CHARLOTTE, N.C. - In 2013, a state law made it a crime to fail to report child abuse to authorities, but Channel 9 learned in Mecklenburg County, nobody has even been prosecuted under the law.
Channel 9 reporter Stephanie Coueignoux asked why, and exactly what the system is doing to protect some of the most vulnerable children.
Now an adult, it took years for Helen Goldsby to accept she had been sexually abused as a child. She says she never told and no one ever asked.
"It changes everything. It changes you forever and you can never get it back. You can never get that part of you back," she said.
To encourage adults to report child abuse of any kind, state legislators passed a law in 2013 making it a class 1 misdemeanor to fail to report child abuse or neglect.
- Learn the signs of child abuse
- Report suspected child abuse: 704-336-CARE
- How to report child abuse
- Pat's Place: Nonprofit that helps children who have been abused
When asked what message that penalty sends to survivors, Goldsby said, "I think it sends the message that our children aren't important enough to protect and report these types of activities."
Channel 9 looked at the numbers for Mecklenburg County and found nobody has ever been prosecuted under the charge. Statewide, just two people faced the charge last year, and neither were convicted.
Experts say proving someone has failed to report child abuse is challenging. Victims don't always speak out, and sometimes there are no witnesses -- and even if there are, details of who knew what and when may not be clear.
Goldsby said what is clear is the law isn't working.
"Heartbreaking, it's heartbreaking. We have a lot of work to do," she said. "It goes back to the law. It goes back to really dealing with our lawmakers."
Channel 9 found Mecklenburg County Department of Social Services currently has a backlog of 223 child abuse cases that date back to August of last year. While that's down from 640 nine months ago, DSS officials said budget cuts and employee turnover have slowed their efforts.
But Mecklenburg County has now hired three additional social workers and the state also plans to audit the department to review social work practices.
Kelly Stetzer, a Mecklenburg County assistant district attorney, said since child abuse is so under-reported, the county is also focusing on programs to prevent it.
"Education, combined with the mandatory reporting law, will really go a long way in having these cases reported in a timely fashion and then investigated,” Stetzer said.
The county is now part of what's called the "Positive Parenting Program" -- or PPP. The program trains doctors, members of the faith community and others to work with parents and help them identify child abuse and create a safe environment.
Goldsby said, in the meantime, it's everyone's responsibility to look for signs and speak up.
"It is our duty as human beings and it is responsible for us as adults to report instances of abuse – period,” she said.
Officials say PPP will end next year but anticipate a statewide rollout shortly after that. Channel 9 asked whether cases of reported child abuse have dropped since the program began but officials said it could take up to five years for results.