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Rise in child abuse reports in Pa., N.Y., N.J. amid Penn State scandal

A students walks in front of the Old Main building on the Penn State campus Friday, Nov. 11, 2011, in State College, Pa. The Penn State University board of trustees who fired legendary football coach Joe Paterno and school president Graham Spanier are meeting Friday in the wake of the massive shakeup prompted by a child sex-abuse scandal.
Penn State logo, inset, as a student walks in front of the Old Main building on the campus Friday, Nov. 11, 2011, in State College, Pa. AP Photo/Matt Rourke
(CBS) - Penn State administrators and faculty may have remained silent about their suspicions that former coach Jerry Sandusky was molesting children, but in the wake of the scandal authorities in several states say they've seen an increase in the number of calls to their abuse hotlines.

In Pennsylvania, the State Department of Public Welfare received more than double the average number of reports of child abuse in the week after the scandal broke. According to spokesperson Anne Bale, in an average five-day period the department receives about 2300 abuse reports to its hotline; the week of November 7-11, they got 4,832 calls.

The same was true in neighboring New Jersey. According to Leida Arce, spokesperson for the New Jersey Department of Children and Families, calls to the state's abuse hotline have risen 40 percent since the end of October. Arce says that the hotline usually averages 450 calls a day, but from November 8 to 18 the average jumped to over 700.

The New York State Office of Children and Family Services did not have exact numbers, but assistant director of communication Susan Steele said there has been a "noticeable increase in call volume that seemed to spike around the Penn State story."

Further from the story's epicenter, the effect dwindles. The Los Angeles County Department of Child and Family Services told Crimesider they didn't believed they'd seen much change in their call volume since the Penn State story broke.

And Erin Gillespie, press secretary for the Florida Department of Children and Families says that the state's abuse hotline hasn't seen a significant increase since the Penn State story, but did see an uptick earlier this year, when the state was rocked by the brutal death of a 10-year-old girl at the hands of her foster parents in February. After that story hit the news, the department saw a 21 percent increase in calls the next month.

"Any time a news story brings attention to abuse, people start thinking more about the kids in their lives, looking for signs," says Gillespie.

Sexual abuse allegations represent just four percent of the calls to the Florida abuse hotline, according to Gillespie, as opposed to 12 percent reporting physical injury to a child and 25 percent reporting substance misuse by a child's guardian. In New York State, 65 percent of allegations are regarding neglect of a child, and just three percent reporting sexual abuse.

Complete coverage of the Penn State scandal on Crimesider