Doing More To Prosecute Child Abusers

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Imagine being an elementary or preschool teacher and asking one of your students, “Why are you so upset this morning? Did something upset you on the way to school?” Then, imagine the shock of hearing the child’s description of how they were sexually abused, and had been many times. Then imagine the frustration when you learn the child’s statement, made to you, cannot be provided in a court of law and the abuser may never be brought to justice. 

I believe as parents, grandparents, teachers and leaders, we all hold our children as precious. We celebrate their birth and we cherish their futures. If we are to be successful in helping them flourish we must be vigilant in protecting them. Just as we ensure they are fed, clothed, and sheltered, we
must keep them safe. 

One, if not the most reviled and repugnant acts we will ever hear about are instances of the sexual abuse of children. It is so repulsive that unless we are required to be involved, as a parent, counselor, health care provider or law enforcement official, we will avoid addressing this offensive topic.

But we cannot allow our senses to become numb. We cannot ignore these young victims. We must lend our voice so the child who cannot speak, who is intimidated, ashamed, and afraid to speak still has a voice. For these children, these innocent and helpless victims of sexual abuse, we must do even more. I applaud Sen. Ken Yager and Rep. William Lamberth for their efforts to do exactly that. 

I know this is a difficult but necessary task. I worked for three years to take a first step by passing legislation in 2009 that allows a videotaped interview with a child victim to be used as evidence in a criminal trial. Now, because of the commitment of Rep. Lamberth and Senator Yager, and the dedication of retired District Attorney Paul Phillips, now legal counsel to the Elgin Foundation for Children, legislation has been approved that will enable a court to hear a statement made by a child under 12 given to a caregiver, parent or other person in whom the child confided. It is an
important step forward. 

The legislation allows a court to consider the circumstances as a whole and to assess if the statements are trustworthy. Factors a court will consider include: spontaneity of the statement, consistency, mental state, motive or lack of motive, use of language a child would use and amount of time between the statement and the abuse. In addition, a court would have to find there
was independent proof of the sexual abuse before allowing the child’s statement. 

Children who are sexually abused are impacted in a way that few of us can imagine. We must break the silence that is imposed as families and caregivers attempt to deal with the abuse themselves, without the help of the justice system. While counseling may help sexually abused children to overcome their experience and intervention programs may help parents and caregivers cope with failure to discover or prevent the abuse, perpetrators are rarely stopped unless – and until – they are brought to justice. 

The progress made by my 2009 legislation, that allowed the child’s videotaped description of their abuse was an important step in protecting our precious children. The Yager / Lamberth bill that allows a child’s statement to be provided by someone the child trusted and confided in is an excellent next step as we continue to fight for justice for our children.  

Diane Black


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