Instances of sexual abuse and domestic violence increase during crises

April 9, 2020

A joint media statement from PCADV, PCAR, and the Center for Children’s Justice

HARRISBURG — Today, Pennsylvania’s leading voices for victims of child abuse, domestic violence and sexual assault issued a stark warning:  COVID-19 will inflict traumatic consequences and casualties far beyond those measured in the daily count outlining positive COVID-19 tests, hospitalizations and virus-related deaths.   

The Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence (PCADV), Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape (PCAR) and The Center for Children’s Justice (C4CJ) urge Pennsylvanians to be aware of the potential harm for individuals at home in isolation from the pandemic. 

As our organizations advocate for, and provide resources to, victims of domestic violence, sexual violence and abuse we urge everyone to be aware of the increased danger for those trapped behind closed doors with those that commit such harm during the pandemic’s isolation. 

For these individuals they may not be able to safely reach out for help or find physical shelter away from the abuse.

PCADV, PCAR and C4CJ offer this clear and consistent message to Pennsylvanians experiencing physical and sexual violence:  you are not alone, we are here for you.

The mitigation strategies smartly being enlisted to battle and beat COVID-19 are dramatically disrupting employment, children’s access to schools and early childhood environments, court proceedings to obtain protection from abuse orders or revise custody orders and connection to both acute and preventative health care services. 

This means mandated reporters — professionals such as doctors, teachers, etc. trained to recognize signs of abuse and required to contact authorities — are not easily in contact with victims and survivors in need of assistance in the foreseeable future.

Isolation is a double-edge sword in the COVID-19 battle as it will hopefully minimize the direct effect of the virus but may become an ingredient in escalated mental health incidents, reliance on substances to offset the anxiety, and increased violence within families with a disproportionate effect on women, children, the elderly and persons living with a physical or intellectual disability. 

For example, researchers affiliated with UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh examined the effects of the 2008-2009 recession on young children (less than 5 years of age) by examining the rates of diagnosed abusive head trauma (AHT). AHT injures a child’s brain and is the leading cause of physical child abuse deaths for young children. 

Data from 23 Pennsylvania counties revealed a 240% increase in AHT during the recession (8.7 per 100,000 children to 20.8 per 100,000 children) for all children 5 or younger and a 130% increase for infants under 1 year of age (46.0 per 100,000 to 61.7 per 100,000 children). For the children who survive this serious form of child abuse, there are extensive physical, emotional and fiscal consequences.

It is important to remember that victims are never to blame – people who commit acts of abuse and violence choose when, where, how and who they will harm. Under the stressful environment experienced nationally, this likelihood to commit harm increases.

At this time, our organizations share the following as public information because we care and are here to help when it may be needed most.  We encourage everyone to keep in mind that:

Call on experienced and caring professionals in your community to help: