(HARRISBURG) – In response to a troubling trend of increased child abuse cases following the mandated COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, Senator Lisa Baker (R-20) is working to establish the ‘Pennsylvania Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Program’ utilizing American Rescue Plan Act dollars.
Senator Lisa Baker explained that numerous reports have outlined the negative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic related to child sexual abuse and trafficking. Since the pandemic began over two years ago, communication and information technology have played an even more central role in people’s everyday lives, providing an opportunity for predators to become increasingly aggressive and putting children at greater risk.
“While many families were trying to balance working from home, and simultaneously caring for their children, the horrific reality is that many offenders had more time to organize and create content that is shared over the internet,” Senator Lisa Baker said. “At the same time, the reduced physical contact dictated by COVID safety measures severely hindered the ability of investigators and case managers to carry out certain child protection duties.”
Luzerne County District Attorney Sam Sanguedolce and his team of detectives alerted Senator Lisa Baker to the need for urgent action as a result of the doubling of cyber tips they have received from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. In addition to increases in searching, viewing, and distributing child sexual abuse material, there has also been a surge in online enticement and grooming behavior, adults blackmailing or threatening minors, and adults pretending to be minors for sexual purposes.
“We have seen an uptick in child abuse cases over the past decade, but the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a spike in abuse throughout our county,” Mr. Sanguedolce said. “Children did not have the opportunity to attend schools and day cares where the signs of abuse could be observed. Moreover, the predators, many of whom live in the homes with these children, had unfettered, unchecked access to the victims. This initiative will be a great help in protecting our child victims and saving lives.”
Senator Lisa Baker is proposing a grant program administered through the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency to help provide law enforcement and other frontline professionals, with the equipment, personnel, and training necessary to help safeguard our children. Organizations working to increase education and outreach to parents, children, and the community would also be eligible, and collaborative efforts among various agencies and disciplines would be encouraged.
“In recent years, we have fought against trafficking and exploitation by predators through increased penalties and improved child protections. Yet during the COVID-19 pandemic, these monsters expanded their methods for misusing technology to abuse and mistreat minors. It is imperative that we continue building on the protective network and mobilize resources to develop a long-term strategy to combat this ever-changing menace,” Senator Lisa Baker concluded.
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