The Mississippi Department of Human Services (M.D.H.S.) reports that Harrison County is leading the state of Mississippi in the number of recorded cases of child abuse. The Child Abuse Prevention Center in Gulfport works with the majority of these child abuse cases and says there are preventive methods that can be used to decrease the number of cases in the area. Adrienne March is a mother of three from Gulfport. She says she was shocked to learn that Harrison County has the highest record of child abuse cases in the state. March says, "I think it’s everywhere. I just didn’t know it was as bad as it is here." M.D.H.S. reports 742 cases of child abuse in Harrison County in 2013, with Jackson County close behind with 551 reported cases. 742 is a very large number, and officials warn that number could be larger considering the amount of cases that go unreported.
Tiffany Lizana, a forensic child interviewer, says, "I wouldn't even want to guess, too many for sure. I mean, one is too many." The Programs Director at the South Mississippi Child Abuse Prevention Center, Keiana Lock, says the local economy plays a large role in the problem. Lock says, "In this area, there are a lot of economic strains still from Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill. There’s also a lot of family dynamics that are disruptive from different things like loss of a job, divorce." The center sees severe cases of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse, which they say tops the list. They say the perpetrators are usually someone in the family, and a child may not even know they're being abused. Lock also says, "The children actually don’t understand that it is abuse because it could be an uncle, you know he wants to touch or play a game and you don't really understand that it’s not a game."
Lock says one way parents can help protect their children is by talking to them and teaching them what are appropriate and inappropriate activities with others. March closes, "They have to talk to their children. They have to be okay with the school talking to their children. They have to make sure their children connect with somebody, preferably themselves." April has been proclaimed National Child Abuse Month, which should hit home for the Coast. All three southern counties combined make up 18% of all cases statewide.