New Legislation Tackles Child Sex Abuse

African-American Rep. Karen Bass says that the new law will force all adults to take an active role in protecting children.

Posted: 11/23/2011 11:50 AM EST
Karen Bass

(Photo: Kevin Winters / Getty Images)

As the country stands transfixed and outraged by the child sex abuse scandal involving former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky, one California congresswoman is working to pass legislation ensuring that Americans will remain vigilant about reporting child sexual abuse from now on.


Democratic Rep. Karen Bass (D – California) recently introduced the Speak Out to Stop Child Abuse Act (H.R. 3486), a bipartisan bill that requires all adults over the age of 18 to report sexual abuse against a child to law enforcement officials or state child protective service agencies.


According to Bass, the participation of all adults is important to stemming the spread of child sexual abuse.


“When an adult doesn’t immediately contact the police or their state child protective service agency after witnessing a child being sexually abused, that child is subjected to further harm,” Bass said of the often-silent epidemic that affected nearly 6 million children last year.


“My hope is that the SOS Child Abuse Act will prevent additional trauma by holding adults accountable if they witness a child being sexually abused,” Bass said. “In addition, this bill will bring awareness to the disturbing effects of failing to act when these tragedies are taking place.”


If passed, the SOS Child Abuse Act would amend the current federal statute that addresses child abuse and neglect and prevention response by mandating a criminal penalty on individuals who fail to report witnessing another person engaging in sexual abuse of a child. The act also proposes the restriction of funding to any state that refuses to comply.

The legislation has the potential to make a difference in the lives of the many Black children who are victims of sexual abuse each year. According to Black Sexual Abuse Survivors, many African-Americans’ claims of child sexual abuse go unreported due to a culture of secrecy and shame. However, Rep. Bass says that despite criminal penalties the new law boasts, the Act will help change the culture of the community to one of responsibility and save thousands of children from further abuse.


“Although, many times the African-American community is negatively affected when a new criminal penalty is enacted, with the SOS Child Abuse Act, that is not the case. That is why this bill was narrowly targeted to focus on a person who witnesses child sexual abuse. This bill will make it our community’s responsibility to act,” she said.


While a number of states have laws that either require adults to report abuse to members of specific professions (such as medical professionals, teachers or law enforcement), or require them to inform a leadership official within an organization, currently, only 18 states and Puerto Rico require adults to report child abuse to police or state government agencies.


If passed, the SOS Child Abuse Act would go into effect December 31, 2013.


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