MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - The number of reported child abuse cases in one Mid-South state has grown more than 40 percent in the past four years.
That’s hundreds of children in one state alone. WMC Action News 5 anchor Brandon Richard looked into the reason for the spike.
Sally Williams remembers it like yesterday. She was working as a courtroom administrator on a child sexual abuse case and listened to a recording of a conversation between the abuser and his young victim.
“And in that recording, you could hear him talking to the victim in the case and coaxing her and grooming her and telling her ‘I didn’t mean for this to happen, you’re a good girl. Of course this won’t happen again,'” said Williams. “But then as it went on, you heard him ask her questions. ‘But didn’t you like it? Didn’t it feel good?’”
Williams says from that moment she thought to herself, “Who’s taking up for this child?”
That question eventually led her to a new role as director of Healing Hearts Child Advocacy Center in Southaven. It’s where abused children in Tate and DeSoto counties tell their stories to specially-trained interviewers who gather information for investigators.
“There are certain ways questions need to be asked to make sure the child is able to tell their own words without someone trying to push them in another direction," said Williams.
She says last year more than 600 abused children told their stories, but the numbers keep going up.
WMC dug into several years of data that Mississippi provided to the federal government for the annual Child Maltreatment Report. We found the number of children who’ve experienced abuse in Mississippi grew 41 percent in just four years, the seventh highest increase in the country.
Child deaths also tripled during that time.
“And it’s almost a direct correlation to where we have done outreach,” said Lea Anne Brandon with the Mississippi Department of Child Protection Services.
The state says it launched an aggressive awareness campaign in recent years and has been working with schools and hospitals to make sure everyone knows how to recognize and report child abuse.
“As we have publicized that, we’re seeing more and more people getting involved and making reports,” said Brandon.
The state says while they’ve received more reports of child abuse, the number of substantiated claims has not dramatically increased.
But what about those child fatality numbers? Mississippi reported just 12 child deaths in 2013 but 40 in 2017.
“That’s another awareness thing that we have done working with local law enforcement to let them know that if they have a child death that occurs in their jurisdiction to please report it to MDCPS,” said Brandon.
In other words, if police respond to a scene where a child dies, like an accidental hot car death, that death is reported to CPS even if child abuse isn’t suspected.
MDCPS says it’s just another way to make sure they’re on top of things.
Williams says it’s good to see more people and agencies reporting possible child abuse to show children they matter.
“They need to know that they have a team behind them and that they aren’t alone and that there is hope and healing for them as well,” said Williams.
That’s why she does the work she does.
We also checked the numbers in Tennessee and Arkansas. Overall, reports of child abuse in those states are on the decline.