Findings that child sexual abuse reports in Idaho went up in 2019 have made headlines, but advocates for child welfare say more reports could be a good sign. The Idaho Attorney General's annual report said there were 696 reported cases of child sexual abuse in 2019, up 103 from 2018.
But Holly Whitworth with Eastern Idaho Public Health said a rise in reported cases doesn't mean more cases are happening. In fact, she says reports could be rising because more people are willing to come forward and speak about abuse.
"The medical community, law enforcement, judicial, faith-based congregations and service congregations -- and including our schools and educators -- they're talking more about it and they're receiving more training about it. And I think that that's one of the reasons why you've seen this spike in the amount of cases,” Whitworth said.
Whitworth notes child sexual abuse is an under-reported crime, meaning the 696 cases in Idaho last year are a fraction of the total number of cases that happened.
Whitworth said it's important for adults to understand how they can prevent sexual abuse. The first step is knowing who is perpetrating it. She says in the overwhelming majority of cases, it is someone parents or guardians of a child know.
"So that tells us that parents need to remain watchful of the people that their children are spending time with, especially those that are in a position of trust,” Whitworth said.
Whitworth also said. it's important for adults to speak with their children about abuse and signs of abuse. She also points people toward Darkness to Light's Stewards of Children program, a statewide effort that offers training on prevention of child sexual abuse.