ITHACA, NY – As one Tompkins County child sexual abuse case reached its end, another suspect was charged for a similar crime. It begged the question: just how common are these sorts of crimes in Tompkins County?

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The unsatisfying answer is that it’s really difficult to know.

“It’s hard to get a clear picture,” says Tiffany Greco, education director at the Advocacy Center in Ithaca. “It’s one of the most under reported crimes, so the numbers we have don’t actually reflect the reality. The real numbers are probably much higher.”

Greco reported that in 2014, the Advocacy Center served over 400 Tompkins County clients – adults and children of both genders – who experienced some form of sexual abuse. The exact breakdown isn’t available, but the number includes a substantial amount of child sexual abuse victims and adult survivors of child sexual abuse.

Additionally, there were over 2,000 calls to the Advocacy Center’s hotline. Advocacy Center representatives personally accompanied eight victims of child sexual assault to the hospital.

Pulling back to the national level, a 2011 CDC report provides some similarly disturbing statistics:

– 18 percent of women and 1.5 percent of men report being raped at least once in their lives
– 13 percent of women and 6 percent of men report experiencing sexual coercion at least once in their lives

Of those:

– 42 percent of female rape victims report being raped before age 18
– 30 percent of female rape victims were first raped between the ages of 11-17
– 12 percent of female and 28 percent of male rape victims were first raped at age 10 or younger

Reporting and repercussions

As noted, however, these figures don’t account for the many instances that go unreported. Greco elaborated on some of the reasons that a child might not report abuse: “They may have been threatened by their abuser, they may be afraid that they won’t be believed, and often the abuser might be someone that they know and trust,” she said.

Assuming that all those barriers are crossed and a child does report sexual abuse, what happens then? The answer, again, is somewhat unsatisfying.

“Every case is different, so it’s hard to say,” Greco explained. Many cases end in a plea deal and never see trial. In those situations, the alleged perpetrator may or may not end up on a sex offender registry. With the circumstances of each case being different, there’s simply no straight answer.

What can be done?

Greco stressed that, first and foremost, it’s the job of adults to keep children safe from abuse. Expecting a child in a vulnerable position to take action against their abuser is unrealistic. Adults should be paying attention and be aware of the signs that a child might be being abused.

To that end, the Advocacy Center has been taking part in the nation-wide “Enough Abuse” campaign. This campaign focuses on “providing adults and communities with the knowledge and skills they need to put an end to the silence.  And eventually, the epidemic [of child sex abuse].”

Related: How Tompkins County org fights domestic violence, child sexual abuse

Tompkins, along with Broome and Suffolk Counties, are the three pilot locations for this initiative in New York.

Since the inception of the program in Tompkins, over 300 community members have undergone training to help identify signs of child sexual abuse. Additionally, the program developed 15 trainers to help further educate the community, some of whom have gone on to become “Master Trainers” working with organizations statewide.

The Advocacy Center also aids victims of domestic violence. Greco encouraged anyone who is experiencing abuse or is aware of abuse occurring in their family to call the Advocacy Center’s free, 24/7 hotline at (607) 277-5000.

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Michael Smith

Michael Smith reports on politics and local news for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached via email at msmith@ithacavoice.com, by cell at (607) 229-0885, or via Google Voice at (518) 650-3639.