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Public Statements

Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC

Mrs. BOXER. Mr. President, today I am introducing the Violence Against Children Act of 2003. The legislation, modeled on the successful Violence Against Women Act, will both toughen Federal penalties for crimes against children and assist local communities in their efforts to fight violence against children. It has been endorsed by over 100 prominent individuals and organizations.

We were all horrified by the tragic murders of Samantha Runion and Danielle van Dam. We were horrified by the kidnaping of Elizabeth Smart, Erica Pratt, and Nichole Taylor Timmons who were snatched right from their homes. We were horrified by the kidnaping and rape of Jacqueline Marris and Tamara Brooks.

But there are thousands more stories we do not hear—thousands of children who each year are victims of sexual molestation, kidnaping, murder—thousands of children whose stories do not make the nightly news—thousands of children and thousands of families who suffer in silence and often without help.

In fact, 71 percent of all sex crime victims are under the age of 18--and 38 percent of all kidnaping victims are under age 18.
Those between the ages of 12 and 17 are over two times more likely to be victims of a violent crime than adults. And as alarming as those statistics are, according to a study published in 1999, only 28 percent of all crimes against children are actually reported.

While we are horrified by these and other stories, we must not let them paralyze us. We must do for children what we have done on behalf of women, by changing attitudes and changing the culture. The Violence Against Children Act would create a new Federal criminal statute for willfully injuring or attempting to injure any person under the age of 18. Those who injure a child or try to will be imprisoned for up to 10 years and fined. And if the crime is kidnaping, aggravated sexual abuse, or murder, the maximum penalty will be life in prison.

In addition to enhanced penalties for crimes against children, the Violence Against Children Act provides Federal assistance—including technical, forensic, and prosecutorial assistance—to any State, Indian tribe, or local government that requests assistance with a violent felony against a child. The bill also establishes a grant program to help local police and prosecutors to strengthen effective law enforcement and prosecution for these crimes.

This Act builds upon the Protect Act, recently signed into law, by requiring that States have an Amber Alert system to help locate missing children in order to qualify for the local law enforcement grants. In addition, to cut down on the number of abused and neglected children, states are required to have a Safe Haven program that would allow parents to leave newborn babies in hospital emergency rooms, anonymously and with no fear of penalty. These requirements will ensure that states take action to improve systems that can protect our Nation's children.

I am pleased to be joined in this effort by Senator BIDEN, who I teamed up with over a decade ago in introducing the Violence Against Women Act. And Representative MILLENDER-MCDONALD is the sponsor of the House bill.
This is a critical issue to safeguard our children and youth nationwide. I urge my colleagues to cosponsor this bill.
I ask unanimous consent to print in the RECORD a section-by-section summary of the bill and a list of those who have endorsed it.

There being no objection, the material was ordered to be printed in the RECORD, as follows:

Violence Against Children Act—Section-by-Section Summary

Section 1. Short title

Names the Act the "Violence Against Children Act of 2003."

Section 2. Findings

Includes findings on the extent of crimes against children and the effect of those crimes against children. Also finds that failure to pay child support is a form of neglect.

TITLE I—ENHANCED FEDERAL ROLE IN CRIMES AGAINST CHILDREN

Section 101. Enhanced penalties

(1) New Criminal Statute

Creates a new federal criminal statute for willfully injuring or attempting to injure any person under the age of 18. Establishes a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a fine. If death of the child results from the crime or if the crime is kidnapping, an attempt to kidnap, aggravated sexual abuse, an attempt to commit aggravated sexual abuse, or an attempt to kill, the maximum penalty is a fine and life in prison.

For constitutional purposes, the criminal statute applies only under certain circumstances: (1) if the defendant or the victim engages in interstate or foreign commerce, including crossing a state line, during the course of or as the result of committing the crime; or (2) the defendant uses a firearm or other weapon that has traveled in interstate or foreign commerce.

(2) Enhanced Penalties of Existing Crimes

Directs the United States Sentencing Commission to provide enhanced penalties for existing federal crimes when the victim is under the age of 18.

(3) Review of State Laws

Directs the General Accounting Office, within 6 months, to review state criminal penalties for crimes against children and state laws regarding enhanced penalties when the victim of a crime is under the age of 18.

Section 102. Enhanced assistance for criminal investigations and prosecutions by state and local law enforcement officials
Requires the Attorney General to provide federal assistance—including technical, forensic, and prosecutorial assistance—to any state, Indian tribe, or local government that requests assistance with a violent felony against a child.

If the Attorney General determines that there are insufficient resources to fulfill all such requests, priority is given to (a) requests that involve offenders who have committed crimes in more than one state; and (b) rural areas that do not have sufficient resources to investigate and prosecute the crime.

TITLE II—GRANT PROGRAMS

Section 201. State and local law enforcement assistance grants

Creates a new grant program to assist states, Indian tribes, and local governments to strengthen law enforcement and prosecution of crimes against children. Grants could be used for a variety of purposes, including: (a) training law enforcement officers, prosecutors, and judges; (b) developing or expanding law enforcement units or courts that specifically target crimes against children; (c) developing policies to prevent, identify, and respond to crimes against children; (d) establishing data collection and communication systems to link police, prosecutors, and courts in helping to track arrests, prosecutions, and convictions of crimes against children; and (e) establishing and strengthening collaboration and communication between law enforcement and child services agencies.

To be eligible for funds, a state must have in place an AMBER Alert system (see section 301) and must use, or be in the process of using, the National Incident-Based Reporting System (see section 302).
Authorizes $25 million for each of the next five years. Federal funds must supplement, not supplant, non-federal funds.

Section 202. Education, prevention, and victims' assistance grants

Creates a new grant program to assist states, Indian tribes, local governments, and nongovernmental organizations to provide education, prevention, intervention, and victims' assistance services regarding crimes against children. Grants could be used for a variety of purposes, including: (a) hotlines; (b) training of professionals; (c) informational and educational services and materials; (d) intervention services; (e) emergency medical treatment; (f) counseling to child victims and their families; and (g) increasing the number of mental health professionals that specialize in child victims.

To be eligible for funds, a state must have a Safe Haven program (see section 303).
Authorizes $25 million for each of the next five years. Federal funds must supplement, not supplant, non-federal funds.

TITLE III—NATIONWIDE PROGRAMS

Section 301. Nationwide AMBER Alert

Requires each state receiving a law enforcement assistance grant (see section 201) to have in place a state-wide AMBER
Alert communications network for child abduction cases.

This system must be in place within 3 years after the date of enactment of the Violence Against Children Act.

Section 302. Improved statistical gathering

Requires each state receiving a law enforcement assistance grant (see section 201) to use, or to be in the process of testing or developing protocols to use, the National Incident-Based Reporting System. (This program provides the most detailed statistical profile of crimes in the United States, including by the age of the victims. However, it is a voluntary program, and less than half the states currently participate.)

Section 303. National safe haven

Requires each state receiving a victims' assistance grant (see section 202) to have a Safe Haven program, which permits a
parent to leave a newborn baby with a medically-trained employee of a hospital emergency room anonymously without penalty. The state program must have a mechanism to voluntarily collect information about the medical history of the family, must require a search of the child in the state and federal missing person databases, and must include a plan to publicize the state program.

To ensure that an abused or intentionally harmed newborn is not left at a hospital so a parent can escape responsibility, a state may have a limited exception to the Safe Haven program in those circumstances.

Section 304. Improved child protection services programs

Directs each state, within 6 months, to report to the Department of Health and Human Services on its child protective services program, including how the state maintains records, keeps track of the children under its care, and verifies the well-being of the children.

Directs the General Accounting Office, within 6 months, to review state child protective services practices, including how states keep track of the children under their care, and to report to Congress on any legislative changes needed to improve the program.

TITLE IV—CHILD SUPPORT ENFORCEMENT

Section 401. Child support bad debt deduction

Expresses the sense of the Senate that Congress should extend the existing federal tax law on bad debt to nonpayment of child support. That is, those who do not receive the child support they are owed should be able to deduct that from their federal income taxes; those who fail to pay ordered

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