U.S. Senators Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), co-chairs of the Senate Law Enforcement Caucus, and Senators Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) and Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) introduced bipartisan legislation Tuesday to reauthorize the Victims of Child Abuse Act (VOCAA), which provides funding for Children's Advocacy Centers that serve child victims of violent crimes and help law enforcement hold perpetrators accountable. Though the success of these federal-state and public-private partnerships have earned them broad bipartisan support, Congressional authorization for Children's Advocacy Centers lapsed in 2005, and most recently the President's proposed budgets for 2013 and 2014 have zeroed out federal funding. The VOCAA Reauthorization Act of 2013 would restore funding for Children's Advocacy Centers and strengthen oversight of this critical program.
"When a child is the victim of physical or sexual abuse, his or her life will never be the same," Senator Coons said. "Seeking justice should be a part of the healing process -- not a source of further trauma. Children's Advocacy Centers provide a safe, supportive space for young victims and help law enforcement officers bring perpetrators to justice faster, more effectively, and at a lower cost. These facilities are a critical asset to law enforcement, to our criminal justice system, and to the children in our community who have been the victims of truly horrific crimes. I thank my colleagues for working with me to ensure they can continue to serve children in need."
"There are 22 Child Advocacy Centers located in Missouri, which serve around 7,000 of our state's most vulnerable children each year by coordinating the investigation, treatment, and prosecution of child abuse cases," Senator Blunt said. "This bill allows Child Advocacy Centers in Missouri and across the country to continue to provide a safe haven for child abuse victims and helps law enforcement hold perpetrators accountable for their actions."
"As a former prosecutor and Attorney General, I have seen firsthand the dramatic impact that Children's Advocacy Centers have made in improving our nation's response to these terrible crimes," Senator Sessions said. "Since the Victims of Child Abuse Act was introduced more than two decades ago, we have seen substantial improvements in the investigation of these heinous acts and the vital care provided to child victims. Protecting our children is the highest moral duty we have. I am proud that the first Children's Advocacy Center is in Huntsville--this amazing organization does such crucial work on behalf of our nation's children. The Victims of Child Abuse Act plays a critical role in protecting our nation's children and we must reauthorize it. I am grateful to Senators Coons, Hirono, and Blunt for joining in this effort."
"While we want to give our keiki the best possible start in life, free from violence and abuse, we need to have protections for those who are victims of these terrible crimes. The Victims of Child Abuse Act helps fund Children's Advocacy Centers where children are interviewed about abuse in a comfortable and safe setting. I recently visited one, the Children's Justice Center of East Hawaii, and learned from staff, child welfare professionals and law enforcement how the Center supports our keiki. I am pleased to join this bipartisan effort with Senators Coons, Blunt and Sessions to restore this imperative funding for these Centers on behalf of hundreds of thousands of children throughout the nation," said Senator Hirono.
"For nearly two decades, Children's Advocacy Centers have existed in communities across the country -- however, there remain many children who do not have access to these critical services in times of need" remarked Teresa Huizar, executive director of the National Children's Alliance, the national association and accrediting body for Children's Advocacy Centers. "The VOCAA Reauthorization Act of 2013 is the first step in the continued evolution and growth of the Children's Advocacy Center model. With this ongoing support we can hope to one day not only meet the needs of every child victim of abuse, but work together on prevention efforts that will ultimately eradicate child abuse from our society."
"Nothing is more important than protecting children," said Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden. "Children's Advocacy Centers are on the front lines in the fight against predators. This funding will make our children safer."
Children's Advocacy Centers employ a multi-disciplinary team of trained professionals to conduct forensic interviews of children who have been victims of abuse. These interviews are designed to be admissible in court, preventing children from being re-traumatized by having to tell their stories multiple times. In 2012 alone, more than 286,000 children were served at over 800 Children's Advocacy Centers across the United States, with over 197,000 cases reporting sexual abuse. Their use in child abuse cases saved, on average, more than $1,000 per case in court, child protection, and investigative fees.
The VOCAA Reauthorization Act of 2013 would increase authorization levels for Children's Advocacy Centers for the first time since the VOCAA was enacted in 1990. Acknowledging current fiscal constraints, this moderate increase, from $20 million to $22.5 million, is still below an amount that would keep pace with inflation and population growth. The reauthorization would also strengthen the programs through enhanced accountability provisions, non-profit requirements and limitations on conference expenditures.
The following organizations have endorsed the VOCAA Reauthorization Act of 2013: National Association of Police Organizations, Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, Major County Sheriffs' Association, National Criminal Justice Training Center, Major Cities Chiefs' Association, National Children's Alliance, National Children's Advocacy Center, National Center for Victims of Crime, Sergeants Benevolent Association of the New York City Police Department, and the National Child Protection Training Center.