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Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions S. 771

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Location: Washington, DC

STATEMENTS ON INTRODUCED BILLS AND JOINT RESOLUTIONS

S. 771. A bill to improve the investigation and prosecution of child abuse cases through Children Advocacy Centers; to the Committee on the Judiciary.

Mr. BIDEN. Mr. President, I rise today to introduce a bill that I believe will bring renewed focus to the battle against child abuse and the services we provide child victims of crimes. Today, I am introducing the Victims of Child Abuse Act of 2003, which reauthorizes the Children's Advocacy Centers. These centers bring together law enforcement, prosecutors, child protective services and medical and mental health professionals to provide comprehensive, child-focused services to child victims of crimes. Operating in all 50 States, Children's Advocacy Centers served over 116,000 child victims last year. Of these victims, 26,934 received onsite medical exams, 27,684 received counseling and 69,443 went through a forensic interview process specially designed for children. Seventy-six percent of the children they serviced were under the age of 12.
In 1994, this body passed a piece of legislation that I authored and had been advocating for a number of years, the Violence Against Women Act. When we passed this landmark legislation, what we said as a Congress, and were saying as a Nation as a whole, was that domestic violence is not a family problem to be dealt with quietly behind the scenes, but a national crisis in need of a coordinated response from law enforcement, courts and the medical community. Backed by a nearly $1½ billion commitment of Federal funds, the Violence Against Women Act spurred a sea change on the Federal, State and local levels in how police, prosecutors, judges, medical personnel and others, process and handle cases of domestic abuse. The Violence Against Women Act made it clear that victims of domestic violence were, in fact, victims: Victims in need of the full extent of this nation's medical and legal resources. The bill I am introducing today is designed to bring this same type of concentrated focus, general awareness, and coordinated response to victims of child abuse, the most heinous and incomprehensible form of violence against the most vulnerable and innocent people in our lives.

In 1987 Congressman BUD CRAMER, then District Attorney of Madison, County, AL, founded the Nation's first Children's Advocacy Center. As stated earlier, these centers bring together law enforcement, prosecutors, child protective services and medical and mental health professionals to provide comprehensive, coordinated services to child victims of crimes. Congress responded several years later. As Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, I sponsored, along with Senator THURMOND, the Crime Control Act of 1990, P.L. 101-647, which created the Court Appointed Special Advocates, (CASA), program, to provide for the appointment of advocates on behalf of abused and neglected children. Two years later, Congress created the Children's Advocacy Centers as part of the 1992 reauthorization of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974, P.L. 102-586. The 1992 legislation amended the Victims of Child Abuse Act to include Child Advocacy Centers with a fiscal year 1993 total authorization level of $20 million and such sums as necessary for fiscal years 1994 through 1996. In particular, Senator NICKLES and Representative CRAMER were instrumental in championing the Children's Advocacy Centers. The Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act of 1996, P.L. 104-235, reauthorized the Children's Advocacy Centers through fiscal year 2000 but made no substantive changes to the program, nor did it provide specific authorization levels.

[Page S4713]
The Children's Advocacy Centers were a logical complement to the CASA program I authored in 1990, by bringing together law enforcement, prosecutors, child protective services and medical and mental health professionals to provide comprehensive, child-focused services to child victims of crimes. The centers provide immediate attention to the young victims of sexual and physical abuse, so that they are not "twice abused," first by the perpetrator and second by a system which used to shuttle them from a medical clinic to a counseling center to the police station to the D.A.'s office.

Communities with Children's Advocacy Centers report increased successful prosecution of perpetrators, more consistent follow-up to child abuse reports, increased medical and mental health referrals for victims, and more compassionate support for child victims and their families. Widely cited as an efficient, cost-effective mechanism of handling child abuse cases, these centers are widely supported by police, prosecutors and the courts. In a May 1998 publication titled, New Directions from the Field, the Department of Justice included Children's Advocacy Centers as their number one recommendation for improving services to children who directly experience or witness violence in their homes, neighborhoods and schools—number one.

Today in my state of Delaware, there are two operational Children's Advocacy Centers. One is located in Wilmington and one is located in Milford. A third center is scheduled to open in Dover. These centers provide a safe, comfortable setting in which cross-trained professionals interview alleged victims and begin initial investigation and evidence collection. Like other centers they offer on-site physical exams by specially trained pediatricians, prosecutors on hand to make immediate contact with victims and families, referrals to mental health services and most importantly, one-time minimally intrusive taped interviews of child victims. This last service, one-time minimally intrusive taped interviews, is particularly important. Let me read to you from a letter I received from John Humphrey, a retired police officer who now acts as executive director of the Delaware Children's Advocacy Centers, to demonstrate why:

    I am a retired New Castle County Police Lieutenant that for 12 of my 21 years investigated child abuse and child death cases. One of the most important pieces of the entire case is the interview of the child victim. .    .    . Often times I saw children subjected to at least 3-4 interviews by 3 or 4 different interviewers, all with varying levels of interviewing expertise. The end result is three or four versions of events .    .    . answers vary because of the manner in which questions are asked and the skills of the interviewer. .    .    . Defense attorneys use that alone to poke holes in a child's story. .    .    . Children's Advocacy Centers bring all of the involved parties to the table at the same time to work as a team. .    .    . We use forensic interviewers specially trained in interviewing children. .    .    . This results in video taped interviews of such quality that most defense attorneys are asking for pleas to escape trial. We are getting good pleas with good sentences. Most importantly, this process minimizes the trauma a child victim and witness must endure by doing one interview of such quality that the child may be spared from walking into a courtroom full of strangers to tell what happened. I would have given anything as a police detective to have a children's advocacy center. It expedites the process, minimizes the problems associated with duplicative and unnecessary interviews, opens the lines of combination between agencies, and provides the best professional assessment of a case.

Last year Children's Advocacy Centers in Delaware handled 1,000 cases where child victims as young as 3 alleged physical or sexual abuse. Mr. Humphrey estimates that the centers eliminated 2,500 unnecessary interviews by using the multidisciplinary approach.

The child abuse and crime statistics in this country are outrageous. Nationally, 3.9 million of the nation's 22.3 million children between the ages of 12 and 17 have been seriously physically assaulted and one in three girls and one in five boys are sexually abused before the age of 18. We have to do more to protect our children, by reauthorizing Children's Advocacy Centers we can.

I want to believe that we are doing everything we can to prevent crimes against children and, if God forbid they do occur, that we are doing everything we can to treat the victims. This piece of legislation would do just that.

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