Advocates worry abuse cases went widely unreported during pandemic

Child welfare advocates worry abuse cases went widely unreported during the pandemic

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Child welfare advocates and law enforcement officials are bracing for a spike in new child sex abuse cases.

They believe the pandemic not only made children more vulnerable, but it made it harder for them to report abuses.

“They are literally stuck at home with the people who are causing them the harm,” said Rochelle Vidinha, Honolulu Deputy Prosecutor.

“The more time that the child is at home with the people who are abusing them, I think it would definitely increase the amount of abuse that is taking place.”

In a typical year, about a thousand cases of child sex abuse and physical abuse are reported in Hawaii.

But because state schools — the largest mandatory reporters of abuse — were shutdown during much of the pandemic, there were less than 650 new cases last year.

With schools now increasing in-class learning, Honolulu Police said they’re expecting a surge in new cases.

“When things open up unfortunately the cases will too. I wish it wasn’t the (case) but it’s reality,” said HPD Lt. Vince Legaspi.

While last year’s case loads were skewed by the pandemic, experts said they’re seeing more cases of children being sent to the hospital.

“One of the things we did notice was an increase in the number of acute pediatric examinations needed,” said Cindy Shimomi-Saito, executive director of the Sex Abuse Treatment Center.

Added Jasmine Mau Mukai, statewide director for the Children’s Justice Centers:

“What I’m hearing is some of the physical abuse cases are more serious -- children in hospitals. I’ve read of cases with weapons being in the homes,” she said.

The release of the statewide abuse statistics comes as child welfare advocates are observing April as Child Abuse Awareness and Prevention Month.

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