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Sexual Abuse

Preventing Child Sexual Abuse During COVID-19

Moore Center launches resource pages and an online course.

When stay-at-home orders were issued across the country in March, workers at the National Sexual Assault Hotline came to a sobering realization: For the first time ever, half of hotline calls were made by children. In addition to reporting sexual abuse, these children discussed concerns about their safety while isolated at home during the coronavirus pandemic.

Overall, the number of calls to the hotline made by children rose by 22%, according to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network, which operates the hotline. Of those callers, 79% said they were living with their abuser and 67% identified their abuser as a family member.

Similarly, as the coronavirus response pushes Americans online for work, education, and socialization, the risks to children in online environments have risen. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children says the number of CyberTipline reports of suspected online child sexual abuse and exploitation in March surpassed 2 million and marked a 106% increase in reports compared to the same timeframe in 2019.

Stress, social isolation, increased internet use for work and entertainment, and confinement due to stay-at-home directives associated with COVID-19 have inadvertently generated two areas of concern. First, the risk for online offending has increased due to adults and children spending more time online for work education and recreation. Second, the risk for offending perpetrated by household members has increased as adults and children spend more time confined together.

To overcome these challenges, the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health Moore Center for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse assembled a list of resources for families to prevent child sexual abuse during the pandemic and, in concert with co-investigator Michael Seto from the Royal Ottawa Healthcare Group and support of the Oak Foundation, a list for individuals concerned about their own sexual feelings involving children.

What is perhaps heartening is that amid these increased risks, organizations dedicated to preventing child sexual abuse, such as Stop It Now!, have reported increased traffic to their resource webpages for people who have concerns about their own sexual thoughts and behaviors. To help meet the need for increased help-seeking, the Center also fast-tracked the release of its Help Wanted Prevention Intervention, a free and online course that supports people with a sexual interest in children to live healthy, non-offending lives. This effort was also supported by the Oak Foundation.

The stigma associated with having a sexual interest in children is tremendous but having the attraction does not doom a person to acting on that attraction. Many people make the decision to keep children safe and to keep themselves safe by not acting on it. They need support.

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