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Public Statements

Senator Coons Makes Progress in Effort to Save Child Advocacy Centers, Protect Youngest Victims of Physical and Sexual Abuse

Press Release

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC

U.S. Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is fighting to protect children who are the victims of physical and sexual abuse by preserving funding for Child Advocacy Centers (CACs). Senator Coons has been a strong advocate for the centers, which provide a safe and effective place for trained professionals to conduct forensic interviews of children who have been abused. These interviews are designed to be admissible in court, preventing children from being re-traumatized by having to tell their story multiple times.

Alarmed that funding for this vital program had been eliminated in the Administration's last budget, Senator Coons called Attorney General Holder directly, raised the issue in a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Wednesday and followed up with a letter on Thursday.

"Child Advocacy Centers serve a critical law enforcement function by bringing criminals who abuse our children to justice without re-traumatizing these young victims," Senator Coons said on Thursday. "In times of tight budgets, we certainly have to look for places to cut spending, but our values demand that we do not find savings by failing to protect the most vulnerable children in our society. Child Advocacy Centers have earned broad bipartisan support because they work, and I am counting on the Administration and Congress to continue their strong support for these vital programs."

At a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday, Senator Coons told Attorney General Holder he was surprised to learn that funding for CACs, which make such a positive impact on public safety with a modest investment of federal resources, had been eliminated in the Administration's last budget. Attorney General Holder called the lack of funding for this program a "mistake" and vowed to correct it.

Click here to watch a video of Senator Coons and Attorney General Holder's exchange at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Wednesday: http://youtu.be/6mCtQ5_mwKk

A transcript follows:

Senator Coons: Last question if I could, in the same vein. The Victims of Child Abuse Act and the Child Advocacy Centers that it funds, that you are familiar with, I think are an enormous resource for law enforcement and prevent the re-victimization of children who have been traumatized by allowing them to be interviewed once, in a way that is admissible as evidence, in a way that is appropriate and has all the relevant folks present. The one I visited at A.I. Children's Hospital in New Castle County, while the circumstances that lead to these interviews are tragic, the resources for our community and our law enforcement community are terrific. I was surprised that it was zeroed out last year and am hoping that I could rely on your support for restoring funding to this small but cumulatively powerful program in the [FY14] budget. Any thoughts on the future of Child Advocacy Centers?

Attorney General Holder: Well, I was one of the people who started the Child Advocacy Center here in Washington, D.C. I know the positive impact it has on child victims of crime. The decision to eliminate this funding was a difficult one, deficit issues, restoring fiscal sustainability were all a consideration. The Office of Justice Programs, as I talked to them after I spoke to you, has come up with ways in which they think they can prioritize some grant-making and training to help in that regard. I think as we look at the budget for the next year that given what we get from the Advocacy Centers and the relatively small amount that is involved that this has to be a part of the next budget. I'm not satisfied with where we are now with regard to the present budget, I think that was a mistake.

Delaware's three Child Advocacy Centers are among 800 serving communities across the country. Senator Coons visited the Wilmington Child Advocacy Center last October.

A PDF of the letter Senator Coons sent to Attorney General Holder Thursday is available here: http://bit.ly/VLsCNv

Full text follows:

March 7, 2013

Attorney General Eric Holder, Jr.

United States Department of Justice

950 Pennsylvania Ave. NW

Washington, DC 20530

Dear Attorney General Holder,

Thank you for your time and testimony yesterday before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary. I appreciate the tremendous work you have done to help keep American families safe. I write to follow up on your commitment at the hearing to working together, across state lines and in partnership with state and local officials, to provide the highest level of protection for children who have been subject to physical and sexual abuse.

The Victims of Child Abuse Act created programs that are strongly supported across the political spectrum. We can all agree that it should be a priority for law enforcement resources to be directed to proven methods of fighting crime and protecting victims. The Child Advocacy Center model works. It works by protecting children from being re-traumatized by providing a safe space for a forensic interview. It works by keeping those interviews in line with best practices in both child psychology and the rules of evidence. Ultimately, it works to bring offenders to justice, often without the need for a child to re-live the experience through live testimony at trial.

The important work of Delaware's Child Advocacy Centers has been highlighted recently in the case of a doctor who abused more than 100 child patients. Child Advocacy Centers also played a central role in addressing the needs of the children of Newtown, Connecticut, after the mass shooting there. The Centers support both local and federal cases, including FBI child pornography and human trafficking cases.

Even though they serve a critical law enforcement function, Child Advocacy Centers across the country still must rely in part upon the generosity of private donors to fulfill their mission. Federal support thus represents one essential piece of a successful public-private partnership. As you helped discover while administering the first National Survey on Children Exposed to Violence, the need is great. More than 60 percent of children have been exposed to crime, abuse, and violence. One in ten have suffered from abuse or neglect, and one in sixteen have been victimized sexually.

I appreciate your attention to restoring the Administration's full support for the Victims of Child Abuse Act in the FY2014 budget. Your leadership on protecting children's rights, including your Defending Childhood Initiative and your longstanding commitment to the Safe Shores Child Advocacy Center in Washington, DC, gives me faith that you will continue to advocate on behalf of the most vulnerable citizens of our society.

Sincerely,

Christopher A. Coons

United States Senator


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