By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
On Wednesday, U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions (R) from Alabama joined Senator Chris Coons (D) from Delaware in introducing a bill to reauthorize the Victims of Child Abuse Act (VOCAA).
Senator Sessions said, “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. 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.”
The Victims of Child Abuse Act provides funding which supports local Child Advocacy Centers (CAC) across the nation, as well as the Regional Children’s Advocacy Center programs, the National Children’s Alliance, the National Children’s Advocacy Center and other programs which serve child abuse victims. According to Sen. Sessions office the Congressional Budget Office released an informal overview stating that it would not have a budgetary impact on spending or revenue.
CACs take a multi-disciplinary approach in responding to child abuse by coordinating the efforts of medical, mental health, victim advocacy, law enforcement, and prosecutorial agencies. In the 1980s, former Alabama Congressman Robert “Bud” Cramer, Jr (D) of Alabama recognized the need for improving responses to child abuse. Cramer (then a District Attorney) helped found the first CAC in Huntsville. There are now CACs in over 850 locations across the county.
Sens. Coons and Roy Blunt (R) from Missouri are the co-chairs of the Senate Law Enforcement Caucus. They together with and Senators Sessions and Mazie Hirono (D) from 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.
The success of these federal state and public private partnerships have earned broad bipartisan support. President’s proposed budgets for 2013 and 2014 have zeroed out federal funding for CACs. The VOCAA Reauthorization Act of 2013 restores the funding for Children’s Advocacy Centers and strengthens oversight of the program.
Sen. Coons said, “When a child is the victim of physical or sexual abuse, his or her life will never be the same. 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.”
Senator Blunt said, “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. 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.”
Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden said, “Nothing is more important than protecting children. 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 allegedly been victims of abuse. The interviews are designed to be admissible in court, which prevents the 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. Of these, over 197,000 cases involved sexual abuse.
The VOCAA Reauthorization Act of 2013 would increase authorization levels for Children’s Advocacy Centers 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 VOCAA Reauthorization Act of 2013 has been endorsed by: the National Association of Police Organizations, the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, Major County Sheriffs’ Association, the National Criminal Justice Training Center, the Major Cities Chiefs’ Association, the National Children’s Alliance, the National Children’s Advocacy Center, the National Center for Victims of Crime, the Sergeants Benevolent Association of the New York City Police Department, and the National Child Protection Training Center.
Senator Jefferson “Jeff” Beauregard Sessions is the ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee and is a former U.S. District Attorney and a former Alabama Attorney General.