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Suffolk DA Rollins: Child abuse reports have dropped amid coronavirus pandemic, but there could be more victims

Suffolk District Attorney Rachael Rollins said Wednesday the number of child abuse reports coming into her office has plummeted amid the pandemic, but there actually could be an “increase in victimization” with children largely confined to their homes and apart from teachers and others who are required to flag suspected abuse.

Rollins said her office had received 234 child abuse referrals between mid-March and mid-May, a 39 percent decrease from the same period in 2019. In addition, she said, the number of “cyber tips, or online crimes against children, almost doubled to 31 in 2020 from the same period in 2019.”

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She said the isolation brought on by the pandemic has forced many victims to remain constantly in households with abusers.

“Social interaction is often a lifeline; work and school are often temporary respites from abuse and trauma and classrooms are places where children find caring adults to whom they can disclose safely and those adults are also mandated reporters for abuse and neglect,” Rollins said in a statement.

She said adult stressors brought on by the health crisis can also put children at risk.

“In this time, many people are dealing with heightened job insecurity, housing insecurity and food insecurity, all of which can be accelerants for violence and abuse,” Rollins said.

But the district attorney’s office is fighting back.

Rollins said that, since early April, her staff has conducted about 29 remote tele-forensic interviews with young survivors of sexual abuse. Such interviews are normally done in person.

Other steps include: collaborating with the Children’s Advocacy Center of Suffolk County to create a community safety net guide for protecting and supporting children at risk; informing the public via social media, the DA’s website, and fliers at food distribution and other volunteer sites that authorities are available to help; and promoting best practices for youth Internet use.

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“The present risks that exist with various apps, social media and gaming should be discussed with children regularly, especially at this time in our lives,” Rollins said. "Our STOP BLOCK TALK program has simple and memorable ways for students to navigate the risks associated with these platforms.”

State officials have worked to inform adult victims of domestic and sexual violence that help remains available for them during the pandemic, as well.

Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito told residents at an April news conference that judges are available 24 hours a day to process restraining orders and that sexual assault nurse examiners are available at many hospitals. The state expanded its toll-free and confidential domestic violence hot line — 877-785-2020 — to handle survivors of sexual assault.

The office of state Attorney General Maura Healey’s this month posted an online clearinghouse of resources for victims of abuse that has an emergency opt-out link that shuts down the website immediately.

Stephanie Ebbert of the Globe staff contributed to this report.


Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.