The number of calls coming into child abuse reporting hotlines and law enforcement agencies has spiked since allegations of child abuse against former Penn State Football Coach Jerry Sandusky gained national attention, and A Child's Place at Mercy is no exception.
"I think it's always good when people reach out in these situations and don't harbor the abuse and don't keep it inside," said A Child's Place Manager Joan Mills, who fields most of the calls that come into the agency.
The number of calls coming into A Child's Place has doubled since news broke on the Sandusky case. "We are definitely maxed," said Mills.
"We might be the first people hearing [about the abuse] from them, so we listen and try to be empathetic to them and give them good solid advice that they need treatment and therapy … because now they are finally reaching out for it," said Mills. Victims are finding courage and bravery from the Penn State incident, said Mills.
Call volume at centers like A Child's Place at Mercy ebb and flow as news stories come and go and as seasons change, but Mills said that she has never seen a spike like this in her 23 years of helping child abuse victims.
While the rate of child abuse is not on the rise in absolute numbers, Mills notes that it is getting harder for parents to protect their children. "We have daycares and after school programs, they are riding buses, they are playing more sports, they are with more coaches, they are more mobile than they ever were before," said Mills. "There are more and more people coming in contact with our children at a younger and younger age, and I think that's a difference in our society."
Mills hopes that the Sandusky case will help to bring about needed changes to Pennsylvania's child abuse laws, and she hopes it will continue to encourage victims and those who suspect child abuse to come forward to get help. However, she knows that new laws are not enough to stop child sex abuse.
"No one could ever molest a child if secrets were not kept in the beginning," said Mills, "so we all have to teach our children to not keep secrets from parents or trusting adults because the very first beginning of any child abuse case is secrets, and it starts with benign secrets, and it obviously escalates."
Mills encourages anyone who is a victim of sexual abuse or suspects it is happening to others to call the ChildLine at 1-800-932-0313.