The Dauphin County Commissioners hosted a virtual community forum Thursday night to educate the community on child abuse and sex trafficking and how to prevent it from happening in the community.
This forum comes after a 16-year-old boy was shot and killed in broad daylight by a registered sex offender almost two weeks ago, police said. Kyan King’s alleged shooter, Orlando Duarte, was charged with criminal homicide and unlawful firearm possession.
In the weeks following his death, King’s death sparked community activism and outrage. County Commissioner George Hartwick said he wanted to bring together stakeholders and experts to make sure something like this doesn’t happen again.
“This entire community is stunned and outraged by this horrific tragedy,” Hartwick said. “We are shining a light on this despicable crime, bringing it out of the darkness so that we may save lives. Nothing is more important than protecting our children.”
A group of panelists that included local advocacy groups, Harrisburg city council members, attorneys, psychologists and police officers provided resources and information to the 120 attendees that will be posted to the county’s website in the coming days.
Harrisburg City Councilwoman Ausha Green said forming community watch groups, educating the children in the community, and speaking up if residents see something are among the top ways members of the community can help.
There are currently 26 neighborhood watch groups in Harrisburg. Those interested in joining or starting one from scratch can contact Blake Lynch, community policing coordinator, at Balynch@harrisburgpa.gov.
- RELATED: Concentration of sex offenders in Harrisburg is well-documented. How to address the issue isn’t that simple.
Last year there were 1,180 reports of child abuse and 171 of those claims were substantiated, Marisa McClellan, an administrator at Dauphin County Social Services, said. Those are “typical numbers,” and of those claims, 112 were made by females and 59 were male.
“Boys are much less likely to report abuse than girls,” McClellan said.
The reports of child abuse this year have decreased by 50% because children are not seen by mandated reporters like teachers. It’s that much more important to speak up if you see signs of abuse, she said.
Dr. Dawn Crosson, a clinical psychologist, said these stories in the community can cause vicarious trauma, which is the emotional residue of exposure that counselors have from working with people who have suffered trauma. She said it’s important to recognize symptoms of trauma like overwhelming anger or sadness, intrusive thoughts and constant worrying.
“African Americans and people of color – we experience trauma at a disproportionate rate. Things like poverty, discrimination, systematic racism all can be considered traumatic,” Crosson said. “But sometimes we don’t often know or recognize what trauma is.”
- READ MORE: Here’s what you should know about Megan’s Law sex offender registry and what it can tell you
Hartwick said the community needs to support those seeking mental health resources and decrease that stigma.
“What I realize as I get older is those people that ask for help are the strongest individuals that I’ve ever come across because they’re willing to accept and humble themselves and stop cycles of issues that might have happened,” he said.
According to data collected through Megan’s Law, Dauphin County has nearly 900 registered offenders — a number much higher than neighboring counties and large for its population base.
Jen Gettle, Dauphin County Chief Deputy District Attorney, said Megan’s Law cannot prevent sex offenders from living in a given area. Certain parole restrictions can keep sexually violent predators from living in the same household as children and keep them from daycare centers and schools.
Local notification happens when a registered sex offender moves to a new residence, Gettle said. If you are new to an area, she said you need to check the Megan’s Law registry and keep an eye on your neighborhood.
Angie Fox, who is Rep. Patty Kim’s legislative assistant, said community members with questions regarding sex offender parole and notification systems should send them to email@example.com
Kim is meeting with the Deputy Secretary of Parole on Friday to find ways to change the law to better protect communities.
Here’s where you can report child abuse or sex trafficking anonymously:
- The ChildLine hotline at 1-800-932-0313
- Mandated reporters can access the Pa. Child Welfare Portal for electronic reporting