Child advocates urge people to report suspected abuse
To report suspected child abuse, contact local law enforcement or Rock County Child Protective Services at (608) 757-5401. After hours call (608) 757-2244.
What to watch for
Signs of child sexual abuse can include:
-- Pain, swelling or itching in the genital area
-- Bruises, bleeding or discharge in genital area
-- Difficulty walking or sitting, frequent urination, pain
-- Stained or bloody underclothing
-- Sexually transmitted disease
-- Refusal to take part in gym or other exercises
-- Poor peer relationships
-- Unusual interest in sex for age
-- Drastic change in school achievement
-- Runaway or delinquent behavior
-- Regressive or childlike behavior
JANESVILLE Rock County ranks second behind only Milwaukee County in reports of child sexual assault, but local experts estimate that 90 percent of abuse victims never speak up.
Allison Hokinson, YWCA executive director, called sex abuse "the biggest-kept secret in a community."
National headlines from Penn State University and Syracuse University have topped stories about men coming forward to report being sexually abused as boys by men they trusted. In some of the cases, adults reportedly knew what was happening, but word never made it to the proper authorities.
Hokinson said that people who suspect child abuse should "trust your gut and intuition and report it immediately to law enforcement and child protective services."
In 2010, Rock County had 471 allegations of child sexual abuse reported, according to the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families. Only Milwaukee County had more, with 1,417 reports.
The YWCA Rock County CARE House handled 78 cases of child sexual abuse in 2010, according to April Sweeney, family advocate.
Reporting quickly "is helpful to the investigation because details can make a huge difference in the outcome of that case," Sweeney said.
County statistics show neglect is the No. 1 abuse among children followed by physical, sexual then emotional abuse, Hokinson said.
"Sexual abuse cases come to CARE House most often because there is often physical evidence and the team knows the child's statement is so crucial in these cases," she said.
Although Hokinson and Sweeney are reluctant to say sexual abuse is more common here, Sweeney said the number of sexual abuses reports here can be attributed to good reporters, more awareness and more advocacy.
Education professionals, social workers, law enforcement and parents were the top reporters of child sexual abuse statewide the past four years, Hokinson said.
The CARE House—the first facility of its kind in Wisconsin—has been facilitating forensic interviews of child abuse victims in a safe, comfortable and child-friendly atmosphere since 1993.
On average, 105 sexually abused children have been interviewed at the CARE House each year from 2008 to 2011.
State statutes require only some professions--including medical personnel, child care workers, teachers and school staff—to report suspected child abuse. Other states have different requirements.
Regardless of the law, Hokinson said, all adults have an "ethical and moral obligation to step up and keep children safe."
Sweeney advised people who suspect abuse is happening but think it's none of their business to report it anyway.
"Things don't come out unless law enforcement and child protective services move forward," she said.
Hokinson agreed: "There's not a lot of room for second-guessing in reporting something as serious as child abuse."