CHARLESTON, WV (WOWK) – Child abuse complaints are up 20% over the past five years in West Virginia, according to the West Virginia Child Advocacy Network (WVCAN).
A couple of risk factors can leave children susceptible to child abuse, including poverty, isolation and drugs. The WVCAN even says that West Virginian children are five times more likely to be drug endangered than the average kid across the U.S.
In the last six months, there have been several high-profile child abuse cases in West Virginia.
Last week, two kids were found locked in a barn near Sissonville. Authorities say they were left with no running water, no bathroom, and no way to leave.
Kanawha County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Debra Rusnak called the case “despicable” during the adopted parents’ preliminary hearing.
“Frankly, I was mortified to hear the facts of this case and what is alleged,” Rusnak said. “It’s quite disturbing…What these children were going through is frankly horrifying and despicable. There’s no other way to describe it.”
In July, a two-year-old boy was found dead in Dunbar. Investigators say he suffocated against a mattress on top of a playpen when the babysitter was in another room. The babysitter, Brittany Napier, has been charged with child neglect causing death.
Also in July, an eight-year-old girl jumped out of a second-story window in Calhoun County and ran away from her home barefoot. She told authorities that she had not eaten in three days and that her parents did not want her anymore. The parents – Ellio and Ryan Hardman – were arrested and their children were taken away from them.
In May, two-year-old twins were found in a state of extreme malnutrition and dehydration. They were allegedly being locked in a room for weeks at a time by their own parents. Lylee and Michael Gillenwater, and Brian Casto were taken into custody.
Experts like Kate Flack warn that most of the time, abusers are the people that children love and trust the most.
“The majority of people who abuse children know the children and are caregivers or are in positions of trust,” Flack said. “Those children who are often being abused oftentimes are being abused by the ones who care for them.”