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Liberty students bring awareness to rising child abuse in Lynchburg

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LYNCHBURG (WSLS 10) - The amount of children suffering abuse and neglect in the City of Lynchburg is on the rise.

That's according to numbers released Wednesday by Court Appointed Special Advocates, or CASA of Central Virginia.

Now, students at Liberty University are helping bring awareness to this major issue right outside their campus.

Law student Elizabeth Rerick says through her studies, she and a fellow student learned that Lynchburg is much different than its surrounding counties when it comes to child abuse.

The number of verified cases in the City dwarfs even the next highest county around, Bedford, by more than 200 cases in 2015 alone.

Rerick says the first step to solving this growing problem, is letting everyone know there is one.

Six hundred sixty four children in the City of Lynchburg were abused, neglected, or exposed to drugs in 2015.

That's almost two children every day, and 47 more than the year before.

"If statistics hold true, every one of us, every day, is coming into contact with people who are abused," said Rerick.

Rerick says the pinwheels she and her peers have placed on Liberty's campus represent every one of those children.

"Instead of just a statistic, it's a name, it's a face, it's a child," said Rerick.

Cristy Horsley is one of the CASA advocates responsible for trying to make the best of a bad situation for hundreds of kids.

She says she's seen it all.

"These numbers reflect children who are abused or neglected. So that can encompass things like medical neglect, where children are not receiving medical care. Dental decay that's not being addressed. Also, it can include physical abuse," said Horsley.

Horsley says she doesn't know for sure why Lynchburg has such a problem, but she does have a guess.

The city's poverty rate, at almost a quarter of its population, is in the bottom 15 localities in the state.

"I don't think poverty necessarily causes child abuse, but poverty can definitely be a stresser that contributes to it," said Horsley.

To fight the problem, Horsely says awareness has to be coupled with action, but she says that effort should be on the part of friends, neighbors, and even co-workers.

"I've seen cases where, again, an at-risk family has a relationship with a family in their church, and the church family is able to kind of take them under their wing and provide financial support or diapers or, again, positive role models," said Horsley.

Role models who look out for others in need.

That's what Rerick says she hopes to accomplish through her work.

"The numbers are shocking, the statistics are shocking, but the point of bringing that to a college campus or to any number of people that might not be aware that it's happening, is to teach them how to be aware, to know the signs to look for," said Rerick.

Rerick and her peers aren't stopping with their pinwheel garden.

The students in the Liberty School of Law are hosting a seminar featuring a survivor of abuse Thursday night, and a family night on friday.

If you or someone you know wants to report abuse or find services, you can go to cvcasa.org or call 1-800-552-7096.