Hawaii saw child abuse and neglect cases soar in 2021

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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) — Child protection advocates and law enforcement officials say cases of child abuse and neglect have skyrocketed in the past year on the islands.

The Hawaii Children’s Justice Centers said in 2021 they interviewed more than 1,000 child victims of alleged abuse or neglect, up from 776 from the prior year period.

“When I look at the numbers across the state, I see more cases with more severe damage — kids going to the hospital, kids with other injuries,” said Jasmine Mau-Mukai, director at the of the Children’s Justice Centers of Hawaii.

Among the most serious cases that hit the headlines last year were the deaths of Ariel Kalua and Kytana Ancog.

It’s unclear whether either of those two deaths were part of the Children’s Justice Center statistics for 2021, but the alleged treatment of two girls has heightened public calls for more protections for children in abusive homes.

Prosecutors allege Ariel’s adoptive parents – Lehua and Isaac Kalua – starved her, kept her in a dog crate and taped her mouth and nose taped before she died.

Police alleged baby Kytana’s father – Travis Rodrigues – punched her in the face, shook her, then wrapped her body in a sheet and put her in a gym bag so a friend could get rid of his body.

The Kaluas and Rodrigues pleaded not guilty.

At a press conference on the release of the 2021 child abuse statistics, volunteers from the Oahu Girl Scout Troop line up 773 slippers on the driveway of the Nuuanu offices of the Children’s Justice Center in Oahu.

Each of these slippers represented a child who was helped by the center last year.

In 2020, the center helped 616 children. Mau-Makai said the number of children seeking help in the first months of 2022 is also on the rise.

This increase is partly explained by the fact that the children resumed learning in the classroom last year. Mandatory reporters can now better watch for signs of abuse and neglect, police said.

“Of course we had COVID and now everything is opening up — that’s definitely a reason,” said Lt. Vince Legaspi of the Honolulu Police Department’s sex crimes unit.

“They all go back to school and then they report it to their counselors or their friends.”

Lt. Jolon Wagner of the HPD Criminal Investigations Division’s Child Abuse Unit added that victims and family members are now more accustomed to reporting abuse when they see it.

“I think it gets reported more. I think that’s one of the things we’re seeing is that people are more willing to report it,” he said.

The release of the statewide abuse statistics comes as child protection advocates observe April as Child Abuse Awareness and Prevention Month.

Copyright 2022 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.

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