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Instances of sexual abuse and domestic violence increase during crises

HARRISBURG — Today, Pennsylvania’s leading voices for victims of child abuse, domestic violence and sexual assault issued a stark warning:  COVID-19 will inflict traumatic consequences and casualties far beyond those measured in the daily count outlining positive COVID-19 tests, hospitalizations and virus-related deaths.   

The Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence (PCADV), Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape (PCAR) and The Center for Children’s Justice (C4CJ) urge Pennsylvanians to be aware of the potential harm for individuals at home in isolation from the pandemic. As our organizations advocate for, and provide resources to, victims of domestic violence, sexual violence and abuse we urge everyone to be aware of the increased danger for those trapped behind closed doors with those that commit such harm during the pandemic’s isolation. For these individuals they may not be able to safely reach out for help or find physical shelter away from the abuse.

PCADV, PCAR and C4CJ offer this clear and consistent message to Pennsylvanians experiencing physical and sexual violence:  you are not alone, we are here for you.

The mitigation strategies smartly being enlisted to battle and beat COVID-19 are dramatically disrupting employment, children’s access to schools and early childhood environments, court proceedings to obtain protection from abuse orders or revise custody orders and connection to both acute and preventative health care services.  This means mandated reporters — professionals such as doctors, teachers, etc. trained to recognize signs of abuse and required to contact authorities — are not easily in contact with victims and survivors in need of assistance in the foreseeable future.

Isolation is a double-edge sword in the COVID-19 battle as it  will hopefully minimize the direct effect of the virus but may become an ingredient in escalated mental health incidents, reliance on substances to offset the anxiety, and increased violence within families with a disproportionate effect on women, children, the elderly and persons living with a physical or intellectual disability.

For example, researchers affiliated with UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh examined the effects of the 2008-2009 recession on young children (less than 5 years of age) by examining the rates of diagnosed abusive head trauma (AHT). AHT injures a child’s brain and is the leading cause of physical child abuse deaths for young children.  Data from 23 Pennsylvania counties revealed a 240% increase in AHT during the recession (8.7 per 100,000 children to 20.8 per 100,000 children) for all children 5 or younger and a 130% increase for infants under 1 year of age (46.0 per 100,000 to 61.7 per 100,000 children). For the children who survive this serious form of child abuse, there are extensive physical, emotional and fiscal consequences.

It is important to remember that victims are never to blame – people who commit acts of abuse and violence choose when, where, how and who they will harm. Under the stressful environment experienced nationally, this likelihood to commit harm increases.

At this time, our organizations share the following as public information because we care and are here to help when it may be needed most.  We encourage everyone to keep in mind that:

  • Research indicates that instances of all types of family violence increase following natural disasters and other crises and when families spend more time together, like during holidays. The COVID-19 crisis will be no different.
  • Domestic violence programs and rape crisis centers are considered life-sustaining businesses under the Governor’s order. Those needing assistance should know that help is absolutely still available.
  • Advocates are shifting practices to continue to serve survivors. This approach may include tele-counseling, remote court advocacy, and housing alternatives other than shelter and safe homes.
  • Law enforcement calls will likely increase for safety concerns during this time as situations escalate within the home due to shelter-in-place guidance.
  • Many individuals that experience abuse or violence do not report it to law enforcement. Many victims do not report experiences to friends or family either. While they may cite individual reasons, they all fall under the umbrella of not trusting the rest of us to respond appropriately.
  • If someone discloses to you that they were assaulted or abused, be supportive, never blame the victim, direct them to their local sexual assault center, domestic violence program or contact ChildLine to report suspected child abuse.
  • Be patient. Help, hope, and healing are possible; but also can take time.
  • Promote respect, safety, and equality in your everyday actions.  This can be as simple as asking a friend not to make hurtful comments or jokes, teaching kids healthy boundaries, or always asking for consent with your partner in the case of avoiding sexual violence.  

Call on experienced and caring professionals in your community to help:

  • Contact a sexual violence center by calling 1-888-772-7227. There is also information on services available at the county level during the pandemic.
  • Contact a domestic violence program by calling 1−800−799−7233. PCADV also has compiled a list of resources specific to COVID-19.
  • Victims of domestic violence and other crimes who are not currently in crisis, but are seeking civil legal information and referrals can contact or 1-833-727-2335.
  • For suspected child abuse, contact 1-800-932-0313 for the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (DHS)’s ChildLine to report suspected abuse or file a report online at


For PA Coalition Against Domestic Violence contact: Julie Bancroft,, (717)

545-6400 x120

For PA Coalition Against Rape contact: Jim Willshier,, (717) 712-8815

For The Center for Children’s Justice contact: Cathleen Palm:, (717) 215-1440