Instincts can be infinitely valuable to a parent, partner and spouse.
Too often, people continue to suffer when the "gut feeling" is disregarded, said Rick Azzaro, chief services officer for Access-York's victims assistance center and a licensed clinical social worker.
"Children will let you know by their behavior, not always by their words, but by their behavior," he said, explaining how people can spot sexual abuse in a child.
The high-profile court case and conviction of former Penn State coach Jerry Sandusky has kept York County human services workers busy with referrals and new cases.
It also, Azzaro said, can serve to demonstrate what to do and what not to do when child sexual abuse is suspected.
In most child sex abuse cases, the abuser is a family member. It's not uncommon, then, for a family member to also be the person tasked with exposing the abuse, Azzaro said.
But there are complicated dynamics at work when a spouse has suspicions, he said.
For instance, it might be hard for spouses to report suspected abuse, especially if they know it will devastate their family, he said.
Far more productive would be a spouse or family member who confronts the issue and faces the consequences, Azzaro said. Such cases, though, are less likely in his office's caseload, he said.
Weekly investigations: There are about 10 new cases of child sexual abuse investigated each week in York County, said Phillipa Hiden, victim/witness coordinator in the York County District Attorney Office's Child Abuse Unit.
About a third of those cases are prosecuted, she said, and they range from inappropriate touching, such as kissing, to rape.
There's been an increase in reports over the past several months, likely the influence of attention placed on the issue because of the Sandusky case.
"I think people are feeling more encouraged to make a report," she said. "Just take for example in that case the adult victims who have come forth years later. It makes people think there can be something done, that there can be some closure."
Amy Eyster, a senior deputy prosecutor in the District Attorney's Office, said the statute of limitations runs out on a person's 50th birthday, but that's dependent on when the incident occurred. People who are uncertain about whether their case could still be prosecuted should come forward and talk to a prosecutor, if only to help other potential victims, she said.
Azzaro said healing can occur independent of or in conjunction with legal action.
"Justice is just one part of the healing and recovery," he said. "It's not always a court pronouncement."
Hiden said it's not unusual for her office to hear from, for example, people who are 42 years old and want to talk about the abuse they experienced.
More being helped: The number of abuse referrals in York has been on the rise since November and peaked in January, said CarrieAnn Frolio, assistant director of the York County Office of Children, Youth and Families.
There were 407 referrals in January 2012, up from 193 referrals in January 2011, she said.
"That means there are more at-risk kids being assisted," she said. "We're glad the community has responded."
Azzaro said the caseload in York is mostly male abusers with female victims, but he suspects the male victims are underreported.
"I think that has more to do with the stigma around the masculine qualities of, 'Suck it up and deal with it,'" he said. "That's the message we send to our boys. I think our community is a little more comfortable with female victims than they are with male victims."
He said he won't be surprised if the Sandusky convictions spur more reports from males, "so that's at least one good thing."
-- Reach Christina Kauffman at firstname.lastname@example.org.