(For Immediate Release February 9, 2023)
(Updated February 13, 2023)
Children’s Advocacy Centers of Pennsylvania applauds the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General for pursuing justice and healing for victims in the cases against five Pennsylvania men who have been charged with sexual assault of minors following a grand jury investigation. The criminal charges—announced on February 7 by the state’s Acting Attorney General Michelle Henry—were filed against individuals from Allegheny, Beaver, Butler, and Lancaster counties. At the time of the alleged abuses, which took place between 1998 and 2009, the perpetrators were involved with Jehovah’s Witness congregations and used family relationships and, in some cases, positions of influence to gain access to and allegedly sexually abuse children who were also members of those congregations. Anyone with additional information regarding these cases should make a report to the Office of Attorney General’s hotline at 888-538-8541. These cases are being prosecuted by Chief Deputy Attorney General Christopher Jones.
The allegations and details of abuse suggest patterns of grooming, exploitation, and victim-shaming that are often present in cases of child sexual abuse. Children’s Advocacy Centers (CACs) know cases like these all too well. In 2021, Pennsylvania’s CACs served 15,474 child victims of abuse. The majority of those cases involved sexual abuse. The hard reality is that at least 1 in 10 children will experience this type of abuse before they turn 18 years old.
The trauma of child sexual abuse can last a lifetime—but with appropriate intervention and support, child victims may heal from trauma and grow up to live healthy and happy lives. CACs exist to help make that possible. There are 41 local CACs in the Commonwealth—each of which provides a child-friendly, collaborative team response to abuse that prioritizes the child’s best interests at every step of the process. When a case is referred to a Children’s Advocacy Center, the CAC brings together all of the professionals who need to be involved—child welfare caseworkers, law enforcement officers, prosecutors, forensic interviewers, victim advocates, as well as medical and mental health professionals. The CAC provides a safe and welcoming place, a specially trained forensic interviewer who knows how to talk with children about abuse, medical evaluations to ensure health and safety, personalized victim advocacy to walk alongside children and their supportive caregivers, and trauma therapy for long-term healing.
CACs are the best model for responding to child abuse, and we are grieved that the victims in these cases—like so many in cases that go unreported—may not have received the intervention and support they deserved when their abuse was taking place. CACs across Pennsylvania are here to serve children who have experienced abuse—but, unfortunately, many cases of child abuse go unreported each year. Failure to report suspected abuse means that many children will experience ongoing abuse, and also increases the risk that other children will be abused by the same perpetrators. Anyone who is concerned about the safety of a child should immediately report those concerns to child welfare or law enforcement professionals. In Pennsylvania, all suspected child abuse should be reported to ChildLine at 1-800-932-0313.
The institutional nature of the abuse is a reminder that these crimes may occur within any religious community. We support child victims in our state from all faith backgrounds. In every case of institutional abuse, it is not the fact of a community’s faith that causes harm to victims; rather, that harm is caused by individual perpetrators of abuse, by failures to report abuse and safeguard children, and by institutional cultures that protect abusers and intimidate victims or witnesses.
Finally, we stand in solidarity with the victims who bravely came forward to disclose abuse. Their statements remind us of how isolated and alone victims of child sexual abuse often feel, bearing a burden of secrecy and shame that should never be anyone’s to carry—especially any child’s. We support all survivors of child sexual abuse—those that disclose as children, those who come forward as adults, and those who never have the opportunity to share their experience.
Children’s Advocacy Centers of Pennsylvania (PennCAC) is a statewide nonprofit membership association supporting 40+ Children’s Advocacy Centers (CACs) in the Keystone State. Our mission is to promote, assist, and support the development, growth, and continuation of the CAC model and a multidisciplinary response for the protection of Pennsylvania’s children. For more information about the CAC model, to find a local center, and to learn about the SHINE campaign to support survivors, please visit www.penncac.org.