COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — It’s never a child’s fault when someone is inappropriate with them or they are sexually assaulted, and experts can protect kids and their families once they know a problem exists.

“It is absolutely never, ever, ever your fault, and anybody who tells you that is a liar and is just wanting to continue to perpetrate against you,” Dr. Christie Jenkins of The Ohio Network of Children’s Advocacy Centers said. “And that’s why it’s so incredibly important to tell somebody — a trusted adult. And if you don’t trust your parents, they’re not being protective, tell somebody at school.”

The Ohio Network of Children’s Advocacy Centers said it saw 6,717 sexual abuse cases in 2021 for children ranging from birth to age 18. Additionally, NBC4 examined Columbus police records for the first six months of 2022 and found that 218 children reported they had been raped or sexually assaulted: 172 girls and 46 boys.

Although predators might make it seem that a child is the only one, Jenkins said the average perpetrator will have 100 victims in their lifetime.

Katherine Schiraldi, Director of Assessments Investigations for Franklin County Children’s Services, talked with NBC4 about what kids can do to report sexual assault or rape.

NBC4: Who do I tell?

Schiraldi: We would always want a child to have someone that they feel safe to go to, whether that be a parent, a grandma, a kinship provider, a teacher.

NBC4: What if I think my mom or dad or guardian can’t handle it? They’re just going to go crazy.

Schiraldi: Of course you should still tell a parent or guardian or someone whose job it is to keep that child safe. It doesn’t matter if there’s a perpetrator that says, “Don’t tell your parent because we’re going to be upset with them.” There’s always someone that a child can go to. So that we can get help for that child to make things better.

NBC4: What if the person said they’re going to come for me if I tell?

Schiraldi: You should still tell your parent or trusted individual at all times. There are a lot of people in our community, and within our families, that are willing and able to assist, and that will help a child to feel safe. That’s another reason that we have law enforcement involved in situations where it could be a criminal act.

Let the grownups in their life know and the trusted individual know so that we can put a stop to things and change the course of what is happening in their lives.

NBC4: Can I handle it myself?

Schiraldi: No, you cannot handle it yourself. There’s a lot of children who think they can handle this themselves. Children need assistance to make their way through this whole process. The thing is, there are kids out there, and especially adolescents, that think they can handle this themselves. But it can lead to suicide attempts, self-injuries. We want those kids to feel safe to go to someone and to be able to disclose this information so they can have a support system being built around them to help them get through this.

NBC4: They said no one would believe me.

Schiraldi: Perpetrators will tell children that. But it’s important that children understand that’s not accurate. People will believe them.

NBC4: When should I go to the hospital?

Schiraldi: If there is a sexual assault of a child and it is acute, they need to go to the emergency room immediately. What is acute is that it’s happened within the last 72 hours, then they need to go to the hospital.

If it’s not acute, we can schedule through the Center for Family Safety and Healing for an examination and the forensic interview that I was discussing. If a child has been sexually assaulted and a parent or guardian finds out about it, they need to go to the hospital.

NBC4: I told my teacher or my mom. What happens now?

Schiraldi: If the child discloses something to someone, a parent or teacher, and a referral is made to child welfare or child protective services, that referral is called into the hotline and that report is assigned to one of our service teams. We have a caseworker that’s assigned that will reach out to the family and make contact. What can happen with the child is that the caseworker may come out and ask them a couple questions about their disclosure, or they may talk to their mom or their dad or whoever might be their trusted individual about the child’s disclosure. At that point, what we like to see happen is to schedule that child at the Center for Family Safety and Healing.

And the reason that we do that is again, they’re one of our closest partners when we are assessing and investigating for child sex abuse. A forensic interviewer will interview the child, but in addition to that, the family will meet with a social worker that’s at the center, and the child will also have a comprehensive medical exam. From there, the family and the child may meet with our child welfare caseworker, and this all takes place in one stop. They only have to be interviewed one time.

Then the social workers that interview the family and hear the interview can assess the child for what types of services may be needed. Whether that’s intense therapy or in-home therapy, then referrals can be made for that child so they have appropriate services. Not only for the child but for the family, because child sex abuse affects the entire family.

Any time of the day or night you can call Franklin County Children Services to talk over what happened to you and get help from an expert: 614-229-7000.

Helplines for victims of sexual violence
Report Child Abuse is an Ohio hotline, with calls routed to law enforcement or children’s services in your county. Columbus Division of Police goes directly to Columbus law enforcement. The Ohio Sexual Violence Helpline gives support and crisis counselling.

About this series

NBC4 is doing a series of stories the week of Aug. 29, 2022, on children, rape and sexual assault.