Taking bold action to ensure that Delaware law protects children from abuse and neglect, Governor Jack Markell today signed legislation spearheaded by Attorney General Beau Biden and child advocates that enacts tougher penalties against child abusers.
"To be effective in protecting children our laws must recognize that child victims, especially very young children and those with intellectual and physical disabilities, are especially vulnerable and need extra protection," Attorney General Biden said. "Along with the ongoing efforts among law enforcement, parents, advocates, and ordinary citizens across our State to recognize, report, and prevent child abuse, the protections and tough penalties in this law will go a long way to help keep kids safe."
"The safety and well-being of our children is paramount," said Governor Markell. "While we already have many protections in place, this bill further strengthens and expands those efforts. Our children rely on us to shield them from harm and hold those who hurt them accountable, and we continue to work together to live up to that expectation."
Senate Majority Leader Patricia Blevins, a longtime advocate for Delaware's children, sponsored the measure, which she thinks will give children greater protection.
"Creating a crime of child abuse will better tailor our laws to meet the needs of children, especially infants and toddlers as well as children with developmental disabilities," said Blevins, D-Elsmere. "We need this law because it will help our police and prosecutors build stronger cases against people who abuse children."
Rep. Rebecca Walker is an emergency room nurse and has seen multiple cases of child abuse firsthand -- children with broken bones, punctured organs and burns.
"Children, especially the very young, are among the most vulnerable in our society and we have a duty to protect them," said Rep. Walker, D-Townsend. "Up until now, there has been a gap in our criminal code that many of these child abuse cases I've seen have slipped through. Knowing that there are instances of kids being battered and the adult not being held accountable makes this even more of a priority. We need to strengthen our laws. And we need to protect all children from the lifelong and possibly deadly consequences of these vicious acts."
Introduced by Senate Majority Leader Patricia Blevins, Senate Bill 234 creates the offense of Child Abuse in three levels:
First Degree Child Abuse: Individuals convicted of recklessly or intentionally causing serious physical injuries to a child will face a maximum of 25 years in prison.
Second Degree Child Abuse: Adds additional protections for the most vulnerable children by providing a maximum two-year jail term for those who injure children aged three and under or children who have significant intellectual or developmental disabilities.
Third Degree Child Abuse: Causing physical injury to a child will carry a maximum prison term of one year and a maximum fine of $3,200.
In addition to providing special protection to infants, toddlers and children who have disabilities, the new law also expands Delaware's existing Endangering the Welfare of a Child charge to include knowing, intentional, and reckless acts that are likely to cause injury to a child.
Over 3 million kids are reported to be victims of abuse and/or neglect in the US each year. More than 1,500 of those children lose their lives, most before the age of 4, and the US ranks higher in child abuse fatalities than any other industrialized nation. Child abuse and neglect produces long-lasting effects, not only for the victims but for their families and communities. Studies have shown that about 80 percent of 21-year-olds who were abused as children meet criteria for at least one psychological disorder, and roughly 30 percent of abused and neglected children will later abuse their own kids. Child sexual abuse is similarly widespread, as one in four girls and one in six boys are sexually abused before they turn 18. And while more than 90 percent of juvenile sexual abuse victims know their perpetrator in some way, only one in ten cases is ever reported.
Video from the bill signing can be viewed here: http://youtu.be/iY5ExoZkHks