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Finding cases of child abuse is complicated by coronavirus

Finding cases of child abuse can be very difficult, but the conditions created by a pandemic has made it harder in many cases.

BOISE, Idaho — Finding cases of child abuse can be a real challenge for investigators, they can only investigate information they are aware of.

In the midst of a pandemic, it can be even more difficult.

Jean Fisher is CEO for the Faces of Hope Victim Center and the special crimes chief deputy for the Ada County Prosecutor’s Office. She explains that the coronavirus outbreak complicated the already tough battle against child abuse.

“It’s made child abuse, both the investigation and the severity of child abuse much, much worse I think,” said Fisher.

Getting information about alleged child abuse was tough pre-COVID, now it can be even harder to find cases of abuse.

“Figuring it out, discovering child abuse in of itself can already be difficult because most of the time you are relying on other people to discover what is going on," said Fisher. "Children don’t often times tell what’s happening to them. With a pandemic, we don’t have all eyes on our children and so children are enduring more abuse for longer periods of time, and as a result of that we have seen much more severe child abuse.” 

Pre-COVID, children facing abuse had more opportunities outside their home to let someone know that something isn’t right at home. Beyond that, people like teachers, sports coaches, and friends could see evidence abuse.

“That’s how we are able to figure out a lot of times what is happening and as a result with COVID and people being sheltered in place and not being in school, a lot of our abuse has not been discovered and it has really tragic results including this situation in Meridian,” said Fisher.  

Nine-year-old Emrick Osuna died last week after horrific alleged abuse, his father and stepmother have been arrested. Prosecutors say months of starvation and abuse amounted to "torture."

For months, Fisher says reports of child abuse were very quiet as communities remained shut down. As things started to open again, child abuse cases quickly spiked. The abuse never stopped, it was just harder to find.

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“Since August forward our numbers have been way up. Are investigators have more cases than they can possibly investigate right now. The CARES unit of St. Luke’s is backed up several weeks with just interviewing children and getting caught up because there are so many cases that are out there,” said Fisher.

The latest development in working to help children in abusive situations was the start of the school year. In some situations, webcams on remote learning devices showed what is happening at home.

“Parents forgetting there is a window into their living room practically all the time. Now we are seeing since kids are online so much more abuse going on. Even in the home as parents are normalizing zoom in and out of their living rooms and almost not understanding people can see what’s happening,” said Fisher.

RELATED: Treasure Valley sees increase in child abuse cases, domestic violence-related calls

Fisher says fighting child abuse, especially now, takes extra eyes on kids in need.

“If you see something, we always say 'see something, say something,' said Fisher. "Please, if you are suspecting abuse or neglect call. Call law enforcement, call the Department of Health and Welfare, call Faces of Hope. We will get you to the right resources. If somebody is telling you they are being abused or neglected take it at face value that they are. You don’t need to ask them a thousand questions. Call for somebody to get some help so they can be evaluated, and we can take a look at what’s going on in their lives.”

Faces of Hope Victim Center is a free resource for those concerned about situations of child abuse. For more information on resources, click here.

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