ALAMANCE COUNTY, N.C. -- The Alamance County Sheriff’s Office is handling more reports of child sex abuse than ever before, they tell FOX8’s Carter Coyle.
Investigators researched several years of reports. They say from 2000 to 2007, they received an average of about 19 reports annually related to child sexual abuse. From 2007 to 2015, that average doubled to nearly 38 reports a year.
Lt. Bobby Baldwin with the ACSO Special Victims Unit said those numbers represent only a fraction of the incidents they believe are happening. “We think that’s about 10 percent of reality. We know it's a lot more going on out there that’s never reported for one reason or another,” he explained.
Reporting on the rise
Investigators said actual incidents may not be happening more frequently than they used to. But they believe the reports themselves are increasing, in part, because of better education in communities. Teachers and other people who work with children are more aware of the signs and symptoms of child abuse. Mandatory reporting laws throughout the country may also play a role in an increasing number of reports.
Darkness to Light is a national advocacy group that trains people worldwide on identifying and reporting child sex abuse. They’ve trained about 10,000 people in North Carolina, many at places like YMCA facilities that are proactive about preventing such crimes.
“The numbers nationally say the amount of child sex abuse is decreasing. But it's counter-intuitive because you see the number of reports increasing,” pointed out Dr. Lyndon Haviland, current interim CEO of Darkness to Light.
“For a community to see an almost two-fold increase, that may seem discouraging. It should actually seem actually encouraging. It means that you as a community are saying perpetrators cannot flourish here. It will not be tolerated,” Dr. Haviland added.
She praised investigators who are discussing these sensitive issues with the media and public. “It's an adult responsibility to create the environment for children to be safe and healthy.”
Victim to survivor
Christy Childress is a survivor of sexual abuse who spoke up when she was a teenager. In 1988, her stepfather went to prison for molesting and raping her.
“I wanted justice. I wanted him to stop,” she explained.
Talking about what she endured also helped Childress heal as an adult. “I felt like the weight of the world was just lifted off of my shoulders.” She said she was not surprised the number of reports is increasing.
Lt. Baldwin admitted it takes an emotional toll on the law enforcement officers who investigate any crimes related to child victims.
“It's hard on anyone. It's hard on police officers that do this for a long time, OK? I've been doing this now 11 years and there are cases that really get to you.”
But seeing victims transform into survivors like Childress gives them hope.
She empathizes with all of the victims investigators work with daily. “I just pray for them and pray for strength, and I know what they're going through.”
Child sex abuse statistics
According to research provided online by Darkness to Light:
- 1 in 10 children will be sexually abused before they turn18.
- 90 percent of those children know their abusers.
- Of children who are sexually abused, 20 percent are abused before the age of 8.
- It is estimated only 4 to 8 percent of child sexual abuse reports are fabricated.
- School personnel identify 52 percent of child abuse cases, more than child protective services or police
- Crossroads Sexual Assault Response and Resource Center in Alamance County
- Family Service of the Piedmont
- Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network
- National Sexual Violence Resource Center