"People don't realize it's an epidemic," James DePelisi, CEO of the Broward Crime Commission, tells New Times. "People don't understand the magnitude of the problem."
The number of reported incidents has drastically increased in the past few years. According to DePelisi, the Child Protective Investigations Section at the Broward County Sheriff's Office reported 593 child-on-child sexual abuse cases in 2014. That is more than a 100 percent increase from five years before, in 2009, when there were 248 cases. The graph above charts the number of cases reported each year from 2006. Between 2013 and 2014, there is a clear spike in numbers. And it isn't a fluke. As of June 2015, 284 cases had already been reported, putting the year on track to be even higher than the year before. That is the reason DePelisi and the Broward Crime Commission have honed in on this problem.
It is estimated that minors account for half of all child-molestation cases each year. And, according to DePelisi and other child advocates, this is happening mostly among younger children, not teenagers. The majority of incidents happen when both children are between 5 and 8 years old. Unlike other cases of child sexual abuse, the perpetrators are oftentimes victims too. DePelisi points out that they are referred to as the "child initiator" and not more stigmatized terms like "juvenile sexual offender" for that reason. Most of the time, if the child is not being abused, he or she is neglected and is witnessing pornography, domestic violence, or parents performing sexual acts not behind closed doors.
Almost all cases (99 percent) happen during school hours. Government officials and investigators are aware of the prevalence of child-on-child sexual abuse. It's "Main Street" that DePelisi says needs to be more vigilant. Most parents and teachers don't know about this issue unless they've been involved in an incident. The Broward Crime Commission is launching a study to further explore the issue. The findings will be released in August.
"We're talking about helpless victims," DePelisi says. "We tell our kids to make nice and learn how to play, to develop social skills, but there might be some other boy who was abused who is going to act that out on the innocent child you're sending to school every day."