Calls to sex abuse hotlines increase after scandal

From USA Today ( 06/19/2002)
Featuring Richard Gartner, Ph.D.

Calls to sex abuse hotlines increase after scandal
By Janet Kornblum

Sexual abuse hotlines across the country are seeing marked increases in calls, a trend they attribute to continuing media coverage of the child sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church.

Many calls are from adults reporting for the first time that they were sexually abused as children, some by priests, but more by relatives, neighbors or other adults.

USA TODAY contacted a dozen centers across the country, as well as a network that makes referrals to hotlines in almost 1,000 cities. All but two noted increases.

“When a story like this breaks, it brings up a lot of issues for people,” says Vickie Sides of the YWCA of Metropolitan Chicago, which runs a rape crisis hotline.

The Rape Abuse & Incest National Network redirects callers from its national hotline to 978 local centers. In the first four months after the church crisis flared in January, the hotline (800-656-HOPE) received an average of 8,051 calls a month, up 19% from the same period last year, spokeswoman Jamie Zuieback says.

Many victims, especially men, “maintain silence for years because of the shame or the fear that they will be blamed,” says New York psychologist Richard Gartner, president of the National Organization on Male Sexual Victimization. But “what has been unspoken for many years is now sayable.”

Because few organizations deal exclusively with childhood sexual abuse, survivors are turning to whatever agencies are available.

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, which has been cited prominently in national news coverage of the scandal, says it has been flooded with calls. Most callers are reporting abuse by priests, but a growing number want to know where to report abuse by other adults, national director David Clohessy says.

Among others seeing increases:

The Chicago YWCA hotline had 2,644 calls from January through May. That’s up 53% over the same period last year.

The Boston Area Rape Crisis Center had 1,495 calls between January and May, a jump of 53%.

The Survivors Healing Center in Santa Cruz, Calif., had 130 calls and visits in April and May, nearly double the 70 it had in February and March, says executive director Beth Love. The center is one of the few in the nation that specializes in survivors of child sexual abuse.

Few national statistics are available because so many cases of child sexual abuse are not reported. But researchers estimate new cases are down 40% from 1992, says David Finkelhor of the University of New Hampshire. He attributes the drop to better prevention, reporting and prosecution.