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'Unfortunately there will be something to report' | Police expect child abuse cases to rise as schools reopen

As Louisville students prepare to return to school full time, police wait and wonder whether it will reveal a horrifying and hidden reality of the COVID-19 pandemic.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The playgrounds are silent, crosswalks clear for passing driver and the classrooms empty for a full year and in an unassuming building near downtown, detectives wonder about whether that “quiet” will bring a flood of new reports.

“Some of the children do not have a voice and our mission in this unit is to get justice for these children," Louisville Metro Police Department (LMPD) Detective Michelle Rusch said.

Detective Rusch serves on LMPD's Crimes Against Children Unit, and is expecting an unfortunate increase of violence against children as schools reopen in Louisville. 

JCPS students are returning to in-person classes on a hybrid schedule beginning with elementary students in March and middle and high return in early April.

“We are anticipating an increase in reports when children go back to school because they are back in that environment where they feel safe and they are with people that they trust and it’s going to be easier for teachers, bus drivers and staff to see the outward signs of the abuse in the behavior of the children," Rusch explained.

A former social worker who joined the department specifically for this role, Det. Rusch has seen the stats. Early on during the COVID-19 pandemic, many states recorded double-digit percent drops in calls to child abuse hotlines.

In their annual report, Kentucky Youth Advocates cited Kentucky Department of Community Based Service's statistics, and found that from March 1 through June 30, 2020, the Commonwealth experienced a 29 percent decrease in reports compared to the same period in 2019. 

Intakes from school personnel dropped 70% during that time period as well.

RELATED: Kentucky coalition focuses on trauma-informed education when schools return

While the unit has continued to work the types crimes that breaks hearts, they prepare for what everyone suspects is waiting.

Away from the eyes and ears of caring school officials trained to sense tell-tale signs, disconnected from friends they may trust with a secret, advocates and investigators worry that crimes against children have gone unreported.

“I anticipate that once children are in their element, they’re going to have a safe space to report and unfortunately there will be something to report," Nicole Carroll said.

Carroll stands alongside victims of a wide range of crimes while serving as the Director of LMPD’s Victims Services Unit.

“People in general are very isolated right now," Carroll said. "So, I would anticipate that there is a lot of interpersonal violence happening, potentially moreso than there was prior to the pandemic simply because people are working from home people aren’t going anywhere.”

Added pressures of job loss and fears of an uncertain future, she says, increase risks.

Director Carroll offered advice for handling reports of abuse to anyone a child may trust to confide in:

  • Remain calm
  • Assure them it’s not their fault
  • Reassure them that you’re there to help
  • Tell them that you’re glad they trusted you
  • Offer comfort
  • Ensure them that they and you are safe
  • Tell them you can’t keep it secret
  • Be transparent

If you know a child who has been a victim of a crime you can call 911.

There are other reporting opportunities including LMPD's Victim Services Unit (502) 574-8788, Child Advocacy Center (502) 893-3900 or the State Child Protection Branch (877) 597-2331.

►Contact reporter Chris Williams at cwilliams@whas11.com. Follow him on Twitter (@chriswnews) and Facebook. 

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