Victims, families find refuge in abuse hotlines
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During the weeks immediately following former Penn State University assistant coach Jerry Sandusky's Nov. 5 arrest, for which he is accused of molesting eight children over a 15-year period, child and sex abuse hotlines have reported significant spikes in the number of people phoning in for help and guidance.
For at least one organization, those people speaking out keep pouring in.
"Every week we're climbing with calls," said Michelle Fingerman, hotline director for Childhelp, which hosts the nation's only hotline specific to child abuse.
The Scottsdale, Ariz.-based organization fields calls 24/7 from throughout the U.S., Canada, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and Guam. Ms. Fingerman said staff members, who all hold advanced degrees in counseling or a related field, are spending more time with callers, now reaching out with more complex issues.
"We're seeing adult survivors of abuse that are calling. Seeing this in the media so prominently has really triggered their experience of being abused," she said.
Additionally, more parents, professionals and leaders in various organizations are calling the hotline with questions such as how to talk to kids about these issues and how to notice signs of potential abuse, she said.
Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare's child abuse and neglect hotline, ChildLine, recorded 4,832 calls in Nov. 7-11, the week following Mr. Sandusky's arrest -- double its usual intake during a five-day period, spokeswoman Carey Miller said.
A national story of this magnitude, or even a similar one in a nearby county, can trigger an uptick of calls reporting suspected abuse, she said.
ChildLine, a 24/7 service for all types of child abuse, generally receives 2,300 calls Monday through Friday.
The week of Nov. 14-18, the number fell to 2,866 and to 1,879 the following week.
Currently, the number of people phoning into ChildLine has plateaued, but it's still far higher than calls received before Nov. 4, said Jonathan McKain, assistant deputy director in Allegheny County Department of Human Services' community relations office. He said they can't predict a further increase in calls, though, even as the charges mount against Mr. Sandusky and those purportedly involved in the scandal.
The Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network totaled unprecedented numbers for its 24/7 instant message-like online hotline last month, spokeswoman Katherine Hull said.
RAINN recorded more than 3,100 hotline sessions in November, compared with 2,300 during that period last year. As the news unfurled following the arrest, the organization saw a 54 percent increase in demand. In these sessions, people are specifically pointing to the Penn State scandal -- as well as the claims surrounding Bernie Fine, the former Syracuse assistant basketball coach accused of molesting two ball boys in the 1980s -- Ms. Hull said.
"It's been the largest outpouring that we've seen," she said, noting that though last month marked the latest surge, RAINN is still seeing higher-than-normal call numbers.
Ms. Fingerman, who has answered phones at Childhelp for 10 years, said high-profile abuse scandals encourage people to speak out.
"Many times we've been afraid to talk about it," she said. "It shows the reality that we need to talk."
First Published December 9, 2011 12:00 am