Molestation cases rise in summer

Richmond County sheriff's Investigator Thelma Gilchrist noticed an increase last month in child abuse and molestation cases, and some area criminologists say they think they know why.

"Too often, incidents of sex crimes such as child molestations occur when schools are not in session," said Kim Davies, a 13-year professor and chairwoman of Augusta State University's Psychology, Criminology and Social Work Department. "It happens when young people are not being supervised in the correct fashion."

And even though school is back in session, another factor that experts say can contribute to more child molestations -- a slumping economy -- persists.

"Summertime also provides more chances to molest -- and we simply trust people to watch our kids," Dr. Davies said, adding that tough economic times can cause families to choose less-costly alternatives for child care that might not be as reputable and could put children in harm's way.

For July, Richmond County police saw 15 child abuse and molestation reports, according to the Sheriff's Office's official Web site. In June, the figure was three. For the same time frame a year ago and in 2006, there were 11 such reports.

From January to July this year, the number of child abuse and molestation cases has stayed in line with that of the same seven-month period last year. However, Investigator Gilchrist said the number of such cases reported has increased drastically compared with several years ago.

Investigator Gilchrist said she also is seeing fewer perpetrators admitting to child molestation. She said that likely is because of tougher laws regarding those who are listed on a sex offender registry.

Fluctuations in child molestation cases also are evident in Columbia County, according to sheriff's Capt. Steve Morris.

For the first seven months of 2008, Columbia County reported 17 cases, six of which occurred in June and July. For all of 2007, 14 child molestation cases were reported. In 2006, the county saw 24 reports, he said.

Lt. David Turno, of the Aiken Department of Public Safety, said that so far this year all sex crimes are up. In the first seven months, 34 sex crimes have been reported compared with 26 for the same time frame a year ago. Lt. Michael Frank, of the Aiken County Sheriff's Office, said his department has seen no major increases in sex crimes.

Reach Timothy Cox at (706) 823-3217 or tim.cox@augustachronicle.com.

ONLINE LISTS OF OFFENDERS:

RICHMOND COUNTY: www.augustaga.gov/departments/sheriffs_office/registry_offenders.asp

COLUMBIA COUNTY: www.columbiacountyso.org/Index.aspx?page=2391

AIKEN COUNTY: www.icrimewatch.net/index.php?AgencyID=54291&disc=

GEORGIA: www.state.ga.us/gbi/otherlk.html

NATIONWIDE: www.nsopr.gov


TIPS FOR PARENTS

- Parents should have a good relationship with their child to ensure they will inform the parent if anything inappropriate happens.

- Frequently look at Web sites that list area sex offenders to make sure none have moved into your neighborhood.

- Get to know the people your child interacts with on a regular basis. Ask your child questions about what they do when they're away from home -- especially during overnight stays.

- Talk to your child about the dangers of sexual predators. Assure them that it's OK to say they feel uncomfortable around other people.

Sources: Dr. Kim Davies, chairwoman of Augusta State University Psychology, Criminology and Social Work Department; Richmond County sheriff's Investigator Thelma Gilchrist