Reports of child sex abuse cases rising

Reports of child sex abuse cases rising
Updated: Dec. 20, 2016 at 6:25 PM EST
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CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Over the last few months there have been several sexual abuse cases in the Lowcountry, many involving teachers and students.

The most recent case December 17, when a North Charleston teacher was arrested after police say he demanded a 13-year-old girl send him naked pictures of herself.

Behavioral and social media professionals say the exposure of these inappropriate relationships are becoming more common.

"It's an age where they're looking for an adult figure to kind of guide them," said Erika Rowell, Director of Programs at Darkness to Light. "So perpetrators will see that vulnerability and take advantage of that situation."

Some people may think the number of cases are increasing, but professionals say the exposure of these relationships means another thing.

"We've actually found that more adults are getting educated to they're able to make reports," Rowell said.

Data from the state's Department of Social Services shows between 2007 and 2012 there was a rise in reported cases in the Tri-County. During the five year stretch, the number of reported cases of sexual abuse per 10,000 children rose by roughly 20.

Professionals say these numbers suggest prevention training for adults has helped the reporting rates; During those years almost 34,000 adults in the Tri-County completed Darkness to Light's Stewards of Children child sexual abuse prevention training.

"They learn what are the signs of sexual abuse," Rowell said.

Some of those signs may be emotional or behavioral changes. One of the first steps in picking up on these cues is being as open as possible with your kids.

"If their kids are on social media accounts make sure the parents know which accounts their on, what the social media passwords are for each account," said Jenn Steere, Director of Content Marketing for The Modern Connection.

Some kids and parents may think it's an invasion of privacy, but professionals say perpetrators are using modern technology to move forward with inappropriate relationships, especially on social media apps like SnapChat and Facebook.

"Sexual abuse doesn't just happen overnight," Rowell said. "It's something a perpetrator sets up over a period of time through grooming behaviors."

"Make sure that all your information is private so that only your friends and you can interact online," Steere added. "So that if you had that rogue teacher or bus driver that is online and was trying to follow a student that they can't see what you're posting."

Steere adds don't post anything to the internet you wouldn't want your parents to see.

According to numerous reports there are a number of fake accounts on social media apps, which Steere said has led to extreme inappropriate relationships between minors and adults.

Both Rowell and Steere said understanding what an appropriate relationship looks like between adults and children can help prevent future abuse.

They also add having a procedure in place with how to interact with certain people, like teachers, bus drivers, and coaches can aid in prevention.

"Instead of a front hug, maybe [give them] a side hug; a high five instead of a front hug," Rowell said. "We give very specific examples of how you can change your behavior to be more appropriate."

All teachers and staff in Berkeley, Charleston, and Dorchester County School Districts have taken a training course through Darkness to Light which addresses child sexual abuse.

Rowell adds they have done some training with private charter schools, but not all.

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