Sexual Assault Hotline Sees Spike in Messages from Minors Amid Coronavirus Outbreak

As shelter-in-place orders were implemented across the country last month, forcing families to "stay home" amid the coronavirus pandemic, the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network's sexual assault hotline saw an unprecedented surge in messages from minors.

For the first time ever, RAINN said in a press release sent out on Thursday, half of the requests for support sent to RAINN's online chat hotline in March were made by minors.

Of those who discussed coronavirus-related concerns, the network said, 67 percent said they had been targeted by a family member, while 79 percent said they were living with their alleged perpetrator.

"Unfortunately for many, and especially for children experiencing sexual abuse, 'stay at home' doesn't mean 'safe at home,'" Scott Berkowitz, RAINN's president, warned n a statement.

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"Many minors are now quarantined at home with their abuser," Berkowitz said. "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."

"As a result, abuse reports to many state authorities have declined—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," Berkowitz warned.

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While it is unclear how many children could be at risk of facing abuse amid the coronavirus pandemic, RAINN has sought to assist as many minors as it can.

In 1 out of 5 cases where a minor reported facing abuse in the month of March, RAINN said staff took action by helping the child contact law enforcement.

Meanwhile, more than half of the discussions saw RAINN staff have to discuss "disclosure-related planning," while 4 in 10 sessions included discussions on how to get away from a perpetrator.

According to RAINN, nearly 7 in 10 minors (68 percent) expressed concerns about having to be in confined spaces with their perpetrators.

Meanwhile, 1 in 5 (20 percent) minors expressed concerns about being unable to report and disclose instances of abuse due to stay-at-home orders and school closures across the country.

"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," Berkowitz said.

Child abuse
A protester holds a placard reading 'Child abuse is a crime against humanity' during a demonstration against child abuse on July 4, 2018 on Istiklal Avenue in Istanbul. OZAN KOSE/AFP via Getty

When stay-at-home orders do eventually lift, the RAINN chief said he expected that official reports of child abuse would "jump dramatically."

In the meantime, he said: "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."

"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," he said.

If you or someone you know has experienced sexual violence, free, confidential help is available 24/7 by calling 800.656.HOPE (4673) or visiting online.rainn.org.

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Sexual Assault Hotline Sees Spike in Messages from Minors Amid Coronavirus Outbreak | U.S.