ROCK ISLAND COUNTY, Ill. — According to the Children's Advocacy Center of Illinois, 1 in 10 children throughout the state will be sexually abused before their 18th birthday.
The Rock Island County chapter of the organization is seeing a steady increase in abuse cases.
"Our mission is to reduce trauma to children who are under 18 that are physically," said Marcy O'Brien.
O'Brien and her team are all former police officers, still protecting and serving the youngest members of our community.
The Rock Island County Children's Advocacy Center is brought in by law enforcement and the Department of Children Family Services. The center was designed to reduce the number of times a child would need to share their story. Previously a child would need to share their story four to seven different times with different people.
"Fiscal year 2020 we saw 223 investigations. Last year we did 308 and we are on track to exceed 300 again," O'Brien said.
"We investigate all of the sex abuse cases and then for physical abuse cases it would have to be severe cases that would rise to the level of felony. So we see broken bones, severe neglect, bruising. The cases that are less severe we don't see because we would not sustain by sheer numbers, the number of cases that DCSF has to investigate," O'Brien said.
308 cases last year included:
- 237 Sexually Abused Children
- 56 Physically Abused Children
- 11 Neglected Children investigations
- 2 Witness
- 2 Other
"That's directly because, I think, the pandemic. There was a lot of frustration, kids were home more, abusers had more access to them. They weren't going to school so we were seeing a lot more cases," O'Brien said.
Teachers are often the first line of defense against child abuse according to O'Brien. When schools went virtual, others stepped in.
"There was a lot of awareness and people were concerned about their neighbors, their cousins, their kids at home and are making reports," O'Brien said.
Beginning in January, the Rock Island County Children's Advocacy Center will have a full-time counselor on staff to help children and their families work through the trauma together. The center discovered that often times the family members of a child victim are often more traumatized than the child.
O'Brien said she suspects that's because some children are so young they may not understand exactly what happened, where as a parent, grandparent or guardian would. So many adults are sharing feelings of guilt; 'How didn't I know?' or 'How could this happen?'.
The center sees victims as young as 2-years-old. At the Children's Advocacy Center they can only work with children victims old enough to speak.
Department of Child Family Services has another method for investigating for younger children who are victims of abuse.
If you suspect a child you know is being abused or neglected, report it. You can call 1-800-252-2873 or by going online by clicking here. If you believe a child is in immediate danger that could result in death or serious injury call 911.