz, RAINN’s president, in a statement. 

“Many minors are now quarantined at home with their abuser. Meanwhile, these kids are cut off from their safety net ― the teachers, coaches, and friends’ parents who are most likely to notice and report suspected abuse,” Berkowitz added. 

Of the minors who brought up coronavirus-related concerns, 67 percent identified their abuser as a family member, while 79 percent said they were living with the perpetrator. One in five calls from minors living with perpetrators resulted in RAINN employees helping them contact the police during the session. Four in 10 calls involved talking about how to leave or avoid the abuser. 

Concerns about their own safety in relation to isolation or stay-at-home orders were the most prevalent issues raised by minors using the hotline. Almost seven in 10 minors expressed worries about being in a confined space with their abuser. Twenty percent of minors said that shut-downs of services and school closures were an obstacle in disclosing the abuse. 

As the pandemic continues, RAINN warns that the sexual abuse of children will increase. The number of abuse reports to many state authorities have declined amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Berkowitz explained. “Not because there is less abuse taking place, but because children have less contact with adults outside the home who could potentially spot and report abuse,” said Berkowitz. 

“Sadly, it is likely that the risk of children being sexually abused will increase as shelter-in-place orders continue — one more tragic consequence of the public health crisis the country currently faces,” he added. 

RAINN expects official reports of child abuse and visits to the National Sexual Assault Hotline to rise significantly when stay-at-home orders are lifted in the U.S.. 

“We are doing everything in our power to ensure the hotline is able to meet this expected increase in demand, including hiring additional hotline staff,” said Berkowitz. “Some of our donors have also agreed to match donations dollar-for-dollar for the next few weeks, to encourage new supporters to help us staff up to meet this anticipated need.”

RAINN said it is working with state and local officials to make sure child safety is a priority and that reporting systems are in place during this time.