COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Hundreds of children 15 and younger were reported as raped or sexually assaulted in central Ohio in the first six months of 2022.

To learn the scale of the problem, NBC4 examined police records for the first six months of the year and found that 218 children reported they had been raped or sexually assaulted: 172 were girls, and 46 were boys.

Statistics came from Columbus police by reviewing incidents under the heading of "rape/sexual assault; victim 15 or younger." The addresses were redacted, but records showed officers responding to calls not just in Columbus but for mailing addresses in Powell, Dublin, Blacklick, Reynoldsburg, Lewis Center, Pickerington, Hilliard, Worthington, and Galloway.

It was unclear whether those incidents were within Columbus' jurisdiction or if officers were assisting other agencies. What also is unclear is how many incidents have gone unreported.

"What we know from research is that only 30% of people will ever disclose in their lifetime," said Dr. Christie Jenkins of the Ohio Network of Children's Advocacy Centers. "If you think about that -- kids are 0 to 18, but disclose in your lifetime could be 100.

"We may never see at least 70% of people who have been sexually assaulted and molested. They just tend to not disclose."

Should sexual violence against children continue at the same pace, Columbus police will have responded to an estimated 400 reports involving children 15 years or younger by the end of the year.

Seasonal cycles

The Ohio Network of Children's Advocacy Centers, which operates 27 centers, said it saw 6,717 sexual abuse cases across Ohio in 2021 for children ranging from birth to 18 years old.

Columbus reports showed month-over-month increases during the spring in the number of children who reported a rape or sexual assault with police responding on the day of the incident: March (18), April (20), and May (25), compared with a fall-off in June (11) when schools are out.

“A lot of schools will do our curriculum at the end of the school year because they have to get it in," Jenkins said. "When they do the curriculum, we know that it works because people come to the Children’s Advocacy Center and tell us that they’re telling because they saw the programming. Many kiddos come to us and disclose because of that.” 

The Adverse Childhood Experiences study conducted by the CDC said that: "About 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 13 boys in the United States experience child sexual abuse. Someone known and trusted by the child or child’s family members perpetrates 91% of child sexual abuse."

Jenkins said not speaking up is sadly common.

"They're fearful that they're going to get hurt, that their family's going to get hurt," she said, "that someone won't believe them, that they've done something wrong to cause this. And so they do not speak up."

Who to call?

Police don't get involved in every case of child sexual abuse. Sometimes it will be the role of county children's services to handle it.

"If a child makes a disclosure but doesn't remember who it was, or doesn't know who it was, or can't make a clear disclosure of the person, then law enforcement would not get involved because there's no identifiable perpetrator," Jenkins said. "Children's services would be involved because they want to protect this child -- they want to make sure that the guardians are protective."

An example would be if the child said their mother had men going through the house and they couldn't identify which person abused them.

"The police don't have anything to go on, but children's services will make sure that mother is … not having people running through her house, making sure she knows who's coming in and out," Jenkins said.

How to get help

If you believe a child is a victim, report it immediately and, in the first 72 hours, take the child to Nationwide Children's Hospital emergency room for examination and to begin the process of getting support. If you don't live in Columbus, go to your local emergency room.

If you think you might have been sexually assaulted or raped, tell a trusted adult like a teacher, coach, the school nurse, parent, or guardian. Call the Ohio Sexual Violence Helpline at 844-644-6435 to talk it over with someone. Don't like to call? You can text privately instead to RAINN, the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network.

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 counseling.

NBC4's Maeve Walsh, Mark Feuerborn, and Stephanie Thompson contributed to this report.

About this series

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