McMahon, others urge education, vigilance to spot child abuse during lockdown
Kane County State's Attorney Joe McMahon and others are urging parents to talk to their children about sexual abuse while Illinois is under a COVID-19 stay-at-home order through the end of the month.
Officials worry the lesson of Erin's Law, which was signed in Illinois in 2013 and requires students in prekindergarten to grade 12 to be taught about sexual assault and abuse, won't be covered in schools during Child Abuse Prevention Month in April.
They also are concerned the stay-at-home order has temporarily removed the oversight of mandated reporters, such as teachers, social workers and others who are required to call the state's Department of Children and Family Services hotline at (800) 25-ABUSE or (800) 252-2873 if they suspect or are informed of abuse.
"(The stay-at-home order) isolates children who may be victims of physical or sexual abuse. That concerns all of us across the county," McMahon said Tuesday via Zoom conference during his monthly media meeting. "It creates an obstacle for mandated reporters."
Erin Merryn, a Schaumburg native who was abused as a child and worked to get the law passed in 37 states, predicted a spike in child abuse cases during the coronavirus pandemic. She urged local educators to incorporate Erin's Laws lessons into remote learning and if not, urged parents to talk to their kids.
"If we're all doing e-learning, this should be incorporated into it," Merryn said. "A lot of kids are afraid to come to Mom and Dad. Or they've been told (by their abuser) something might happen to their parents. This is the perfect opportunity to have that conversation."
Some online resources are available at preventchildabuseillinois.org and erinslaw.org/resources.
Deb Bree, executive director of the Kane County Child Advocacy Center, which investigates crimes against children, said 90% of child victims know their abuser in some way.
She said reports of abuse have definitely decreased since the stay-at-home order began March 20 but added more data was needed to provide an exact percentage.
She said the center is getting more reports of abuse from parents and families as opposed to mandated reporters.
"We're shutting them in -- possibly with their abusers," Bree said, adding neighbors should be vigilant of signs of abuse even with social distancing in effect. "Nobody has really ever faced this (situation)."