Column: Congress must help abused children during the COVID-19 crisis

Getty Images

As Congress debates a $1 trillion package for additional pandemic relief, the COVID-19 virus is unleashing a separate pandemic — one in which many children are facing more physical and sexual violence. This crisis is one Congress can address by putting some of the relief funding toward the fight against child exploitation.

The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) reported in April that for the first time in its 25-year history, half of all reports to its sexual assault hotline were from minor children. The organization noted that eight out of 10 of the children calling were living with their abuser, and 67% said a family member was the abuser.

With school buildings and youth activities closed in most areas of the country and children spending more unsupervised time online, the risks to children have also increased. 

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children found that CyberTipline calls doubled in March 2020 compared with the same month a year earlier, surpassing 2 million reports of crimes such as online solicitation of a minor for sex, shared images of child sexual abuse, or obscene material shared with children. Numerous unconfirmed reports say that pedophiles on the dark web are discussing how to reach more children using online platforms during the pandemic.

Child abuse and neglect worsens in Michigan, causing major worries during COVID-19 

As the child victim of a trusted doctor, Larry Nassar, I know how hard it is for those being abused to understand what is happening to them and to ask for help. Children need the support of professionals in whom they can confide. Yet now, without the presence of “mandatory reporters” — teachers, nurses and child care providers, who are required by law in most states to report suspicions of child abuse or neglect — more children will continue to be vulnerable during this difficult time.

Along with working to find and punish sex offenders, we need to do more to support survivors and to focus on real prevention, particularly in our long underserved and most vulnerable communities. 

Child sexual abuse is a preventable public health crisis. That’s why more than 40 organizations and adult survivors of child sexual abuse, including The Army of Survivors in Michigan, have allied in an effort to #KeepKidsSafe and to urge Congress to provide emergency funding to address the growing numbers and severity of child exploitation. 

What happens behind closed doors? Social isolation during COVID-19 endangers domestic abuse survivors.

We each have a role to play to confront and end the pandemic of violence against children. Each of us can be more mindful in every encounter with a child to make sure the child is safe. We can time to review new resources for families to talk with children about online exploitation, created by the European Union’s law enforcement arm.

And we each can add our voice right now to tell Congress that we need to do more to provide trauma-informed care for survivors and to support the professionals who protect our most vulnerable citizens — children.

Please speak up. Our children need you.