By BISHOP NASH
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — More than 400 new child abuse victims sought help at one of West Virginia’s children’s advocacy centers for the 2017 fiscal year – an 11.26 percent increase over the previous year and marking a 66 percent increase in victims served five years ago, according to the West Virginia Child Advocacy Network’s annual report released Monday.
The rising numbers do not necessarily denote a stark increase in the act of child abuse, but rather that more children than ever are being referred into victim services, said Emily Chittenden-Laird, executive director of the West Virginia Child Advocacy Network.
“Kids are becoming more aware of the issue and the services CACs provide and ultimately are more comfortable telling someone when abuse happens,” Chittenden-Laird said. “I think the culture is shifting in a way that supports children’s disclosure (of alleged abuse), that people are better at identifying the signs of abuse and that systems are becoming better at responding to it.”
The majority of victims, 62 percent, were served due to reported sexual abuse. Forty percent of offenders in all cases were the children’s biological parents, while 16 percent were either a stepparent or a parent’s boyfriend/girlfriend. The abuser was known to the victim in 99 percent of cases, and 69 percent of abusers were adults 18 or older.
More than one-third of victims served were under the age of 6, and 19 percent of children are reported or suspected to have a disability.
Criminal charges were filed in 548 cases – an average of less than one charge per five victims – resulting in 242 individual child abuse convictions, or less than one per 15 victims.
The increase in victims served is also indicative of more children’s advocacy centers opening across West Virginia – the latest at the Hoops Family Children’s Hospital in Huntington, which opened inside Cabell Huntington Hospital in September.
Since opening, the Hoops center has served 41 children, 85 percent of who reported sexual abuse. More than one-third of local victims were under age 6 and more than one in 10 suffer from a developmental disability.
“Our first priority is the child and making sure they feel safe and remain safe,” said Angela Seay, child advocacy coordinator at the Hoops Family Children’s Hospital.
The victim’s parent was the alleged offender in 37 percent of Hoops cases, Seay added, and 71 percent of offenders were known to the victim. Local cases resulted in eight criminal charges, but no convictions have been made to date.
Child advocacy centers specialize in taking delicate steps to allowing a child to be comfortable opening up about negative experiences. Centers tend to young victims of sexual abuse, physical abuse and neglect in a child-friendly environment, with care plans developed alongside Child Protective Services, police investigators, mental health professionals, victim advocates, prosecutors and medical providers.
Cabell County is served through the Hoops Family Children’s Hospital in Huntington. Boone and Lincoln counties are served by the Cornerstone Child Advocacy Center in Madison. Logan and Mingo counties are served by the Mingo County Child Advocacy Center in Williamson, West Virginia, and the Logan County Child Advocacy Center in Logan. Wyoming County is served through Just for Kids Inc. in Beckley.
West Virginia Child Advocacy Network service is not available in Wayne, Mason or Putnam counties.
Follow reporter Bishop Nash on Twitter @BishopNash.
OVERVIEW OF CHILDREN’S ADVOCACY CENTERS’ PATIENTS:
Hoops Family Children’s Hospital (since Sept. 10):
Total victims seen: 41
Percentage of victims under age 6: 37 percent
Percentage of victims suspected of sexual abuse: 85 percent
Percentage of victims with developmental disability: 12 percent
Percentage of cases with alleged parental offenders: 33 percent
Percentage of cases where offender is known to the victim: 71 percent
Source: Cabell Huntington Hospital
West Virginia Child Advocacy Network (fiscal year 2017):
Total victims seen: 3,914
Percentage of victims suspected of sexual abuse: 62 percent
Percentage of victims with developmental disability: 19 percent
Percentage of cases with alleged parental offenders: 40 percent
Percentage of cases where offender is known to the victim: 99 percent
Source: 2016-17 West Virginia Child Advocacy Network Statewide Data Report
National Children’s Alliance national statistics (calendar year 2016):
Total victims seen: 324,602
Victims under age 6: 34 percent
Percentage of victims suspected of sexual abuse: 30 percent
Percentage of victims with developmental disability: N/A
Percentage of cases with alleged parental offenders: 34 percent
Percentage of cases where offender is known to the victim: 90 percent
Source: National Children’s Alliance National Statistical Report 2016
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