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February 28, 2013

N.H. sees increased child abuse

Awareness, better reporting may account for increase

New Hampshire’s child advocacy centers are seeing an increase in victims.

The Granite State Children’s Alliance released statistics yesterday showing a 3.8 percent increase year-over-year for child victims of crimes.

The state’s child advocacy centers handled 2,065 cases in 2012, up from 1,989 in 2011.

“We are seeing an increase,” alliance executive director Kristie Palestino said yesterday.

In Rockingham County, the year-over-year numbers were level at 348 cases, Rockingham County Child Advocacy Center executive director Maureen Sullivan said.

“We average about 350 cases a year,” she said.

At its offices in Derry and Portsmouth, the Rockingham County center already has handled 60 cases in the first two months of this year, she said.

Palestino said overall numbers tend to increase every year, though not because crime is changing.

“People are more aware of it,” she said, “talk more and more people come forward.”

The numbers represent reported cases, not actual numbers. Advocates believe the actual victim count is as much as 90 percent higher, but held down by stigma and other factors.

“It is shame, it is fear,” Palestino said. “Children keep things in to protect their families.”

“Only 10 percent report,” Sullivan said. “The hard part is this is a topic people like to sweep it under the rug.”

Even when the Penn State football abuse scandal presented a national awareness moment, people had trouble with it, Sullivan said.

“People didn’t want to talk,” she said.

Derry police Chief Edward Garone, one of New Hampshire’s longest serving chiefs, agrees the statistics represent a fraction of actual numbers.

“It’s certainly much higher than what is reported,” he said.

Garone speculates the increase this year reflects the ease of reporting made possible through the centers.

“I think parents and caretakers are more comfortable reporting because of the advocacy centers,” he said.

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