For the First Time Ever, Minors Make Up Half of Visitors to National Sexual Assault Hotline

Washington, DC – In March, as shelter-in-place orders were implemented across the country, for the first time ever, half of the victims receiving help from the National Sexual Assault Hotline were minors.

“Unfortunately for many, and especially for children experiencing sexual abuse, ‘stay at home’ doesn’t mean ‘safe at home,’” said Scott Berkowitz, RAINN’s president.

Of minors who discussed coronavirus-related concerns, 67% identified their perpetrator as a family member and 79% said they were living with that perpetrator.

Overall, in one out of five sessions where the minor was living with the perpetrator, RAINN staff assisted the minor in contacting police during the session. More than half of sessions included disclosure-related planning, while four in 10 sessions included discussion of how to leave or avoid the perpetrator.

“Many minors are now quarantined at home with their abuser. 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,” Berkowitz explained. “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. 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.”

Among those minors reaching out for help, immediate concerns relating to the COVID-19 pandemic were top of mind:

  • Safety concerns related to isolation or stay-at-home orders were most prominent.
  • Other concerns included difficulty accessing services due to shutdowns, elevated mental health concerns related to the pandemic, and complications/delays in the reporting process.
  • Nearly seven in 10 minors (68%) discussed concerns about being in a confined space with their perpetrator.
  • One in five (20%) discussed barriers to disclosing the abuse due to shut-downs and school closures.

“We expect official reports of child abuse — and visits to the National Sexual Assault Hotline — to jump dramatically once stay-at-home orders begin to be lifted around the country,” Berkowitz noted. “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.”

RAINN is also working with state and local officials to ensure reporting mechanisms are in place and the safety of children remains top-of-mind for authorities during this time.

Data are based on child sexual assault victims who received help from RAINN’s online chat hotline from March 1-31, 2020 (beginning March 24 for COVID-related concerns). Users for whom age is unknown are excluded from the analysis.

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