In the lead-up to April, designated as National Child Abuse Prevention Month since 1983, Charlotte’s only child advocacy center has released some alarming stats from 2022 in an effort to highlight the urgency of their work in the greater Charlotte area.
Pat’s Place Child Advocacy Center released its 2022 Impact Report earlier this year, covering Fiscal Year 2022, which states that 17,393 children were reported abused or neglected in Mecklenburg County during that span.
On March 21, another release from Pat’s Place gave a more specific sense of how the organization is stepping up to address rising numbers of abuse cases locally. According to the release, Pat’s Place staff and volunteers have carried out forensic interviews, advocacy support, medical care and/or counseling for more than 850 children who experienced violence and abuse in 2022, along with nearly 700 caregivers, the highest numbers in Pat’s Place’s 18-year history.
Broken down further, 50% of those cases were sexual abuse, 15% were witness to domestic violence, 9% were physical abuse, 9% were at risk, 5% were neglect, 2% were exploitation and 10% are unknown.
“We continue to see the negative side effects of social isolation from the pandemic on families, like increased stress, less supervision, less access to support, and digital vulnerabilities that put children at higher risk of abuse and neglect,” says Shawna Pagano, director of education and community engagement with Pat’s Place.
Almost immediately after the pandemic began, the cases coming into Pat’s Place became more severe.
It’s not just a Charlotte issue. According to the CDC, at least one in seven children in the U.S. have experienced child abuse or neglect in the past year, with nearly five children dying every day because of it. The economic burden of child abuse nationally is estimated to be about $592 billion each year.
According to Darkness to Light, a national organization based in South Carolina that works toward ending child abuse, about one in 10 children will be sexually abused by the time they are 18 years old.
In more than 90% of cases, sexual abuse is committed by someone a child knows and trusts. It is rarely a stranger and is much more likely to be a family member, teacher, neighbor, coach, clergy member, etc. People often do not realize that older children abuse younger children as well, the release stated.
Pat’s Place has a number of ways for the community to get involved in pushing back against child abuse during April, including participating in the annual national pinwheel planting campaign that raises awareness for the issue throughout the month.
The organization’s 5th annual Everyday Heroes Philanthropy Luncheon is scheduled for April 25. Earlier this week, the organization announced that Erin Merryn will serve as the keynote speaker at the event.
Merryn is a nationally recognized speaker, advocate, and published author. A survivor of child sexual abuse herself, Merryn was the force behind Erin’s Law, which requires that personal body safety be taught in public schools.
Beyond raising funds and awareness, there are other ways that Pat’s Place encourages folks to get engaged with this issue, including hosting a training, serving on a committee or as an advocate, or organizing a supply drive.
The organization is also planning on rolling out a new Young Affiliates program, and though details are scarce, a spokesperson told Queen City Nerve that the program is expected to launch this summer.
“Pat’s Place will continue to adapt to the changing needs for children and families,” said Pat’s Place CEO Andrew Oliver. “While we’ll continue to focus on prevention to reach more children upstream, we will always remain a trusted refuge and resource for those who have experienced abuse or violence.”
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