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Hearing of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Subcommittee on Children and Families - Breaking the Silence on Child Abuse: Protection, Prevention, Intervention and Deterrence

Statement

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

U.S. Senator Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), Chairwoman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Subcommittee on Children and Families, today convened a hearing, "Breaking the Silence on Child Abuse: Protection, Prevention, Intervention and Deterrence." The hearing is the first federal examination of child abuse laws following recent allegations of sexual abuse at universities and institutions across the country. The hearing examined the adequacy of current federal and state reporting requirements, as well as proposals aimed at better protecting against, preventing, intervening in and deterring child abuse.
"There have been too many examples in our recent history where children have been subjected to double abuse," Senator Mikulski said. "Where they are victimized by the initial abuse and then are victimized a second time when the abuse is overlooked, ignored or covered up in order to protect institutions that many consider beyond reproach or 'too big to fail.' Well, no institution should be considered 'too big to report' and no adult should ever feel that their job is to protect a brand or institution over the well-being of a child."
Witnesses included: Sheldon Kennedy, former NHL player and Co-Founder, Respect Group Inc.; Michelle K. Collins, Vice President, Exploited Children Division & Assistant to the President, National Center For Missing & Exploited Children; Frank P. Cervone, Executive director, Support Center for Child Advocated; Erin Sullivan Sutton, Assistant Commissioner for Children & Family Services, Minnesota Department of Human Services; Robert Block, President, American Academy of Pediatrics; and Teresa Huizar, Executive Director, National Children's Alliance.
Senator Mikulski's statement, as prepared for delivery, follows:
"This hearing of the Subcommittee on Children and Families 'Breaking the Silence on Child Abuse: Protection, Prevention, Intervention and Deterrence,' is called to order.
"I wish it weren't necessary to have this hearing today. I wish every child could be assured a safe and happy childhood, free from any form of abuse or neglect. Unfortunately that is not the case.
"Though this hearing will not focus specifically on the troubling allegations coming out of Penn State, Syracuse and the Citadel, these events -- which seem to get more and more horrific each day -- have brought the issue of child abuse and child sexual abuse to the forefront of our nation's consciousness.
"While many have been shocked by recent child sexual abuse allegations, I am not surprised. For two years, I worked as a child neglect social worker in Baltimore. I saw children at risk and in danger. I saw the permanent scars that abuse leaves on both the child and their family. Well, it was a searing and indelible experience, and one that I will never forget.
"Now, as Chairwoman of the Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations Subcommittee, I have fought for years to put money in the federal checkbook to protection our nation's children from trafficking and sexual predators through the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and the FBI Marshals. I am absolutely committed to putting the right bipartisan policies in place to protect children and prevent, intervene in and deter child abuse whether it be physical, psychological or sexual.
"And that is why we are here today.
"This hearing is going to be troubling and intense, but nothing is so troubling as a child who has been physically, sexually or emotionally abused, then abused again by individuals who don't report it -- individuals who abide by a 'code of silence' in order to protect the team, the institution or the brand.
"Today, we will hear from Mr. Sheldon Kennedy, a former professional hockey player who, for years, was abused by his minor-league hockey coach, a man he and his parents should have been able to trust.
"What is additionally troubling about Mr. Kennedy's story is that the abuse was allowed to continue despite a number of red flags. No one did anything to stop it. Maybe because the coach was known and well-respected. Maybe because people couldn't comprehend the evil right in front of them. Maybe because everyone who suspected something was going on assumed and hoped someone else would step in. Or maybe because we live in a world where we have allowed the reputation and success of our trusted institutions and organizations to become more important, more worthy of protection, than our children.
"The reputation of a coach who delivers wins and championships for a team and a sport revered across the world meant everything to the point where the safety of a child -- a young boy -- ended up meaning nothing.
"Unfortunately, Mr. Kennedy's story is not the first. There have been too many examples in our recent history where children have been subjected to double abuse. Where they are victimized by the initial abuse and then are victimized a second time when the abuse is overlooked, ignored or covered up in order to protect institutions that many consider beyond reproach or 'too big to fail.' Well, no institution should be considered 'too big to report' and no adult should ever feel that their job is to protect a brand or institution over the well-being of a child.
"My hope is that this hearing will point out what we need to do as the Senate Subcommittee on Children and Families. We felt it was important to hold this hearing to do two things:
"One is to get a better understanding of what children face today. Where are children being abused? Who is abusing our children? Why are adults reluctant to report suspected or known abuse? What is going on in our nation's most entrusted institutions? How does abuse affect our children and our families?
"The second is to discuss where we go from here. How do we work better to protect our children and prevent, intervene in and deter child abuse? And so we need to strengthen our federal laws in order to accomplish these goals?
"Our job is to ensure we have the right legislative framework with the right enforcement teeth in place to protect our nation's children from abuse. Today we will begin to look at these issues. One of the federal laws within this Subcommittee's jurisdiction is the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act or CAPTA. Originally enacted in 1974, CAPTA is the key piece of federal legislation that focuses on child abuse and neglect. It provides federal funding to states in support of prevention, assessment, instigation, prosecution and treatment activities related to child abuse and neglect.
"Historically, CAPTA's main focus has been on combatting child abuse at the hands of parents and caregivers. As a condition of receiving funding through CAPTA, states are required to have two things. They need procedures in place for receiving and responding to allegations of child abuse and neglect. They also need to have laws in place that define child abuse and neglect, and identify who is required to report abuse. State laws vary widely with respect to who is required to report abuse.
"In recent years, there has been discussion about whether Congress should implement stricter reporting requirements under CAPTA and whether CAPTA should be expanded to focus on all forms of child abuse -- not just abuse at the hands of parents and caregivers.
"It is my belief that every adult should be required to report known or suspected child abuse regardless of whether the abuser is a parent, caregiver, coach or teacher. If you see something, you should say something.
"However the solution is not that simple. For instance, Maryland has mandatory reporting for all adults, but we don't have criminal or civil penalties in place for non-reporting, rendering our reporting requirements essentially unenforceable.
"It is my hope that today's hearing will focus the discussion on some of these issues; and that our witnesses will provide recommendations for moving forward.
"Before I turn to Ranking Member Burr for his opening statement, I'd like to thank him for working with me on a bipartisan basis, which is how this Subcommittee always operates, to put together this important hearing. Senator Burr has a long history of working to protect vulnerable populations; specifically he has worked to ensure that those we entrust to care for our kids have had background checks.
"I'd like to recognize Senator Casey who first recognized that we hold this hearing and who has always been such a staunch and avid defender of children in Pennsylvania and nationwide. I would also like to thank all of our witnesses. They have travelled from all over North America -- Minnesota, Colorado, Oklahoma, even Alberta, Canada. We appreciate their participation.
"I would also like to acknowledge someone in the audience -- Ms. Lauren Book. She and her father travelled from Florida to be here today. For years, Lauren was a victim of child sexual abuse at the hands of her nanny. She founded an organization called 'Lauren's Kids' where she has worked to turn her horrendous experience into a vehicle to prevent what happened to her from ever happening to another child. I'm so glad she is here today, and I think her courage can teach her a lot.
"Finally, I'd like to thank every member of this Subcommittee, all of whom care deeply about the issues before us today, as well as Senators not on this Subcommittee such as Senator Barbara Boxer -- my dear friend and colleague who we will hear from momentarily. Senator Boxer has worked for years to develop legislation that protects women and children, and I look forward to hearing her thoughts this morning.
"As this Subcommittee considers how to move forward to ensure our laws can be better focused on protection, prevention intervention and deterrence of child abuse. It will be imperative that we work with congressmen and women like Senator Boxer and Representative Karen Bass (Calif.-33), who is in the audience today, who have both introduced bills intended to improve our nation's child abuse laws.
"With that, I turn to Ranking Member Burr for his opening statement."


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