PENN TOWNSHIP — Three more children have been identified as victims who claim they were sexually assaulted by a Delaware County man at his in-home day care in Penn Township, police said Thursday.
James Anthony Battista is being held at Chester County Prison in connection with the rape of a 3-year-old child at his in-home day care, called Little Friends Daycare, located at 2761 Newark Road in Penn Township.
Battista, 64, of Folmac Circle in the Drexel Hill section of Upper Darby, was arrested on Wednesday during a traffic stop in Drexel Hill. He was arraigned and remanded to the Chester County Prison on $500,000 straight bail pending a preliminary hearing on March 19.
Battista has been charged with rape of a child, unlawful contact with a minor, aggravated indecent assault, indecent assault, and endangering the welfare of children.
Police began an investigation last year after they received a report of a child being sexually abused at the in-home day care run by Battista from 2006 to 2009. As a result of that investigation, three more children have been identified as sexual assault victims, police said. The ages of the four victims range from 3 to 7.
The day care was closed in 2009 and Battista moved to Delaware County in 2010.
Police believe that based on the months-long investigation and interviews conducted, there may be more victims. The public is being asked to contact the Pennsylvania State Police – Avondale Barracks at 610-268-2022 with any information related to other victims and other incidents with Battista in the tri-state area.
The Chester County District Attorney’s office reported Thursday that the number of child abuse reports in 2018 stabilized.
In 2013 and 2014, in response to the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State, sweeping changes were made in Pennsylvania laws regarding the reporting of suspected child abuse. The new laws expanded the category of people considered "mandatory reporters” who are required to report any suspected child abuse. Mandatory reporters were expanded to include all school employees, health care providers, child care providers, and other new categories. The new laws also expanded the definition of child abuse.
As a result, the number of reports of child abuse increased dramatically. With the increase in reports, the number of forensic interviews, which are interviews of children specifically designated to both protect children and elicit the truth, also increased, according to statistics provided by the Chester County District Attorney’s office.
In 2014 in Chester County, there were 414 reports of child abuse. By 2018, that number rose to 1,983. The number of forensic interviews increased as well.
"In Chester County, we are lucky that the District Attorney's office had the resources and foresight to deal with these increases,” said Megan King, the deputy district attorney in charge of the Child Abuse Unit. “Working as a team, we have vastly improved our ability to investigate and prosecute child abuse cases. Chester County now stands as a leader in the field of child abuse prosecutions."
Every child abuse case in Chester County is reported to the Chester County Detectives, the investigative arm of the District Attorney's office. The detectives and prosecutors assigned to the Child Abuse Unit then assess the cases to decide which cases should be handled directly by the Chester County Detectives and which can be addressed by municipal police departments or the Pennsylvania State Police.
Tom Hogan, Chester County district attorney, said many resources have been put into child abuse investigations in recent years.
"When the law in Pennsylvania changed to vastly increase the number of child abuse reports, Chester County responded immediately,” Hogan said. “We doubled the number of child abuse detectives and prosecutors. We added bi-lingual investigators. We added support staff. We improved our facilities and technology. As a· result, the Chester County child abuse team was able to stay on top of the surge in child abuse reports, continuing our critical mission of protecting children."
Sergeant David Sassa, the Chester County Detective who supervises the Child Abuse Unit, said, "We have made outstanding progress in the last few years in our ability to handle child abuse cases. We follow a vertical prosecution model, which has detectives and prosecutors working together the moment a case is reported. We have top-flight medical experts working with us, allowing us to delve deeper into child abuse cases than ever before. I am proud to say that we have created one of the best child abuse units in Pennsylvania."
"We weathered the worst of the storm,” Hogan said. "With dedicated prosecutors and detectives who stood their posts and worked together, we emerged as a stronger and more efficient Child Abuse Unit. When things got tough, we never quit. Protecting children is now, and forever will be, one of the top missions of the Chester County District Attorney’s office."
Deb Ryan, a Democratic candidate for Chester County District Attorney, who for years was the Deputy District Attorney in charge of the Child Abuse Unit said there were steady improvements in how child abuse cases were prosecuted.
"I am proud of the collaborative work done by the specially trained prosecutors and detectives who work tirelessly to ensure the safety of our community's most vulnerable population," she said. "But our work is not done. Chester County has seen an increase of more than 760 percent in child abuse allegations over the past 8 years. During that same time period, few additional resources have been provided to the Child Abuse Unit by the current administration. With almost 60 more child abuse allegations over the past two years, I fail to see how things have stabilized in this county. More children are being hurt each year and we must do everything in our power to protect them."