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High profile cases put spotlight on child abuse

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ROWAN COUNTY, NC (WBTV) -

The stories are awful and there seem to be so many of them.  Children abused, often at the hands of their parents or caregivers.

There are several examples playing out in courtrooms and law enforcement interview rooms in our area right now, but is the problem actually getting worse, or is there some other reason we seem to hear more about these cases?  And besides law enforcement, who's trying to stop it?

It may seem like a strange way to make a point about child abuse, but Bank of America Stadium seats a little more than 73,000 people.  If you were to fill it with all the children who were investigated as potential child abuse victims in North Carolina in 2012, you 'd have to fill the stadium, almost twice.

According to Prevent Child Abuse North Carolina, the number is 134,000, with 28 dying, and one local expert says that isn't even close.

"That is a huge number but unfortunately that is only a portion of what is getting reported," said Beth Moore, Executive Director of Prevent Child Abuse Rowan in Salisbury. "That number, as high as it is, is actually low compared to what is happening."

In dollars and cents the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention says one year of confirmed cases in the US costs $124 billion over the course of a lifetime.

Even right now there are cases of alleged child abuse being played out in courtrooms across the Carolinas, and take the case of 15 month old Malaya Huen in Kannapolis.   Beaten and sexually abused, she died last month in a case that even shocked veteran police officers.

"This was probably the worst assault case on a child that I've ever seen in my 31 years," said Kannapolis Police Chief Woody Chavis.

The case is going forward, according to Chavis, but so far, no charges have been filed.

With this and similar cases, many are asking if child abuse is happening more now than it did 25 to 30 years ago, or if society is just more aware of it?

"It was a different time back then, people realize that it is wrong and that children are suffering dearly because these cases are going unreported," Moore said, adding that the sooner a case is reported, the better chance that child will have at living a normal life.  "When a child is abused there are major dramatic stresses that they deal with in their lives and that will affect them the rest of their lives, so anything that you can do that will help them early on in the stages of the abuse to stop it in its tracks will help them down the road immensely."

Moore and her team work with things like play therapy to help abused children deal with what happened to them, but also to remind folks that in North Carolina if you suspect abuse, you are required by law to report it.

Moore says as bad as these high profile cases are, they can serve to raise awareness.

"I think the biggest thing is that people know that there is a place to run to," Moore added.

Experts say the first step is to call 911 to report suspected abuse, and you can contact your local Department of Social Services to report suspected cases anonymously.

In Salisbury, Prevent Child Abuse Rowan is holding an Open House on Thursday, March 4 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.  People will be able to tour the facility and learn how Prevent Child Abuse works with children in abusive situations.

Prevent Child Abuse Rowan operates from the Terrie Hess House, 130 Woodson Street in Salisbury.

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