Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, there has been a record increase in minors contacting the National Sexual Assault Hotline via its online chat platform. Experts believe the rise in calls may be a result of stay-at-home orders. Many child sex abuse victims are isolated at home with their abusers, which could be leading to more incidents of abuse.
The National Sexual Assault Hotline is run by the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN).
If you or someone you know is a victim of sexual assault or sexual abuse, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline. The National Sexual Assault Hotline can be reached at 800-656-HOPE (4673) or through their online chat platform.
If you are in immediate danger, call 911.
Children May Face Increased Incidents Of Abuse During Stay-At-Home Orders
During the coronavirus pandemic, the National Sexual Assault Hotline has seen a significant increase in demand for services. At the end of March — after most states enacted stay-at-home orders — the hotline reported a 22% increase in monthly calls from people under 18 years of age. Since state lockdown measures began, half of all incoming contacts were from minors.
Experts believe there are two main reasons for the increase in calls to the hotline:
- Due to stay-at-home orders, sexual abuse victims are at home more often with their abusers.
- Some victims have less access to trusted adults and mandatory reporters who can contact authorities on their behalf.
Victims Are Often Isolated With Abusers
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 91% of child sexual abuse victims know their abusers. Prior to the pandemic, approximately 34% of child sexual abusers are family members of the victim.
In March, RAINN said 67% of victims calling the hotline identified their abuser as a family member. According to a RAINN statistic published in June, 3 out of 4 victims said they were living with their abuser. Perpetrators may be relatives or other adults living in the home.
“As a result of looking at the information that we had from those [hotline] sessions [during the pandemic], it was clear that the abuse was escalating in both frequency and severity.”
Mandatory Reporters See Victims Less
During the pandemic, children have fewer interactions with mandatory reporters. Mandatory reporters are teachers, counselors and trusted adults who are required by law to report suspicions of child abuse. In some states, every citizen is considered a mandatory reporter by law, regardless of profession.
Due to lockdown measures, victims of child sexual abuse have less access to mandatory reporters and other supportive adults outside the home. According to a June statement from RAINN, this lack of regular exposure has led to a drop in official reports to law enforcement made by mandatory reporters.
Abuse Victims Face Mental Health Obstacles In Isolation
Sexual abuse victims are also facing increased mental health challenges. Victims who are isolated at home have less access to services and activities that help them cope with the mental implications of abuse.
RAINN president Scott Berkowitz explained that many minors who call the hotline need emotional support. Some children no longer have the escape of school, counseling and other extracurricular programs.
“Normally, the first people to spot signs of abuse are adults outside the immediate family: teachers and guidance counselors and the parents of friends. Once kids were cut off from that support group, we’ve seen in a lot of states that reports to child abuse authorities have declined.”
Victims who live with their abusers may feel heightened stress and fear from being around their abusers more often. For some children, the threat of abuse may lead to additional suffering. As a result, their mental and physical health may decline.
RAINN And Child Welfare Organizations Support Victims
Organizations that help victims of child sexual abuse are continuing their efforts during this time. Through the National Sexual Assault Hotline, RAINN was able to help in 1 out of 5 cases in March where the minor was living with their abuser. In these cases, RAINN helped the minor contact authorities.
RAINN and other child welfare organizations are working on new ways to support child sexual abuse victims. This includes connecting with victims through online platforms.
RAINN released a mobile app in August for survivors of sexual abuse to access coping resources and support. The RAINN app offers several important functions to users:
- The app gives users access to RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Hotline via phone or online chat. The hotline is free, confidential, and available 24/7.
- The app gives users access to the HelpRoom, which is an anonymous, moderated peer-to-peer chat room for survivors to connect and support each other.
- The app offers users a self-care section with tips and resources about caring for yourself.
The app was developed with funding from the Office for Victims of Crime in the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ).
Federal and state child welfare services remain open despite state lockdown orders. RAINN is working with state and local officials to assist with the rise in calls and reports of sexual assault.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (N.D.) Preventing Child Sexual Abuse.
Dastagir, A.E. (2020, July 11). National Sexual Assault Hotline sees record demand during pandemic. Many reaching out are children. USA Today.
Kamenetz, A. (2020, April 28). Child Sexual Abuse Reports Are On The Rise Amid Lockdown Orders. NPR.
RAINN. (2020, April 2). RAINN Working to Protect Vulnerable Populations During COVID-19 Crisis.
RAINN. (2020, April 16). For the First Time Ever, Minors Make Up Half of Visitors to National Sexual Assault Hotline.
RAINN. (2020, June19). COVID Update: Hotline Continues to Hear from Children, Those Concerned for Their Safety.
RAINN. (N.D.) Perpetrators of Sexual Violence: Statistics.