“This is a public health crisis, it’s a public safety crisis,” Paulina Mendez, Family Justice Center division manager, said about the prevalence of these crimes.
Experts said just as many of our worlds were kept behind closed doors this past year, unfortunately, so were crimes like child abuse and sexual assault.
The CDC said official reports of child abuse and neglect went down across America for most of 2020, in some cases by 20- 70%. However, experts said it’s likely because children in dangerous situations weren’t in contact with people who could report the abuse.
“There was this quietness that always scares us because we know it’s happening,” said Geoff Sidoli, executive director for the Mountain Child Advocacy Center.
As communities reopen, law enforcement and child and family advocates are beginning to see some of what was kept hidden.
“We’re seeing a surge in reports,” Sidoli said, adding the Mountain Child Advocacy Center has an eight-week waitlist right now for therapy.
Rebecca Smith, the social work director for Buncombe County Health and Human Services, said reports to that agency dropped by about 40 a month during the pandemic.
However, she said their workload didn’t change much because the cases they were seeing were complex.
Smith said by about halfway through the last year the agency also started seeing an increase in children going into foster care.
“Maybe after the pandemic had some time to settle in a little bit and we were seeing some of that pandemic fatigue by people,” Smith said. “Even families that we had seen in the past be successful and entering recovery.”
Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office Special Investigations Unit focuses solely on child abuse, elder abuse, domestic violence and sexual assault.